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Managing IBS: What Works For Me.

By Anne Garner

I understand fully that IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) can present in different ways to different people.  I am not a medical person nor do I have a license to practice any kind of medicine.  What I do have though, is years of personal experience in dealing with and managing this often times life crippling syndrome.


And before you say anything, this picture of a very muscular torso doesn't really have anything to do with IBS, I just thought this was a splendid excuse to use it.

When I was first diagnosed with IBS (after a process of elimination when nothing else remained but this) I eagerly listened to everything the doctors and nurses told me to do, and carefully followed all their instructions by the letter.  Yet, one year later, I was still suffering with intense pain and discomfort.  

Having 3 children under 4 (at the time), this was not an option for me.   Life forced me to decide to take my health into my own hands, so to speak, since I was the one who knew my body best of all.  I could ramble on for several pages with this introduction, but instead of boring you, here's me tearing myself away and getting ahead with the six points I've planned to discuss. This is my personal experience and the process by which I've learned to manage IBS for my body. Yours may be different but it's up to you to find out because you don't have to put up with the pain.

1. Know your own body.

The first and most important point in managing IBS is basically knowing what irritates your own bowels.  I've found that there is no 'across the board' solution. This initial process which I'm about to outline is just that – initial – so even though it sounds a bit cumbersome, it's only endured at the very beginning and never again.

To prepare for what I was going to do, I kept a daily diary of every thing I'd eaten.  I determined how I felt the next day, and kept a record of that as well.  Some days were better than others so I was able to eventually work out what I was eating (the common thread) on the days which were bad. Now I was ready to take action.

I then started with an exclusion diet. (There is a very good book which helped me to plan my exclusion diet, it's called 'The Holistic Doctor' by Dr Deborah McManners.)
This is not the same as going on a diet, it involves eating full meals as usual but cutting out from your food intake, all the items which you think may be triggering your pain,.  After a grace period of a week, begin to re-introduce them one at a time (so that it'll be easy to identify which ones don't agree with you, and you'll  be able to properly gauge each food's effect on your body.)  If you have to cut out wheat, you may want to stock up on rice biscuits, cous-cous, potatoes etc until it's been re-introduced.

Once you start bringing the foods back in, you need to give yourself a week to re-accustom your body to that particular food, watch how you feel, and if you have an adverse effect, say to cheese (one of my triggers) you evidently need to cut that out of your normal diet.  Make sure that you're substituting other sources of protein and calcium for all round health.  This would not mean that you could never eat cheese again, but rather that you know how it affects you, and that if you do indulge, you know to take it easy.
If you feel no different then that food, simply put, works with your body, if not, then it does not.

At this point I should say that even though wheat is one of my triggers, I haven't cut it completely out of my diet forever.  This for me wouldn't be a wise and practical thing to do.  I stay away from it and would opt for rice, cous cous potatoes etc instead of breads or pasta for example.  But because my kind of work means that I regularly have to be on location for shoots/filming even before sunrise, I have to be prepared to eat whatever is on offer from the location catering crew.  I would eat wheat in this instance, but then I would choose to eat very little of it and make certain that I didn't have any of my other triggers like cheese (I hardly ever have cheese since it's something you can stay away from without any embarrassment or social discomfort) or onions, orange juice etc for the two days that follow.

After this initial period which lasts about 3 months, you're ready to manage that wretched IBS.  So what happens after you know what triggers your pain?

2. Take regular physical activity.

Notice I didn't say exercise, as not everyone likes to, or can take time off to exercise as an exclusive activity.  You may think that it's ironic when I say that the pain in my side (literally) has been a lot better since, after discovering my triggers, I started doing regular sit-ups.  

This was something I did before I had the children, in order to fit into the kind of close fitting dresses a girl has to wear to strut the Catwalk.  However, my tummy muscles had weakened significantly having had 3 kids in 3 and a half years.  I was determined that I was once again going to incorporate sit-ups into my regular physical activity routine.  The first day I started, I was only able to do 1 measly sit-up, so don't despair, the second day I managed 2.  Nowadays I can do upwards of 50 at one sitting, and the only reason I don't do more is because they have to be tightly stuffed in between washing the kids, getting them ready for bed, and many times going out to work.

Like most mothers, I am unable to spend hours exercising and I refuse to pay an extortionate amount of money to join a gym. There are ways to incorporate physical activity into your already established and oftentimes routine lifestyle.  For example walking instead of driving, taking the stairs instead of the lift, parking some feet away instead right outside the entrance to work, supermarket, doctors/dentist's office, (we all know the drill so well) etc.  

I walk for 20 minutes everyday, and this is without taking time out of my busy schedule to do so exclusively. I walk my kids to school then back home.  I do not just walk for the fun of it, I've just happened to incorporate a mandatory task – taking my children to school and getting back home, with something I need to do for myself – exercise.  

So then, physical activity, after you've found your triggers, is vital to managing the condition. If you swim, play a game, or even walk the dog, this is a very important part of keeping your colon and intestines active and sprightly.  Remember that people with IBS often have very lazy intestines.  Walking, even on the coldest of days, soon warms up my body and starts my organs churning. When I get back, I more often than not desire a little bathroom time, which brings us to my next point.

3. Visit the toilet as soon as the need arises.

I used to be one of those people who'd hold in if I was out shopping or if I was writing or otherwise busy.  Not anymore.  

The waste product, when the body is ready to dispose of it, is accompanied by mucus.  This helps to execute smooth and prompt exit.  When we neglect to go when the body desires to, the mucus, dries up and what is left is very dry waste product with no where to go and no way of escaping.  This then becomes a cork plug, which continues to fill up and soon creates a stopped bottle-neck, from which even gas cannot escape, all this stays inside your body, causing immense pain and discomfort.  

