I found myself in a situation recently that raised the issue of IBS and diet. When it comes to IBS and food, I find myself getting pretty wound up about what I can and cannot eat. Many people suffering with IBS have adapted their diet to reduce symptoms/prevent flare-ups. Personally I have had to change what and when I eat dramatically. I try to eat regularly throughout the days (roughly every 3 hours) to keep my digestive system running smoothly. I also avoid eating large meals that can overwhelm my gut, especially before bedtime! I’ve had to reduce my caffeine and alcohol intake, which wasn’t too hard as I wasn’t that into either of them. But on a more day-to-day basis I have had to cut out some of my favourite foodstuffs to accommodate my newly recognised intolerances.
Most recently I have embarked on the low-FODMAP diet which is fast becoming the best recommended approach to managing IBS symptoms. I don’t want to go too heavily into the fodmap diet as that is a whole blog in itself! A quick rundown of what FODMAPS are and how they trigger IBS symptoms can be found here on the Fodmap Friendly website. But basically it is a list of foodstuffs that should be avoided or moderated in order to relieve your symptoms. I am currently in the midst of the re-introduction phase, which means I am working out what my tolerances are to foodstuffs that could upset my gut. It’s a long and frustrating process but I must admit my IBS symptoms are less frequent and less severe since embarking on the diet. But with this diet has come some very upsetting and life-changing issues.
Two of my ‘trigger foods’ (something that is sure to set off a flare-up) is onion and garlic, which sucks because garlic bread is my favourite thing in the world. I have also developed a medium intolerance to lactose – so no cream, milk or yogurts – which has meant I have needed to change to lactose free alternatives. Fortunately I can tolerate butter and hard cheeses as the lactose level is much much lower, I don’t know how I would live without cheddar!!! It has also led to many other foodstuffs being restricted or moderated on a day-to-day basis. Therefore eating out is nearby impossible! Even being invited round to a friend’s for a meal has become a nuisance. It is this aspect of IBS that can be truly upsetting and isolating. Some people have also developed real anxieties over eating and socialising which is not helping them to cope with IBS.
Something that is always being brought up in discussion groups and forums is the attitudes of some people towards these special dietary requirements that IBS patients need. Since I was diagnosed I have found that many friends, and even family members, have started complaining about my inability to eat “anything”. Many jokes are made at the expense of my IBS which can make me feel upset and awkward. As previously mentioned, eating out with IBS is very difficult so I try to avoid it unless I know 100% that there is something on the menu that I can have. This has meant that I have had to turn down invites to social occasions and celebratory meals out, either that or I sit drinking water at the table whilst everyone eats their meal – not ideal really. Even visiting friends and family has become difficult. This is the anti-social side of IBS that the doctors don’t tell you about.
As lovely and kind as my family are they really do struggle to understand how to cater to my dietary needs. I must admit though that my mum is a saint! Every time I go home she buys in lacto-free products and ensures all the family meals she cooks are suitable for me. But as brilliant as this is, I can’t help but feel like a nuisance. I don’t wish to put people out for cooking different meals for me or buying in special products so I usually find myself turning up at a friend or family members’ house with my own pre-prepared meal that I can just warm up and eat. Even though this has helped me feel less awkward it hasn’t stopped the social anxiety around my IBS. It’s hard to make people understand how situation like this make me feel. I have come to completely fear some social situations purely because I am scared what people will say about my eating habits and dietary needs.
As I said earlier I usually find jokes being made at my expense, harmless as they may mean to be some people are really hurtful in their remarks. Either that or I find myself constantly explaining why I can’t eat certain foods, which can feel like a real chore at times. A regular question I am faced with is “so what can’t you eat now?” or “you eating like a normal person yet?” which is both offensive and upsetting. We shouldn’t have to be constantly explaining ourselves and our dietary requirements. People need to be more open and understanding about different dietary needs. There are steps being taken in the right direction, with examples like gluten free options on menus and more free from products being available in the shops; but these are both over-priced and hard to find in some areas.
Restaurants are getting better at being more mindful of dietary requirements but the issue with IBS is that the intolerances you are faced with are not your go-to allergens like gluten, wheat, eggs, molluscs etc. Therefore many restaurants can’t guarantee their menu is free from certain ingredients. I have found this especially true with onion and garlic. Asking your waiter to clarify ingredients on the menu is both embarrassing for you and sometimes annoying for them. I usually find waiters are more than happy to help you adapt a dish on the menu so that it suits your dietary needs but you can’t help but feel like a nuisance constantly sending them back and forth to ask the chef a dozen questions about the ingredients used and the process of cooking them. On a positive note I have found that Pizza Express are fantastic for IBS dietary requirements, it’s my go-to place when all hope is lost in eating out! I can basically make my own pizza on a gluten free base and have no problems whatsoever. They even have dairy-free raspberry sorbet!! So you see dealing with IBS isn’t just about changing what/when I eat but about adapting your lifestyle to accommodate your needs. Why should you be made to feel uncomfortable just because your needs are different to ‘normal’ people? !
So to wrap up…I guess this post was a way for me to raise awareness of how diet changes can affect people living with IBS in such drastic ways. I fear that I will always have an anxiety about eating out and no matter how hard I try will keep getting upset and worked up about going for a meal at a friends. I can only hope that with time people come to accept and understand the importance of these dietary requirements for IBS. In the meantime however I shall have to put on my brave face and keep on advocating by explaining what I can/can’t eat and why. Let me know if you have any experiences of eating out with IBS (good or bad) or with people’s attitudes towards your dietary requirements. Or if you want to know more about FODMAPS…
Until next time… stay happy, stay healthy and remember it’s NOT JUST IBS!