I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. There, I said it. It’s been hard for me to admit because the name alone sucks. I realize it’s tough to make cramping, diarrhea, nausea, gas, and bloating sexy, but maybe that’s because the PED (penile erectile disfunction) folks hired all the superior PR professionals. Every former quarterback in the NFL takes a little blue pill and brags about it on national television. Imagine what it might do for IBS if, say, Angelina Jolie appeared on a commercial during American Idol and said, “Please excuse my toots, I have IBS.”
The idea isn’t so farfetched. According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastric Disorders, over 25% of the world’s population suffers from IBS—and around 70% of them are women. Line up four movie starlets in a row, and at least one of them has IBS. She’s just not talking about it.
I didn’t want to have IBS. I tried to blame everything else for the rumble in the jungle that woke me up at night and had me scrambling for facilities twenty minutes after every meal. I rectified my other health problems in an effort to eliminate the gastronomical events that were taking over my life. I had a uterine fibroid removed. Replaced all my mercury fillings. Became a vegetarian. Started taking fiber pills and pro-biotics. Got tested for gluten intolerance and parasites. Had an endoscopy and colonoscopy to rule out Crohn’s Disease, colon cancer, polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers, and GERD. As a result, I have more pictures of my intestines than I do of my dog.
IBS is one of those diseases where you find out what you have by what you don’t. There’s no definitive diagnostic criteria. It’s like taking the leftovers in the fridge and trying to make something edible from it. Really, you’re just guessing, and no one’s all too certain about the quality of the results.
I’m reassured by my physician that I can’t die from IBS or lose part of my colon or become incontinent. I’m given a prescription to Bentyl, which works really well, but also makes me high as a kite if I take the recommended dose. With one quarter of the population suffering from IBS, you’d think that doctors would have more answers about IBS (what causes it, how to stop it, what to eat when you have it) than some chick I found on the Internet named Heather—but you’d be wrong.
Heather Van Vorous has written a couple books about living with IBS, and she’s right on the money with her advice. I find out I’ve been doing everything wrong. IBS is caused by the gastrointestinal tract’s overreaction to inflammation. Inflammation is caused by certain trigger foods, notably insoluble fiber and high fat foods. Vegetables, meat, butter, oil, dairy, and whole grains irritate the gut. Soluble fiber including fresh sourdough, French bread, corn cereals, most starches, and even refined sugars do not. Good news. Now, I am a forty-three year old woman who is living on Sugar Pops cereal and sweet potatoes.
Of course, no one can live well on the nutritional value of a box of animal crackers, (though I am still trying to prove otherwise). I take a multi-vitamin, drink peppermint tea and Eater’s Digest tea (fennel is a key ingredient), and try to begin any high-trigger-food meals with soluble fiber first. I’m learning to embrace my IBS and come out of the water closet about it, so to speak. If only some Hollywood A-Listers or Olympic gold medalists would join me, my journey to acceptance would finally be complete.