30th September 2018
Joanna was diagnosed with IBS in her teens, but with the right diet and medication manages to live life mostly symptom free.
Going through all the usual bowel tests felt particularly embarrassing as a 15 year old. When they doctor sat back and told me there was ‘nothing wrong’, it felt like they’d all been for nothing. I was glad I didn’t have crohn’s, colitis or ‘anything sinister’, but IBS seemed like a default badge rather than a diagnosis.
I’d first gone to the doctor because of the pain; often extreme, I’d find myself waking up at night, wondering if it was appendicitis. Though the doctor felt his work was done, I still had the same problem I’d arrived in his surgery with. I had no clue how to start.
My mum was the driving force behind finding a solution. She ordered lots of books on IBS by patients, doctors – anyone who seemed to take it seriously and had ideas on how to move past the pain.
I stripped my diet right back to the basics; though there was a point at which I thought I couldn’t face eating more chicken and plain white rice, I started to turn a corner. I dared to eat at school at lunchtime, and I could sleep again at night - progress.
Bit by bit, I worked things back into my diet. For a naturally impatient person, it was a massive learning curve. I ate tiny bits of new foods, watching for a reaction. If I had one, I wouldn’t give up on it or rule it out completely, but make a note and try again at a later date.
After about seven years, I was left with a handful of things I couldn’t eat: red meat, cheese, cream, fruit juice, nuts, pastry, wine, chocolate – a lot of the good stuff! I’d got to a stage where I didn’t really have to apologise in advance for being a ‘fussy eater’ or even tell people about my dietary requirements if I didn’t want. It was incredibly liberating.
Thirteen years after my diagnosis, my IBS is in a really good place. I do most of the mental weighing up what I can eat subconsciously now, balancing what I’ve had to eat that day, when, how stressed I am and picking what to eat accordingly. There is always Buscopan, mebeverine and peppermint oil in my bag, and there are still chicken and rice days, but they’re few and far between.
Though the foods that work for me stay broadly the same, I keep learning and listening to my body. I keep up to date on the latest research and prevention ideas through The IBS Network and am determined to work wine back in at some point!
For anyone earlier on in their IBS journey, take it from me that it’s possible to live well with the condition – and to enjoy food! To get to this stage there’s no shortcut or magic pill; it takes observation, constant adjustment, and patience. But it’s worth it.