You may remember that around the New Year I was struggling with stomach bloating and cramps that effectively halted my training and prevented me from taking part in my first race, the Great Winter Run. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I was devastated that all my hard training was for nothing.
I went through a pretty tough detox, basically a vegan diet with no caffeine, no wheat and no alcohol, for a month and gradually reintroduced food groups. The only upshot was bloating with wheat and a new dislike for cow’s milk. Since then I’ve avoided both and had no real problems.
Until Sunday night.
Seemingly from nowhere, I was doubled up with stomach cramps just after I went to bed. Luckily I had some Buscopan (designed to help with stomach cramps), which helped enough to let me sleep eventually. The following morning I was still suffering and was hugely bloated. Now, if you think that maybe I am exaggerating, I could show you photographs of what I looked like when I was six months pregnant and what I looked like yesterday and you’d be hard pushed to say which was which, apart from maybe identifying some dodgy 90s clothing! My stomach becomes quite distended; in fact last time it happened my doctor was so convinced I must be pregnant that she made me take a test!
Slowly my belly is going down and the discomfort is receding. I’m no longer having cramps, but I still get a heavy feeling, similar to that which you get prior to the onset of cystitis, before I pee.
All of this seems to point to IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) which, according to this article, 20% of people will get at some point in their lives and it’s twice as common in women as it is in men.
Skipping past the gory bits, I wanted to know what to do about it and the recommendations based on research are sketchy to say the least. No one really knows what causes IBS, so treating it is a bit like throwing mud on a wall and seeing what sticks. However, this section stands out for me:
Foods, drinks and lifestyle
A healthy diet is important for all of us. However, some people with IBS find certain foods of a normal healthy diet can trigger symptoms or make symptoms worse. Current national guidelines about IBS include the following points about diet, which may help to minimise symptoms:
• Have regular meals and take time to eat at a leisurely pace.
• Avoid missing meals or leaving long gaps between eating.
• Drink at least eight cups of fluid per day, especially water or other non-caffeinated drinks such as herbal teas. This helps to keep the faeces (stools) soft and easy to pass along the gut.
• Restrict tea and coffee to three cups per day (as caffeine may be a factor in some people).
• Restrict the amount of fizzy drinks that you have to a minimum.
• Don’t drink too much alcohol. (Some people report an improvement in symptoms when they cut down from drinking a lot of alcohol, or stop smoking if they smoke.)
• Consider limiting intake of high-fibre food (but see the section above where an increase may help in some cases).
• Limit fresh fruit to three portions (of 80 g each) per day.
• If you have diarrhoea, avoid sorbitol, an artificial sweetener found in sugar-free sweets (including chewing gum) and in drinks, and in some diabetic and slimming products.
• If you have a lot of wind and bloating, consider increasing your intake of oats (for example, oat-based breakfast cereal or porridge) and linseeds (up to one tablespoon per day). You can buy linseeds from health food shops.
The sentences in italics are the ones I do adhere to and so I’m discounting those. The ones in normal font are the ones maybe I need to focus on. I drink far too much ordinary tea, sometimes ten mugs a day, including two to wake me up in the morning! I do have decaf tea; if I need a cuppa, I’ll have that. I do like drinking herbal teas too. And up my porridge intake! Since having hens I’ve been mainly eating boiled eggs for breakfast lately – back to the porridge tomorrow!
To be honest, I haven’t felt like running. I haven’t felt well enough. My head wants to, my body is digging its heels in. Yesterday I threatened it with some yoga but didn’t follow through. Today I’ve watched movies and rested.
And felt a bit guilty!
EDIT: Post writing this two of my good friends, both IBS sufferers themselves, have pointed out the blindingly obvious to me, that my bout of IBS could have been triggered by stress. As I just said on Facebook, facing up to being stressed is not something historically I have been good at; I, instead, try to cope by ignoring how I feel and getting on with things. Inevitably something gives and this time it seems to be my gut telling me to slow down, relax and adjust my life.
To focus on my diet alone is really not good enough. This is the very first paragraph in causes, which I had glossed over:
Overactivity of the nerves or muscles of the gut. It is not known why this may occur. It may have something to do with overactivity of messages sent from the brain to the gut. Stress or emotional upset may play a role. About half of people with IBS can relate the start of symptoms to a stressful event in their life. Symptoms tend to become worse during times of stress or anxiety.
It’s possible that the psychological treatments in conjunction with looking at my diet and making sure I exercise regularly, maybe even despite the spasms, might be even more effective.
Thank you Lizzie and Fraser for listening and advising.