With the next round of The Fodmap Challenge commencing Friday 25th August, it seems fitting to paint a brief picture of what life is like for someone who has Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Amanda, our amazing intern has offered to talk about what life has been like for her with her IBS journey, to help those considering taking on The FODMAP Challenge understand more about managing IBS, and the challenge itself – a huge thanks to Amanda for being so open! – Chloe
For those who aren’t aware, IBS is a condition which impairs normal bowel function. Approximately 1 in 5 Australians suffer from IBS at some stage in their life. It impacts twice as many women as it does men, and there is no known cure. Fortunately, approximately 75% of sufferers experience symptom improvement on a low FODMAP diet. A low FODMAP diet is currently the first line-treatment for IBS management.
I have experienced first-hand what it is like to live with IBS. During a rather stressful period of my life 5 years ago I was diagnosed with IBS, and suffered from it for about 12-18 months. Fortunately after effective management it is no longer something I suffer from (although I experience a bit of tummy troubles during stressful times, like many people). Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for majority of IBS sufferers, and it is something that needs to be appropriately managed long-term.
So what happens when someone has IBS?
Every individual with IBS will vary in the types and severity of their symptoms. The most commonly experienced symptoms include diarrhoea and/or constipation (or alternating between the two), stomach pain, bloating, excess wind and flatulence. Sounds pleasant, right? Now imagine experiencing one, or all, of these symptoms every…single…day. This is the reality for many IBS sufferers.
Like with most conditions, some days are better than others. So for example, not everyone with IBS will experience severe diarrhoea and bloating all day every day. But during periods where IBS is particularly bad, it is very common to experience severe symptoms chronically. Now let’s look at how this may impact someone’s quality of life…
Most social situations tend to evolve around food – whether it be catching up for a meal, going out for drinks, attending a party/function and so on. Now since IBS symptoms can both worsen and improve through diet, food is a big factor. Most IBS suffers react to at least 1 or 2 FODMAPs, and for those who aren’t aware…FODMAPs tend to be in just about everything. Alcohol is also a common culprit for triggering IBS symptoms – which can make managing social occasions even harder.
So when you suffer from IBS a great deal of stress/anxiety can occur when facing social situations. You can:
- Go to the occasion and not eat because nothing is low FODMAP (losing that social aspect)
- Eat whatever is there and pay the price later or…
- Hope there is something suitable on the menu or which can be adapted as low FODMAP. Since FODMAP isn’t a well-known term for many people, trying to order something low FODMAP isn’t easy! Especially when almost EVERYTHING tends to have garlic and/or onion.
I remember experiencing option 1 five years ago when going out for a friends birthday dinner at a local Indian restaurant. There was literally nothing on the menu which I could eat, but I couldn’t not go. What did I do? I ate dinner beforehand and sat at a table watching everyone else enjoy delicious Indian food while I sipped on soda water. I still remember just how isolated and upset I felt, missing out on something which used to never be an issue.
IBS can have a major impact on work life. You can’t really take a sick day every time your symptoms flare up (especially if frequently), and more often than not just need to try manage. But imagine sitting in a long meeting with extreme stomach cramps, the sudden urge to use the toilet, or uncomfortable bloating which your corporate attire is definitely not helping!
Or imagine working in a trade and needing to frequently use the jobsite toilet, then falling behind on your project as a result. Or if you work with clients and need to try focus on listening to them when your gut is churning and you’re in a world of grief.
Regardless of your occupation, it can be incredibly difficult at times to work productively with symptomatic IBS.
If you follow a low FODMAP diet and live with others it can be hard. Whether you cook for the family, live at home where your parents do the cooking, or live with mates/your partner and share the cooking – it isn’t easy. You tend to question whether to cook low FODMAP meals that they might not enjoy, or to just go to the hassle of cooking a separate meal while they enjoy what you’d rather be eating?
Even if you live by yourself it can be hard. You know the times where you have a really long day and its late so you’ll just grab some easy take-away on the way home? Yeah, that isn’t always an option for someone with IBS. What used to be a simple decision of what to eat becomes an often overcomplicated thought process of whether something is low FODMAP or not.
So is it possible to manage IBS effectively?
Absolutely! Your social life, work life and home life is often much easier with effective IBS management. It is possible to enjoy holidays, social events, enjoy delicious low FODMAP meals and live a normal fulfilling life with IBS. A big part of The Fodmap Challenge is helping you identify what your triggers are (as often individuals only react to 1-2 FODMAPs) with our guided 12 week program. The challenge includes meal plans, recipes, weekly videos + live Q&A, support from experienced dietitians and more. Registrations are now open for the next round starting Friday 25th August!
Image sourced from Pinterest
Start feeling better now! By signing up to The FODMAP Challenge you will receive meal plans, recipe ideas, and regular support with other resources, such as a private Facebook group, to make this as easy for you as possible.