*Trigger warning: this blog post discusses body image and eating disorders
I’ve wanted to talk about how IBS has affected my mental health and perceived body image for a while now, and as I started writing out an Instagram post I realised how much I have to say on the topic. So here I am, nervously starting the conversation. Sure, I share posts of my bloat-friendly outfits, which all stemmed from trying to make myself (and now others) feel more confident even when suffering from a flare-up, and my frustration at my poor bloated little belly; but that’s all pretty light-hearted, and I’ve never really spoken about how the illness really affected me deep down.
I think a lot of people who don’t suffer with IBS, or any cause of chronic bloating, think that the symptoms are all very much physical. But for me, the psychological pain I have felt from IBS has been far worse than even the worst flare-up. Despite being so open on Instagram, it really does feel pretty scary to open up about this, but I think it’s such an important topic to share as if I’ve felt it, others probably have/do too, and if that’s you, I want you to know you’re not alone and there absolutely is a way out.
Today I’ve realised I could probably write a book about
this, but as I haven’t washed my hair in six days and I still need to make
dinner, I’m going to gather my thoughts and experiences in a list-like
timeline. So here goes…
As a kid I have always been quite conscious of
my weight; even in primary school I remember feeling like “the chubby one”. But
I’m never quite sure whether my obsession over it started before, or after I
started suffering from IBS, however I’m pretty sure they arrived hand in hand
When I was about 18 I started becoming obsessed
with my belly and how much it would grow after food, and I soon found myself in
a vicious cycle of IBS and even poorer body image (not that I knew it was IBS
at the time). I hated the way I looked so I’d work myself up, get stressed, and
would therefore bloat. I’d bloat, and then hate the way I looked even more
I developed (undiagnosed) body dysmorphia,
mainly because I had absolutely no idea what my body actually looked like. I remember
jumping out of bed every morning and running to the mirror to assess how flat
my stomach was and asking myself “am I bloated or is this actually fat?”
I would get so angry and upset about not being
able to wear what my friends were wearing because I knew I’d get bloated and
feel self-conscious. I’d turn up late or cancel 80% of nights out because I’d
be too busy crying over what I looked like, how bad my bloat was and how I couldn’t
fit into any of my clothes.
I screenshotted pictures of half of Instagram’s
flat stomached models (which sometimes, mine would look like, but mostly, it
was bloated) and would beg out loud for mine to look like that, wondering how
the hell they went to the beach, drank cocktails and ate a burger yet didn’t look
six months pregnant like I did.
I pleaded my mum for every test under the sun to
find out the cause and bless her, she got them for me. But nothing major was
ever found and after a few years I was diagnosed with IBS and recommended the
low FODMAP diet.
Early into the start of my journey with the low
FODMAP diet I started completely obsessing over what I was eating and suffered
with huge food-fear and anxiety. At the time, I was convinced all high FODMAPs made
me sick, and never trusted anything I was eating except plain chicken or salmon
salad. But looking back, I now know it was most likely my brain that was making
it up and not the food at all.
I got so scared to eat I’d try and avoid it. When
I got hungry I’d eat (often over-eating to overcome the hunger) and then
instantly feel sick, which then lead to suffering from bulimia for around 3
years as I “just wanted it out my tummy”
It was only after counselling due to the
depression I was suffering from other, personal reasons that I realised I
couldn’t go on like this. After one of my therapy sessions it suddenly hit me
that my health, relationships and whole body was suffering because of this. I
finally decided that this was enough and I needed to start fixing myself.
I started doing a lot of reading about gut
health and IBS as I figured if I understood the science behind it, I could try
and fight the demons in my brain and stop them from making things up. I created
a new account on Instagram (yup, The Tummy Diaries kinda saved me!) and only
followed people who made me feel good, and those going through similar
experiences as me such as living with IBS, following a gluten free diet etc. I
also had councelling sessions specifically on my relationship with food.
It took a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot
of commitment but I got there in the end.
I still sometimes have down days where I wish my
tummy could be “normal” and stay the size it actually is, but I’ve learnt to
accept that I’m doing the best I can to look after it and prevent flare-ups,
but when they do happen, they’re temporary, and although being bloated isn’t
fun, the size of my belly doesn’t define me. I have processes in place that I follow
when it happens (such as meditation, gratitude lists, walking, probiotics etc)
to keep me feeling as positive as I can and not lead me down that path again.
