gemsybobsy: (walkies)
[personal profile] gemsybobsy
I was first diagnosed with IBS when I was about 17 years old, although it probably went on before that. I have been back to see various doctors a few times since, always with similar complaints. I broke down one time and told one doctor that I couldn’t take it anymore, and he said, "Well, we know it can’t be anything really nasty, because you haven’t dropped dead yet." Brilliant. I’ve been on countless tablets for it; been prescribed sachets and potions and capsules and nothing has worked. I’ve never been referred to a specialist, and when I asked a different doctor about further tests, she actually laughed and said, "It would be nice if the NHS could stretch to that, but…"

I always have, and always have had, a stomach ache, which varies from sharp stabbing pains to a general feeling of ‘fullness’; I constantly have the urge to hold my stomach, as if I have to hold it all in. In the last 10 or so years, there’s also been a feeling of something ‘digging in’ under my ribcage, on the right side, most of the time. I even got this area scanned for biliary disease because when it’s really bad it pushes the cartilage under my ribs outwards and it feels really uncomfortable, like a gigantic lump. My belly goes hard and bloats up, daily, to the point where I look pregnant. This is where it gets gross, sorry - but I am constantly constipated (I think the record was 6 days), and gases and things build up until there’s horrendously loud gurgling in there, and then I have epic diarrhoea. I can be on the toilet for an hour, crying in absolute agony, feeling nauseous and faint. Nice. It interrupts my life because I can never tell when I’m going to have problems. Once when I was 14 or so I went to the doctor with sharp pains, and he suspected appendicitis. That was nothing compared to the pain I can get now.

I try to eat healthily, although I do have a sweet tooth and have always overdone the sugar and sweets. I’ve always been a yo-yo dieter, and I usually hover around 'slightly' or 'moderately' overweight. I’d say I have a standard Western diet. I’ve always enjoyed my chips, burgers, occasional drink(ing binge), chocolate, sweets, cakes, ice-cream… but I equally eat a lot of fruit and veg, whole grains, nuts, seeds, cereals, lean meats and seafood. I’m not a salad-dodger! In my late teens I went off meat. My dad, who did most of the cooking at home, really spoiled me with special courgette lasagne and veggie casseroles, but I did live on crisps and crackers a lot of the time. I ended up going back to meat when he was making some bacon and eggs in our camper van one day. Mmm, amazing bacon. We always had a balanced diet at home; Mum and Dad were both awesome cooks. We had healthy stews and soups, fish, meat and two veg, home-made chunky chips and pizza, peanut butter on toast, chocolate bars and biscuits were monitored by Dad, I’d get shouted at for drinking all the milk…

When I moved out of home in 2005 and knew I’d be shopping and cooking for myself, I planned to be really healthy. It worked to some extent – I was around 10st 7lbs and happy with that. I had wholegrain cereals for breakfast in the office, huge green salads with nuts/cheese or soup and wholemeal bread for lunch, meat or fish and lots of vegetables for dinner, limited chocolate to small bars (I made myself walk to the shop to get them) and I snacked on seeds and fruit. However, as I was still getting the IBS symptoms, I decided to cut out dairy. I bought cookbooks full of dairy-free recipes, and read tons of books about general nutrition. I had my morning muesli and granola with water or apple juice instead of milk, banished all the lovely, lovely cheese from my lunchtime salads and sarnies, and used oil and soya marg instead of butter on my bread. I can’t remember how I ended up going back onto dairy again. I think I just missed cheese! It didn’t work, anyway, and I was pretty strict – checked all the ingredients in everything for milk derivatives, read forums and got tips and recipes and all sorts.

