How I Would Approach IBS if I Was Diagnosed Today
by Jo Coates
I’ve lived with IBS for around 14 years now and over that time I feel like I’ve tried everything to help ease my symptoms.
It’s taken a long time for me to feel like I’m in control of my IBS, rather than it being in control of not only my bodily functions but my every thought. So much so, that if I were diagnosed today, I’d approach it very differently and I’m going to tell you how.
When I was first diagnosed I was in my late teens and had a lot going on. I was on what felt like constant antibiotics for recurring tonsillitis, followed by two post-operation bleeds and more antibiotics. My parents were mid divorce, my brother had been diagnosed with epilepsy and I was about to start my first year of university. It was an overwhelming time of change, particularly for a natural worrier.
Despite all of that, I focussed the majority of my efforts on looking at what in my diet was triggering my IBS, rather than the importance of stress management and making small tweaks to my lifestyle.
I became consumed by pinpointing the varying foods that caused any one of my symptoms, cutting out dairy/lactose completely. This followed by cutting out gluten for a while – something I would not do again and now eat very freely – alongside anything too acidic, onions and garlic.
In reality, while knowing my food triggers is helpful, the thing that’s had the biggest effect on my health, both physically and mentally, is a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) last year.
My therapist helped me break that worry cycle and armed me with techniques that help, and it’s been crucial
It took me 13 years to really appreciate how much my mental health had been compromised by my IBS. How every invite out was met with the immediate thoughts of “but what if I have a flare?” I’d worry so much ahead of an invite that this would actually cause my diarrhoea-predominant IBS to flare before I’d even left the house.
My therapist helped me break that worry cycle and armed me with techniques that help, and it’s been crucial. For instance, if a worry pops into my head, I acknowledge it and weigh up if it’s important. If it is, I’ll make a note to deal with it later at a set time. If it can be solved with some actions, I’ll take those steps. If it seems completely nonsensical, I’ll allow it pass and move on. The chances are I’ll have forgotten it pretty quickly.
I also take self-care pretty seriously. I allow myself a couple of evenings of rest a week. I practice meditation and box breathing to help me relax, something I’m not good at. I go for morning walks by the river to get my dose of green space. I’m also working on being kinder to myself and not beating myself up if an IBS flare hits.
Making those subtle tweaks has made a huge difference, one I only wish I’d put into practice much earlier on in my diagnosis.
If I could rewind to my 18-year-old self, I’d tell her to approach the diagnosis with these three steps:
1. Keep a food diary so you can pinpoint your triggers but don't obsess over it.
2. Take as much care of your mental health as your physical health. Find a mental health practitioner that supports you and helps you explore a set of tools that help your anxiety.
3. Talk about your IBS with friends and family that you trust. The more people that understand, the better!
Jo Coates is all about smashing that “Poo Taboo” and she does it in the most refreshing, authentic, approachable and loving way. Jo started writing a blog a few years ago after years of suffering with IBS and decided that it was about time people started not only hearing the truth about a life, living with IBS, but also felt freedom to speak up themselves.
I have heard Jo talk on numerous panels and her charisma and relatability always brings the room to life. It is imperative that we have a voice like Jo’s in the Gut Health sphere. Talking the poo talk and breaking through all the taboos.