How to Have a Life When You Have IBS

1
Become Friends with your Body

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Like many IBS sufferers, you probably feel quite betrayed by your body. You are angry that it is acting up and preventing you from doing what it is you want to be doing. You are bewildered as to why you feel so sick so much of the time. Although these feelings are quite normal, it is important to learn to forgive your body for being so symptomatic. Your body is just reacting to the various sets of circumstance that it has found itself in.

Start to treat your body as if it were a sick friend. You would do anything you could to help someone you loved if they were sick. Do the same with your own body. Stop fighting with your body and stop trying to control it. Listen to what it needs and do what you need to do to take care of it. Work toward overcoming your shame about your symptoms and try to take a more matter-of-fact approach. If you were with a 4-year-old who needed to “get to a bathroom, now!” you might be a bit hassled, but you would just do what needs to be done. If a friend canceled on an engagement at the last minute due to feeling sick, you would express concern and good wishes. You are every bit as deserving of that kind of care and compassion. Give it to yourself!

2
Learn to Put Yourself First

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Yes, we all have busy lives and lots of responsibilities. Too often, taking care of ourselves becomes a low priority. But, like it or not, you are sick. You must rearrange your life so that taking care of your health and your body moves to the top of the list. Learning to do this without guilt is the hard part.

Our bodies are the toolkit that we were given to deal with the demands of this world. Like any job, the quality of our tools is going to reflect the quality of the final product. By taking care of ourselves first, we enhance our ability to take care of everybody else. Yes, IBS is a bummer, but you can turn this challenge around by using your illness as a motivator for improving your overall health.

3
Foster a Good Working Relationship with Your Doctor

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With a chronic condition like IBS, it is essential to have a qualified, trustworthy physician to serve as a guide and resource. As a patient, you can do things to ensure that you get the maximum benefit from your appointments with your doctor:

  • Write down your questions and concerns ahead of time.
    Doctor appointments can be anxiety provoking, so do your part to minimize this by having a written list of the issues you want addressed. This way you won’t have to worry that you might be forgetting something important. Due to their busy schedules, doctors generally welcome a neat list as it allows them to get directly to the heart of the things that are important to you.
  • Remember that doctors are only human
    Your doctor cannot cure your IBS, nor can he remember everything about your body. Your doctor is just an important part of your treatment team. You are the boss: It is up to you to coordinate the various aspects of your own health. It is also your job to speak up if you do not agree with something that your doctor has said or recommended, or if you feel that your doctor is overlooking something that is of significant concern to you. Recognize and respect your doctor’s expertise and view them as the valuable resource that they are.

4
Establish Healthy Eating Habits

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Due to the complicated relationship between IBS and food, this might be a bumpy road, but one well worth traveling on. Symptoms can be so traumatic that it is easy for certain foods (or just the simple act of eating) to quickly become something to fear. It can therefore be quite a challenge to learn to eat in a way that is nutritionally sound. Remember that this is a lifelong process. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Avoid large, heavy meals or foods with a high fat content.
    Heavy meals and fatty foods can stimulate the hormones involved in the gastrocolic reflex, a reflex that stimulates colon contractions, and thus may cause you to experience stronger, and perhaps more painful, abdominal cramps.
  • Eat meals on a regular basis.
    IBS sufferers are often tempted to skip meals, believing that this will reduce symptoms. However, remember the goal is regularity! Do your part in helping your system to learn to operate in a steady fashion by eating smaller, more frequent, meals on a predictable schedule.
  • Slowly increase fiber.
    Although the research on the effects of fiber as a treatment for IBS are mixed, slowly experimenting with different types of fiber will allow you to experience the many health benefits of fiber. As a general guideline, aim to increase soluble fiber if your predominant symptom is diarrhea and insoluble fiber if your predominant symptom is constipation.
  • Introduce new foods when your symptoms are quieter.
    Many people with IBS eat a narrow range of so-called "safe" foods. It is important to eat a variety of foods in order to gain maximum nutritional value, so introduce new foods when your symptoms have lessened or when your stress level is lower.
  • Look into the low-FODMAP Diet: The low-FODMAP diet is the first dietary approach with research support for its effectiveness. See "How to Follow the Low-FODMAP Diet".

5
Work to Develop a Strong Support Network

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Due to the nature of its symptoms, IBS can be quite isolating. Like any other health condition, social support is a key component to a favorable treatment outcome. It is therefore, important for you to talk to others about the challenges you face with IBS. Letting others in opens the door for you to receive understanding, support and nurturing. Due to the high incidence of IBS in the general population, you might be surprised to find out who else has IBS.

Granted, some people will be insensitive. Spend more time with people who are positive and helpful and reduce your time spent around those who just don’t get it. Look for an IBS support group in your area. The Internet has also been a blessing for uniting individuals who share a common disorder, through online discussion forums. Just be wary of the validity of information posted and be careful to not be caught up in others whose symptoms are more severe than your own.

6
Get Out There and Live!

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Do not let your IBS run your life. Make your plans! Remember, going out of the house does not trigger IBS symptoms. It is the anxiety about going out that may trigger symptoms. Learn and use relaxation strategies to lessen this anxiety and free yourself up to begin to live a more ‘normal’ life.

Although you no longer have the luxury of taking your body for granted, careful planning can help you to better manage your life with IBS. If you know that you experience diarrhea episodes in the morning, then try to schedule appointments in the afternoon. Let others know about your special needs, whether it be in terms of what you can eat or extra time for bathroom stops. Have a plan as to where to find available bathrooms and how you will stay calm until you are able to reach one.

Remember that accidents are extremely rare. Your body was trained at an early age to hold onto stool until you reach a bathroom, and most likely it will do so, even if it often seems like you made it “just in time.” If accidents concern you, then be prepared. Wear a sanitary pad if necessary, and carry baby wipes, a change of clothes, and anything else you might need to help you to feel an improved sense of safety and comfort.

Keep in mind that IBS tends to wax and wane. Just because you are feeling awful right now does not mean that you will always feel this way. So, take good care of yourself until your symptoms start to ease. Reassure yourself that with practice and a bit of trial and error, you will get better at helping yourself feel better.

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