Around this time, from about 2006 to 2009, I went through a complete life overhaul. I changed my job, had some bad nights out, quit smoking and started overeating full-time, had a horrible time with one of my relationships and my health went to the dogs (haha), to be honest. I was eating doughnuts and cheese rolls for lunches, or fast foods and takeaways. I kept trying to eat healthy and would start the day with porridge and have a sandwich with no fat for lunch but by the evening I’d be scoffing bowls of cereal and slices of toast with peanut butter on before dinner. I complained in my journal of not being able to lose weight but I refused to measure my food and watch my portion sizes, and I was kidding myself that I was okay because I was eating mostly healthy food and walking a lot. My tummy was always playing up but I got used to it – and I had other illnesses to battle with. Constant headaches, palpitations, colds that could have been flu, tons of toothaches, and my weight went up to 13st. I had a couple of bad asthma attacks, then I had dodgy periods and pains that led to being tested for PCOS. I had awful depression and anxiety too.

In 2006 I wrote, “I just feel like utter rubbish all the time. Damn IBS. I feel like I’m always full up in there, and no matter what I eat and how many times I go to the loo each day it’s… all just constantly sitting there. It’s so achy sometimes that I can’t stand up. And it feels like there’s something under my ribcage on my right hand side (as I look down). Damnit. I should go to the doctors really but I’m terrified of the possibility of having to have fingers and/or cameras poked into places. Besides, they’ll probably just say, ‘Oh, it’s just IBS… eat more fibre…’”

In 2010, things began to get awesome again. 2011 was the best year of my life for all sorts of reasons. I slowly lost weight by doing lots of ballet and counting calories (thank you smartphones + the excellent MyFitnessPal app) and adopting a sort of Warrior Diet pattern of eating – I’d only eat from about 3pm until bedtime. If I fell off the wagon it didn’t matter as long as I stayed within my calories. I wasn’t too strict with myself either, I’d have a mad night out or weekend away and still eat normally the next day. It worked, to an extent. I got back down to 11st and felt fitter and less asthmatic, and my period problems vanished. Lots of muesli, oats, bran flakes, nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, raisins, oats, granary bread, cheese, salad. And I discovered quinoa! Yum yum. I still had IBS though... so, I started to research it again. I read books and websites for hours. I went to the library one day and read all the books with titles like, ‘The Poo Bible’ or ‘Your Guts are Shite’ or whatever. Nothing worked. Most were a mess of confusing science/speculation about insoluble and soluble fibres, good and bad bacteria, saturated fat and refined sugars will make you worse so stick to whole foods – only lean, white meats and only raw veggies and brown pasta - basically, be 'healthy'. Well, no shit! One would tell you to eat only brown rice while one said to eat only white. Dairy will make you worse because OMG LACTOSE, but this brand of yoghurt we endorse with 20g sugar and things like inulin is apparently okay. What? I lol’d at most of the suggestions, but I went ahead and tried it all. I spend so much money on mad probiotics and digestive enzymes and supplements and horrible-tasting green powders and oils, but, as usual, nothing worked.

At the end of 2011, I moved to Salisbury and vowed to sort all this out once and for all. Cooking for myself, completely by myself, I would DO SCIENCE, cure all my health problems and live out my days as a fit, healthy, self-sufficient, awesome person in a cute new house. I would eat fresh local food and go jogging with Didz every morning. I would be toned, lithe and glowing - the picture of health. Of course, then I decided to have a minor car accident which caused neck and shoulder problems followed by months of chronic migraine and fatigue. I had a scan which revealed a brain cyst but I was weirdly not that bothered; the doctors weren't either. It turned out to be okay, but by then I think I’d started to ‘eat my feelings’ – or maybe something in my head was thinking, "Just eat the damn chocolate - you already feel shite, your head might explode tomorrow, just enjoy it." I started buying doughnuts and crisps and chocolate and cake again, gained half a stone again, and then I had two stomach bugs and a cold and lost it again... then I gained it again. Then gained another half a stone as a side-effect of the pills I took for the migraine (the fifth drug I tried, which makes me fat and tired, but at least it stops the headaches!)

