*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