Opening up so much about this is scary, but I think like
with everything, it’s so important to know you’re not alone. I think back to
how I treated myself and it makes me so sad. If anything, everything I was
doing has only damaged my gut even more, so logically it didn’t make sense, but
mental illnesses don’t make sense do they?
The reason I’m sharing this is to tell you that if you’re
feeling these thoughts on any end of the spectrum, you’re not alone, and you
can absolutely come out the other side. If it wasn’t for Ross, I probably wouldn’t
have gone for counselling in the first place. We were only about three months
into dating when he talked me into it, and he had no idea about what I was
going through with my IBS and body image (not really first date material and
when he clocked I was depressed I figured that was probably enough for him to
deal with for the time being).
So if you’re finding that your IBS is causing you to feel
negatively about your body to an extent it causes further health problems then
I beg you to reach out to speak to someone (ideally a professional) as although
IBS can be crap, it shouldn’t take over your life or have an impact as seriously
as this. Please keep raising awareness of this important conversation, and if
you have anything you’d ;like to share then leave it in the comment box below.
Sending lots of love to anyone who’s IBS or bloating makes
them feel rubbish about themselves; I promise, you are beautiful and you are amazing
Please note, this article, along with all of my blogs
posts, was written from personal experience, and I am in no way a medical
professional. If you need professional help on this please speak to your GP or
mental health charities such as Beat or Mind. You don’t need to suffer in
Thanks for this Lottie – really needed to hear this. I feel like my IBS is taking over my life right now and I feel so alone. It’s really affecting my work as I often wake up so ill, especially after eating. It’s so important to open up conversations like this ?? major love.
Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to message. I’m so sorry you’re having such a hard time with it but I promise you’re not alone and there’s so many things you can do to help it improve, you will get there. Sending you so much love x x
Thank you for sharing this Lottie – you’ve been through such alot and with such a beautiful smile no one knows how much pain you’re suffering.
By talking about it you are helping others in not feeling so isolated and alone.
Personally i love following as you inspire me. I have IBS to the point that lately all i can wear is sports stuff *elasticated* as jeans and waistbsnds hurt. I wear a 16 jeans at times even though im a 12 to avoid the pain so i know where you’re at. I also have endometriosis. Most meals i take with painkillers as it hurts. I’m awaiting sn MRI to see whats what.
Please continue the great work you do
Hi Trace, your message means so much – honestly, thank you. I’m so sorry you’re in so much pain, that breaks my heart. I really really hope you get some answers soon and not saying it’s the cure, but if you haven’t already tried it I can’t recommend meditating, or doing whatever it is that helps you relax enough. For me, my anxiety over being ill was often harder than being ill. Sending you lots of love and luck with your appointment x x
Aw..you shouldn’t be scared, I get it will bring up some emotional raw feelings, but trust me for all of us but suffering it’s a breath of fresh air to hear we are the same, likewise for anyone, for whatever the reason suffering mental illness it refreshing.
So thank you…
I am just coming out of my lowfodmap journey and I am so surprised at how ill I have been for years, thinking it was my bowel condition BAD to stress ect..when actually the foods I was eating were as I say” poisoning me” and the constant lack of GP support… it’s hard so I for one am grateful for you…
That’s so kind, thank you so much ❤️ Really hope you start feeling better soon and are able to understand your triggers. Lots of love, Lottie x
Love this Lot, i love how you now embrace your tummy, I love your sense of humour, love your drunk gin chat on flights home for work, I love your courage for sharing. IBS doesn’t define you and I’m so proud you’ve opened up to inspire others ??
Aw Yaz you’re going to make me cry! Bless you for reading this, thank you. I’m lucky to have lovely supportive friends like you x x
Sorry in advance for my broken English.
I’m in a similar situation. I was diagnosed about 2 years ago, but suffering for much longer, because the doctors never did enough tests and said that it’s something else.
It affected my mood, I feel depressed, emocional and exhausted. I have some good days, but the pain and cramps are there all the time.
I’m lucky that my husband understands me and cry with me when I’m suffering.
I’m very active in the gym, it helps me to feel better, and I’m trying find out by myself what I can eat, but isn’t easy.
A year ago I moved to another country where they doesn’t take it seriously.