So, all of that aside, IBS still hassles me, and I still obsess over finding my ideal diet. The next thing I cut out was wheat (again). I acquired a bread-maker, and tried to make wheat-free bread. I gave up and got rid of the bread-maker. I then gave up bread completely and started eating oat cakes and rice cakes instead. I started buying rice flour and corn flour, experimenting with making biscuits and cakes with them, never being happy with the results but eating it all anyway. Most people lose weight when they give up bread but I replaced it with cakes. HELL YEAH CAEK. I‘d sit and munch a ton of junk food while researching healthy food. Lol. I discovered a lot of other things: protein keeps you full for longer. I started eating a lot of omelettes and pancakes. My diet went pretty much vegetarian again by this point, because I was always too poor to buy meat. I existed on loads of chips, veg, cheese, eggs, rice/oat cakes, sweets and chocolates. Then I started thinking about sugar, as I knew I was going too mad with it. I had tried various sugar-free things before because of my insatiable sweet tooth, and I’d always had a combination of sweeteners in the cupboard; sugar, honey, agave syrup - and I’d tried lots of manufactured sweeteners and packaged sugar-free sweets and chocolates. So, now I was gearing up to cutting down on the sugar I was eating. I was still getting IBS symptoms; by now I’d given up, and thought I’d just concentrate on getting my weight back down.

Then I came across the Low FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) diet. Breakthrough! I realised most sweeteners and sugar-free sweets could be causing me problems, as most of them contain polyols. I was happy because I could use normal white table sugar and maple syrup in my baking and not have to bother with honey and agave and artificial sweeteners and all that. I stopped buying apples and pears, and just bought oranges, berries and bananas. The only carbs or grains I could have were oats, potatoes, corn, white rice and quinoa - that was fine, I was already sorted there, as I'd already banished wheat. I just had to throw away the brown rice I never ate anyway and I replaced onions and garlic with herbs and chives. I stopped buying soft cheese, yoghurts and milk. I occasionally used rice milk but not that often. Oat cream was a staple. I was quite happy on it, and best of all, my symptoms reduced (when I stuck to it)! I was having much healthier poos. I’d still get hugely bloated, but it wouldn’t be as painful. I did miss legumes, peas, fruit juices, dried fruits, pasta and cereals, and a few times I did really want to just nom an apple, of all things.

I was happy, but I was also annoyed. All the things I’d been told again and again to eat to be healthy were actually making me poorly. And in particular, the fruit I’d always been told to eat to ‘keep me regular’ like plums, prunes, peaches and apricots, were the very things that contain fructose and polyols in excess that can cause problems in people sensitive to FODMAPs. Same with the fructans in the husks of certain grains. So, eating wholegrains, brown rice, apples, starchy veg and fruit - all the things that are supposed to be good for you – are exactly what could be causing the problems! I sent my mum and sis a big email and a spreadsheet full of information about this Wonder!Diet, as they sometimes get IBS symptoms too. Still, I didn’t always stick to it. Especially lately with the fatiguey illness and all that, but at least now I know - symptoms came back when I eat an excess of FODMAPs. Simples. And best of all, if I mostly stick to low FODMAP food, a bit of onion or a cheeky slice of toast every now and then doesn’t hurt as much.

Lately though, I think I’ve gone a stage further. I decided to experiment with low carb, to try and shift this pesky druggy weight (lol). For the past week I’ve eaten quite Atkins-like. I’ve just been trying to keep carbs low, but keep fibre in. Apart from one popcorn binge and one huge Jammy Dodger binge, I’ve not had any grains or starches – none of my usual piles of chips, rice/oat cakes, rice, oats, corn, noodles or quinoa. I’ve also refrained from eating fruit, apart from a few frozen blueberries. I’ve missed these foods, because they are my daily staples! Cutting them out has meant I’ve eaten a lot more leafy veg and protein instead, and, as an unintended and surprising result, my tummy has been amazing. FLAT. FLAT! Less wind and really healthy poos. No pain! The 'lump' under my rib isn't as noticeable! And! I’ve lost 3lbs. I will carry on experimenting and researching, because while I’ve done a bit of reading on grain-free diets (sort of like the paleo/stone-age diet), I don’t know if it’s the healthiest way to be. But, at the moment, I am a little bit excited.
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