When it comes to helping people who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), the focus is usually on managing symptoms. And for good reason too. If IBS is affecting your ability to live your life, then getting things under control so that you can function like a normal human being is a huge thing. Also, being able to get through the day without suffering is super important for quality of life. As someone who’s been living with IBS for decades, I get this. Especially when I was at my worst and could barely get through the day.
But once you get your IBS under control, what do you do next?
This is the part that’s usually forgotten about and what I want to change. I want to shift the focus so that you can start living better with IBS, while also keeping your symptoms under control.
IBS is a condition that demands attention
IBS is a beast of a condition to live with. There’s no cure and no way to prevent it, only management strategies to try to keep it under control. Yep, that’s right, ‘try’. No matter how hard you work to keep your IBS settled, even if you’re doing everything right, it can still be set off by something unexpected. Because IBS is a sensitive beast. And it likes to be the centre of attention.
The only people who truly understand what it’s like to live with IBS are other people who live with it. It’s temperamental nature, how fast it can change and how debilitating it can be. But also how good life can feel when your IBS has actually been tamed, even though you can’t help wondering how long it will stay that way.
Since there’s no cure, it’s up to you to work out what triggers your IBS so that you can try to keep it under control. And so that you can tame the beast and stop it from stealing the show. While this requires time, energy and monetary investment, the return is definitely worth it.
Then shouldn’t symptom management be the focus?
At first, symptom management absolutely has to be your focus. Because until you’ve got your IBS symptoms under control, little else matters. The same goes for any time that you’re having a flare of your symptoms, which does happen from time to time.
There’s two sides to symptom management, both of which are essential for the best control of IBS:
- Knowing which strategies to use while experiencing symptoms, e.g. anti-diarrhoeal medication, laxatives, heat pack, pain killers, or whatever your symptoms need.
- Understanding your personal IBS triggers so that you can work out how to avoid them.
The first part of symptom management is all about finding a way to keep functioning when you have to keep going. The second part is all about preventing symptoms from happening in the first place. That way your reliance on symptom control strategies decreases. This is why both parts are needed for taming the beast – neither one on their own is enough.
If you’re just starting out with your IBS management, the low FODMAP diet is an excellent place to begin – here’s a guide to help you. But don’t forget to move through the low FODMAP diet and discover your personal FODMAP triggers by doing FODMAP Reintroductions.
If you’ve already got the FODMAP side of things sorted, then you may need to look at some other strategies, such as those outlined here.
But if you’re having trouble working things out, then please talk to your healthcare team.
Once you’ve got both sides of the symptom management equation figured out, and you continue putting those strategies into place, your IBS will be as well managed as possible. But I don’t think that’s enough. Taming the beast is essential, but it leaves you stuck in a holding pattern where you’re afraid to try something new because you don’t want your IBS to be set off. This is understandable, but it stops you from truly living.
And this is why we need to start finding ways to live better with IBS.
What exactly do I mean by ‘living better with IBS’?
Living better is really about adding more value to your life. Being healthier, having more fun, enjoying the things you do each day, and not having to worry about things that may pull you down. Essentially, living better with IBS is about being able to make your life better, the same way that other people who don’t have IBS are able to do.
Now, of course we all have different values and priorities, so the things that make me feel like I’m living better may be different to the things that make you feel like you’re living better. For instance:
- You may value travelling, seeing new things and meeting new people.
- You may value being able to spend lots of time with close friends and family.
- You may want to use your symptom-free time on a hobby, such as a team sport, learning how to paint or crochet, or something else entirely.
- You may want to focus on advancing your career.
Regardless of what you value in life, I’ve observed three things that most people with IBS need to be living better. These are:
- Being able to improve health and fitness, in a way that energises you and doesn’t aggravate your tummy.
- Being able to enjoy delicious foods and flavours that you love, which won’t upset your tummy.
- Being able to overcome the mental restrictions of IBS, so you don’t feel emotionally drained.
So basically… living better, eating better, and feeling better. With all three under your belt, you can then focus on the other things that you personally value.
My goal is to help you learn how to do all of these things. Because when you have better health, good food, and peace of mind, the other parts of your life come easier. You can do the things that you value the most when you’re living better with IBS.