Many days I feel desperate ?
I’m so sorry you’ve had such a hard time with it and I understand the frustration with not having the answers. It can be a long process but please don’t give up as each time you get closer it makes it so worth it. I can’t recommend journaling, and working with a dietician enough – if you haven’t tried already, they may be able to highlight things you never even thought of. I’ve also found it’s really helped my mental health as just writing down your thoughts is a form of therapy.
Sending lots of love and I really hope you start feeling better soon – thank you for your comment x
Thank you for sharing your story with us, I don’t think many people understand so it’s good to know we are not alone x
Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment x x
Amazing read and so relatable. X I hated my body for so long. I’ve now learnt to love it and rather than wanting to be skinny I am wanting to be healthy and strong. Got help from trainer and unreal nutritional expert and never looked back ?
This makes me so happy!! I’m so pleased you’ve worked on yourself and are now in a good place. You go girl!! x
Thank you so much for writing this and speaking out about your experiences- it’s very brave of you and I wish more people talked about IBS so we don’t feel so alone.
Keep up the amazing work on your instagram too, it’s saved me through many flare up and tough patches with my IBS’ Helps to know other people are going through it too!
Thank you so much for your lovely words, I’m so glad I can help you, even if it’s just a little bit. That’s exactly why I share what I do so thank you x x
Thankyou. Thankyou for making me feel less alone I sometimes get caught up in my tiny world thinking why can’t I eat out or be like everyone else. I’m 17 and my ibs had stopped me living at one point controlling my every move. I’m determined to slowly step out of my comfort zone especially with foods & going places as I’ve previously isolated myself. You were one of the reasons I pulled myself out, I think to myself if she can do it I can too. Your truly an inspiration. Again thankyou for being you❤️x
Hi lovely – that’s so normal. I’ve spent years comparing myself and getting angry that I can’t do things that “normal” people can. But like you say, it’s all about not giving up and taking little steps that make you feel better. I have lots of posts on here about how to eat out safely even with dietary restrictions etc, so I really hope they can help you get some confidence back. Sending lots of love x x
I know I dont know you but I’m honestly so proud of you for finding the courage to write this post. I’ve been following you on Instagram for some time now and it’s just so wonderful to see you grow in confidence and be more open. Being a sufferer of IBS with a severe food allergy AND recently diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder it’s just so comforting to know others out have been through similar. I also suffered from bulimia in the past and it’s such a tough thing to come out the other side of. So thank you to you, and the other accounts out there spreading body positivity and awareness. Life is hard but together, we got this!
Thank you so much for this.
It’s so easy to feel alone – I’m an identical twin and my sister doesn’t have IBS and I often get so annoyed with myself and depressed wondering why I had to have it.
I go to the gym 6 times a week and suffering so badly from bloating gets me down so much – I wonder why I bother going to the gym when I always feel “fat” despite being petite! None of my friends truly understand how it makes me feel either and trying to date with ibs is so hard. Not being able to wear what you want to wear on a night out / meal out because you know you’ll end up bloated is horrible as well.
It’s so nice to see other people going through the same thing as you are x
Oh gosh I can’t even imagine how hard that must be with comparison but yes, please know you’re absolutely not alone. So many of us suffer with it and we’re all in this together and for me that’s also one of the biggest comforts. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Lottie x
Thank you for this post it’s very comforting to know i’m not alone in dealing with all the different aspects of body image. You always help me to accept myself and feel happy. I am always loving your fashion tips as well, the positivity on your social media helps me to feel loads better when i’m low. sorry to hear you aren’t well, feel better soon ?
That means so much and has put a big smile on me knowing I have helped. Thank you lovely x x
I’ve struggled with almost daily bloating for the past ten years and finding you and the bloated wardrobe community you’ve been has been so validating and uplifting! I look forward to your posts so much- they’re always so relatable!
I’ve just started the low FODMAP elimination diet this week and it’s already started to trigger my eating disorder. Thank you for being so open in this post, it was exactly what I needed to read right now!