For an IBS sufferer, this is unbearable, and some of us then have to wait for days before the 'urge' besets us again, all the time, dealing with this feeling of 'wanting to go' accompanied by lethargy caused by this 'poisonous, bubbling, steaming  lava' stewing on the inside of a well-corked 'bottle.'

So, if you're in a shop, leave and go to the toilets, if at home, think of the next two days' worth of pain when you are tempted to hold this one out.  If outdoors, find the nearest toilet and just do it!  In my line of work, I would even leave a Photoshoot to go when I need to.  Photographers are nice people who don't mind waiting!  

4. You decide what you eat.

After finding out my triggers, I worked out ways in which I could help my body function better (apart from exercise and going when I had to).  I mentioned before that doctors have  standard advise which they pull out from their desks drawers, dust off, and hand out to all of us.  The thing that popped up every time, from every doctor, and in every research I did, was to eat whole meals breads and pastas.

But this was almost a sin to my body.  My belly would spasm and I would have to lie down overwhelmed by crippling pain.  My bathroom visitations were few and far between and I felt perpetually sick since my stomach and entire insides were so filled with the aforementioned 'lava'.
You see, there are mainly two types of fiber, soluble (this is the kind found mainly in green leaves, fruit, and vegetables); and insoluble, which you get largely from whole meal products and beans.  

Insoluble fiber absorbs some of the water present in your bowels and this for me, is not ideal, for reasons I still haven't been able to work out. (Maybe someone who knows can inform me about this)

So even though IBS suffers do definitely need fiber in our diets, it's important to work out which type of fiber works best for you.  I never touch any whole meal products.  The little bread I eat is always white (I buy whole meal for the rest of the family).  My rice is always white and I never eat cereals with 'bran' or 'whole' in the title. In fact I don't eat cereal for breakfast because I'd have to accompany it with milk which doesn't do me any favors in the intestines department.  (Though I would have a couple of handfuls of dry cereal which is ideal for a snack)  

Nevertheless, I've already established that I need my fiber.  I get all of what I need from dried fibrous fruit, (mango, prunes, raisins etc) which I eat every morning after breakfast.  I have a glass of pure fruit smoothie (you could make this from scratch, or buy them in bulk cheaply) with my lunch, and a big salad with my dinner.  There that's my fiber sorted!  

5. Have lots of water  

The brain is not the only organ which needs water to function.  If you're dehydrated you could become dizzy and pass out, as the brain uses up a significant amount of water present in your system.  Whatever water is there, will go to the brain and heart first.  This means that the colon and intestines are two of the last places to benefit from any water you drink.   This is why it is important to drink enough water.  As an IBS sufferer, it's even more important.  Less water means that the waste product would be drier, thus harder to get rid of.  

I find that I remember to drink water if I do it at specific times in the day.  One glass just before I walk to school, one as soon as I return, another when my body gets rid of it, and then at other specific intervals, and the last one just before I go off to my other job in the evenings.  (I don't want to have to go during the night do I?)

Basically, more water means an easier let go of waste.  If I'm working on location all day and haven't drunk my normal amount of water, the following day would be one of not so co-operative bodily functions.  It may be a good practice to drink a glass of water every time you've urinated, as this can serve as a memory aide.

6. Eat at regular intervals

Eat regularly and don't get hungry.  In the weeks during your preparatory plans for IBS management, pay attention to what your pain does when you're hungry.  You may find that you spasm more if you haven't eaten for a long period of time.  If this is the case, it would be best for you to have small but regular meals, never skipping or going hungry.

I eat 3 meals a day.  Of course I eat very healthily, but I always have a full meal (minus desserts). If I get hungry I'll certainly have a snack.  I choose my snacks wisely, they consist of seeds, fruit, and other healthy options.
Try as much as possible to eat slowly and chew properly.

7. Lifestyle is important

It is often said that stress is a trigger for IBS pain and suffering, but if I'm honest I have to say that my stress levels have been the same as years ago when I was told I had IBS.  

Maybe if one can change lifestyles and work out ways of reducing stress, IBS would be even more manageable.  For me, I manage mine with these activities I've outlined and I can say that the difference is remarkable.

Nowadays if I'm hurting, I can pinpoint exactly why.  Whether I'm hungry, or suffering from last night's Chinese takeaway, etc.  Knowing this means that I can fix it.  I do not let IBS rule my life in that I haven't totally banished my triggers.  I never drink milk but I have a spoonful of skimmed powder milk in my tea.  I would never feed myself whole meal pasta, but if I'm out and that's what's on offer, I'd have it and make sure that I had an extra portion dry fruit and water the next day etc.  

bq. I've managed IBS and have triumphed.  I know that I'll never be cured, but at least I know how to stop it affecting my entire life and how to save myself from its crippling painful grasp.

I still have some bad days but my bad days now, are not as bad as my good days were 6 years ago.  This for me is progress!

Anne Lyken-Garner is a contributing writer for Fabulously40 Youth Project Worker, Writer, Television Support Actress, Occasional model

Visit Anne's blogspot for more of her work.

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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Emornil wrote Nov 19, 2012
    • Thank you for your article! I suffer IBS too. I feel totally related to what you said.  I also have been doing research on it and I second all of your points! heart
      Here I want to contribute one of my findings here: I found eating too much is one of my causes to get IBS attack. I used to eat until I was very full. Then IBS attack came about one day after - not immediately! Recently I start to limit my meal: I decide how much food I am going to eat before meal and then stick to it, no seconds! This works pretty well.

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