Lizzie (@lizzielord93) who struggled for years with IBS shares her story on health, healing and self-love. #yourstory
As a young woman and an IBS sufferer, I have had to proactively work on my relationship with my body and food, to get to a point where I am healthy and feel happy. A few important realisations have helped me become much healthier and I’d love to share them with you. I hope, by sharing the key moments in my journey, you will feel inspired to start or continue on yours. So, here goes! These are the four key lessons I’ve learnt so far;
Number One – Watch your attitude.
I found some photographs of my Mother and in them she was 16 years old. I showed them to her and told her how great I thought she looked. She studied the same photos, and sighed regretfully. She told me that she wished she had appreciated it at the time, but she remembered feeling very insecure about her appearance at that age. That really hit home for me. At the time, I was only a few years older than my mother was in the photos, and did I appreciate my body? No. I had to admit to myself that I did not. I was always comparing myself to others, conducting depressing inventories of everything about their appearance that was better than mine, and endlessly berating myself for my podgy belly which stuck out undesirably. Hearing my mother say those things, I realised I was stuck in similarly negative head space, when it came to my thoughts about my appearance. I decided from that moment on to be kinder to myself, to make an active effort to notice and appreciate the good things about my body. So began the daily mental challenge of catching any self-depreciating thoughts, and replacing them with ego boosting praise. Through daily affirmations, I started to feel more confident in my own skin. As a direct result of liking my body more, I also wanted to treat it better (i.e. eat more healthily). It seemed to be much easier to be good to my body, when I actually liked my body. I encourage you to actively compliment yourself, starting now!
Number Two – Identify the foods that make you feel good.
I used to consider the epitome of healthy eating to be a regular intake of fruit and vegetables and avoiding lots of processed food and takeaways. As I did make an effort to do this, I was very surprised and confused when something went wrong.
I increasingly suffered from severe stomach pains. I started to have unpredictable and urgent bowel movements. My stomach would visibly swell up after eating. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed, since I constantly had diarrhea and gas, that I no longer went out much because I felt too self conscious to use a public bathroom. I rapidly lost weight; for the first time in my adult life I weighed less than 8 stone. I felt confused by and angry with my body.
I sought help from our wonderful NHS and after some investigations I was diagnosed with a mild case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is different for everyone because each individual has different intolerances and triggers. A diagnosis is just really the first step towards understanding why you are having problems. To get better, I needed to be re-educated about what foods were good for my body, so I could avoid irritating my bowels, and regain control.
Keeping a food diary helped me track my body’s response to different foods, and learning to listen to my body was empowering too. It turned out the main cause for me was reheated carbohydrates. You see when you re-heat pasta, potatoes or other carbohydrates, their chemical make-up changes, and they become complex carbohydrates, which are (for everyone) much harder to digest, and for me, almost impossible to digest. I don’t know about you, but I had literally never heard about this before! Other triggers for me (which are common generally, IBS or not) were; dairy, alcohol and chilli/spicy foods. Learning this was a step towards forgiving my body, well, really asking it to forgive me. You see I’d simply been giving it the wrong things; it was like I was a petrol car but I’d been filling up with diesel – no wonder I didn’t run right.
It was actually pretty simple; once I knew what foods made me feel good (i.e. increased energy, clear skin, regular bowel movements) or feel bad (i.e. bloating, fatigue, gas, diarrhea, constipation), I could create a diet around feeling good! I know now a healthy diet should be about giving your body the things it needs to be functioning at its very best. I’d highly recommend everyone take the time to learn about what foods work best with their own bodies. You will be amazed at how much better you can feel.
Number Three – Make your body move!
Last year a local charity reached out for runners to take part in a half marathon, and (surprising myself) I stepped forward. For the first time in my life, I faced a physical challenge. I had never asked my body to perform something like this, and I was initially scared it would let me down. The pressure of the upcoming race meant I committed to regular exercise, and had to learn to push myself to improve. I actually started to enjoy exercising – this was a big change. During the race I felt really strong, and I remember looking down at my legs and thinking how powerful they were. I had never felt strong and powerful before. It felt amazing. This experience taught me to respect my body for what it can do. Any negative feelings I had about my body were put into perspective; how it looked became of way less importance and something I worried so much less about. It also highlighted the role of food as a functional fuel; it needed to provide me with energy and to help me recover more quickly. Seeing food this way, reduced some of the emotional ties I had with it. I think everyone should complete a physical challenge at least once in their life. I want you to feel proud of the power and strength you have. I am sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you can achieve!
Number Four – The only way to create positive habits, is to keep doing positive actions.
Unfortunately you don’t get healthy and then that’s it – tadahh you have reached the healthy level and now you don’t have to bother any more, woo! Nope. It is a lifestyle change, and therefore something you have to continue doing for the rest of your life. The good news is, we are creatures of habit and the longer you practice good routines the easier it will be to keep them up. It’s also a positively reinforcing cycle; for example, the happier I am the more I want to continue eating well and exercising and the more I continue eating well and exercising the happier I feel.
Now that’s not to say it’s easy (I really want to tell you it is, maybe for some people!). Personally, I still have to proactively work to keep leading a healthy lifestyle. I do still slip up; in lockdown I have had weeks were I ate utter crap and slobbed about in my jammies. I’ve had to forcefully pull myself back on track. My top tip for getting back on track brings us to revisit the first lesson at the top of this article; watch your attitude, which means you must make sure you continue to approach healthy living out of love for yourself and wanting to treat yourself well. Please acknowledge that you are worth this effort, and consider this the best investment in yourself that you will ever make.