That’s such amazing feedback, thank you!! I’m so sorry to hear the low FODMAP diet is triggering you – it’s also scary when we’re put in a position where we need to track, think and analyse what we’re eating so much but please do talk to your doctor or dietician about this as they should be able to give you some tips on how to track but not “obsess”. I’ve found that the more I overthink my food, the worse my tummy (and mind!) is. I know it’s easier said than done, especially when this behaviour is ingrained in us, but just you writing it here is a great first step, so please do talk. Sending you so much love and luck with it all x
Thanks for addressing such an important topic! I’ve also dealt with an eating disorder related to IBS and being self-conscious about bloating. Ironically enough I posted my story on this topic in my blog today.
I’m so sorry you’ve gone through it too but well done for sharing and being a part of the conversation – you’re helping so many people x
Thank you so much for sharing this – the feelings you had when you were younger rang true for me too 100%. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Am still figuring out my triggers currently and am seeing a naturopath – it’s a very long journey – but I know it’s a step in the right direction.
You have such a fab mindset and keep going – it’s so worth it. Good luck with it all and lots of love, Lottie x
Hi Lottie! I’ve gone through exactly the same. I was bulimic through teenage hood and until my 20s. I just thought I was fat, I would do hours if exercise and crunches, count my calories… Looking back it’s really sad that so many of us struggle with this but it’s very empowering to know that we’re not alone. I was diagnosed with IBS when I was 27 so quite late. My boyfriend (now husband) helped me through all this when he realised I was making myself sick early in our relationship. It’s really hard to talk about those things but they are part of our journey. I have two daughters now and I really hope that they will grow feeling happy in their bodies. Thank you for posting this. Wishing you all the best! Xxx
Hi Gabie, wow I relate to your story so much – I forgot how much I used to exercise just to get it to go away. Sorry you’ve been through all of that but sounds like you had an amazing hubby by your side. I’m sure your kids will grow up to be amazing positive humans with you as a mummy x
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Your timing couldn’t be more perfect after I spent half an hour crying to a doctor last night when they said they didn’t know what they could do to help me with my tummy! I then spent the evening moping around, drinking peppermint tea and telling my boyfriend that he doesn’t know how lucky he is to have a ‘normal’ tummy! So waking up and seeing this post has given me some very needed reassurance ? Thank you so much for giving people the honesty they need – I feel like everyone needs to know that IBS isn’t just “poo problems” and that people’s lives can be completely turned upside down because of it! You’re a star and your Instagram account hasn’t just saved you, it’s saved a lot of your followers too! Xoxo
Thank you so much, that’s so kind. And I’m so sorry to hear your appointment didn’t go well – I’ve had so many of those, often even ending up in me storming out! But don’t give up, when you find a doctor who listens it will all start falling into place. Sending massive hugs x
Thank you so much for this Lottie, I relate so much and so nice to know I’m not alone. Thank you so much for writing this and for your honesty ❤️
You’re definitely not alone Emily, sending you so much love and thank you for reading x x
Your words couldn’t speak more true to me. I’ve had a very similar destructive relationship with me and my IBS. I have had the same crippling fear over eating foods which has led to obsessive or not eating at all. I could feel good from not eating as my tummy went down a little in the first 6 hours without food but with constantly thinking and looking at it I would be bloated again my the 8th hour unsure whether to eat or not to eat. Thank you for writing this blog. It has helped me to read what I wish I could have said to myself before. X
The food fear is awful isn’t it – so dangerous. And thank you so much, I’m so glad reading it has resonated and helped x x
This post is so honest. I myself have been diagnosed with IBS since I was 14, with very little support in managing this. It has only been in the recent years and actually following you on Instagram to realise that you can change and do things to help. Whether it’s certain clothes or a change in diet.
I am currently struggling to follow the start of the FODMAP diet to help to recognise which food aggravate. However, cooking for a family with meat eaters and vegans I am finding this very hard and feel like it’s sabotaged by others a lot of the time, as like you have said people who don’t suffer don’t always understand.
Thank you for being inspiring xx
Oh it’s so tricky when cooking with/for others isn’t it! But keep at it and try and keep the conversation open with your family as the more they understand about IBS and the low FODMAP diet, the more they’ll be able to help and support.
Thank you so much for reading x x
Lottie.. you are an inspiration to so many people. I luckily don’t suffer with tummy problems but I can see so clearly how you are helping others out there with no where to turn. Well done, we are so proud of the person you have become! X
Reading this put such a big smile on my face. Thank you for your support always Bex x x
Your timeline sounds a lot like mine…except I was never brave enough to post it on my blog – thank you for your courage. f “am I bloated or is this actually fat?” still a stupid question i ask myself -_-
Thank you for reading Amber and I really hope you find a way to feel better about your body x
Hi Lottie. Thanks so much for posting this; I lay reading it with one of my worst IBS flare ups in years, hugging my hot water bottle and praying for some rest. Have you got any tips for getting the right medical help/finding a professional? As we all have I’ve struggled to get through to the GP about how I’m feeling and how much it’s affecting my life. I have a generalised anxiety disorder and I’m beginning to realise how much of my anxiety is caused by food and stomach related problems. Hoping I can talk some of this through in therapy. Again thank you so much for sharing, I love your Instagram and your honesty and openness! Beth x
Hey Beth, so sorry to hear you’re struggling too. I personally started by asking my GP to a referral for a specialist. If they give you one, then fab but I believe there is a certain criteria so it’s not always that easy. If not, I then started searching online for recommendations. Try “IBS specialists” or “gut health specialists” and make sure they are fully qualified and registered. There are also some that can offer help over Skype etc rather than you having to go into the clinic. I want to look into this more and gather a list of resources of where to get help so as soon as I’ll do I’ll share it. Hope that helps and hope you get some answers soon x x
Hi, thanks for sharing. I feel exhausted and mentally ill because it affects my work as a teacher and my social life. Currently I am on holidays and I can t eat anything. I cry all the time. IT s terrible. I am about to start the low fodmap diet in a stricter way.
Elizabeth ( from Argentina ?)
Hi Elizabeth, I’m so sorry you’re going through this and know how hard it can be. I cannot recommend working with a dietitian enough if you’re going to try the low FODMAP diet as it’s such a tricky one to follow and I have found it can actually make your relationship with food worse if you’re not under the right guidance. I really hope you start feeling better soon x
I do the morning tummy check, followed by at least 10 more checks a day. It’s useful to know its unhealthy and unnecessary. We’re told by the media that we need to achieve unattainable beauty standards, it’s hard to break free when it’s been engrained in our heads. Here’s to breaking away from bad habits and celebrating our wonderful bodies. I’m at the start of my journey and I have a bloody long way to go. Just wanted to say that you’re wonderful, and we’re lucky to have your courageous self on insta, big love xx
Chloe, I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said here. The media can be so toxic and dangerous but yes, here’s to fighting against it and celebrating our beautiful, unique bodies! And thank you so much for your lovely words – you are an angel x x
It’s so lovely to read this, although I know I am not alone in suffering from IBS it’s so nice to hear that you and other people have felt similar ways to what I have felt, I have only officially been diagnosed with IBS for 18 months although I think I have had it for much longer. I remember a night out before I was diagnosed, I was drinking gin (which I now know is a trigger) I remember being bloated and then sitting in the toilets crying for about half an hour or more wishing I looked ‘like everyone else’ and didn’t have this problem. I’d like to say i’m on the road to recovery but its a bit of an up and down journey.. I’ve always worried about my body image for as long as I can remember, even though I know now that there is nothing wrong with the way I look I still obsess everyday.. I’m studing Nutrition at uni so I should know about all of this and the negative effects it can have on you mentally and physically but sadly this still doesn’t stop me feeling the way I do sometimes…
Thank you for opening up about your story, I hope many people read this and start to feel more positive and to know that their IBS doesnt define them.
Thank you, Chloe xx
Hi Chloe, thank you so much for sharing your story and I’m so sorry you struggle too. I think just acknowledging it is such a big step and you should be proud of that, as it means you’re working towards feeling better. I’m sending you so so much love and I’m so glad you know you’re not alone here x x
Jesus Christ, this is familiar. For approx 15 years I suffered from body dysmorphia (didn’t know at the time it was called that) due to my IBS. Would feel so bloated and greasy (didn’t know I was lactose intolerant) that I would spend hours getting ready each morning trying to find the perfect outfit, would wash much more than necessary, would suddenly hate all my clothes & throw them out (then have no money to buy new ones & cry/beg family for money), would obsess over aspects of my appearance like makeup that I could control … so much better now but just to say this blog post was SO spot on and well done for speaking about it. Hang in there!!!
Oh I know this feeling all too well. I’m so sorry you experiences the same but so pleased you are now in a better place. Thank you so much for sharing your story and for your support – we’ve got this!! x