IBS and Me. I can’t banish the bloat so how do I banish the blues?

I have quite severe IBS, that is Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

I have an extremely limited diet that I struggle daily to adhere to.   I more or less manage but not completely but the discipline required to adhere to a strict diet when everyone around you has more choice is exhausting.

Mostly that controls the symptoms, although I’m left with permanent, chronic bloating.  This is in no way life threatening, but as an exercise instructor I struggle with it psychologically.  There is no hiding place in my line of work – no baggy trousers, tops or dresses can hide the situation and it affects my ability to do some exercises properly.

On days when I’m worse, it’s harder to ignore – with the discomfort and pain and diarrhoea, however there aren’t too many of them and they occur when I’ve eaten the wrong food, or too much of the “right” food.

The things that upset me are the fact that I’m dealing with something that is so public.   Some of you who might know me might say, “oh Alison, I’ve never really noticed”.  More often though I get “You really don’t look too bad” , but one of the ways I control the symptoms is by not eating during the day.  I eat nothing from getting up in the morning until about 3.30pm .  At that time I eat just fish or fish and boiled eggs (because Protein doesn’t affect me) and then try and manage until late in the evening when have finished work – so from 9pm ish or later depending upon the day)

So that is the reason I don’t look too bad – I may not have eaten for 16 hours!

Going out for a meal is absolutely out of the question, and I cook around 6 meals per week and prepare 6 lots of lunches for my children and 7 breakfasts – all consisting of food that I cannot eat.  Cooking meal after meal that you cannot ever eat is no fun at all – and then stand by and watch other people eat it.    I’ve stopped baking.  It was just too hard not to eat little morsels of cake or biscuit.

Already as I write, in November , the shops are filling up with Christmas food.  From an eating point of view this is my least favourite time of year.  I maybe share this feeling with many other people even if it is for different reasons.  And I almost certainly won’t gain any weight!      This has made me aware of how hard it must surely be for neighbours, friends and fellow citizens who cannot afford to buy enough food.  That, it seems to me, must be just awful and make people feel angry and humiliated.  I can afford food and I am able to feed my children with no problems and the whole thing has prompted me to donate regularly to a food bank, which doesn’t solve the  problems but at least it helps  lessen the consequences.

I am someone who has always set great store by my clothes and in the past I’ve  taken great pride in my appearance.  That oftentimes my clothes won’t fit or just look plain awful with my distended belly has been a bitter pill to swallow.  It has made me very sad.  I spent ages – months and months,  avoiding going out because I just couldn’t face it.  Now, if it’s planned , then I  eat less before leaving the house thus limiting the bloat.

There are other stresses and strains but in short, it’s hard.

The NHS has not proved helpful thus far, although I’m awaiting a Dietician referral I don’t hold out much hope.   A private Dietitian was of use and she provided the basis of the specialist diet that I am on and I’ve tried umpteen remedies recommended by people who found them helpful but nothing has worked for me.

There is one thing that I can do though – and that is to try and manage my response to the situation – it is all I have left.

This is where the Mindfulness comes in.

If I feel myself starting to go down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts I can generally catch then and try to put a halt and find some way of coming back to the present moment.  The radio in the car is helpful or just being outdoors.  Going out helps because as soon as I start interacting with people , even simply smiling at someone in the street, it takes my mind elsewhere.    If there is nothing much to concentrate on then I turn to a simple breathing exercise.  The breath is always there and it’s soft , gentle permanence is a helpful, grounding focus

Mindfulnes Quote: Feelings are just visitorsThere is another rabbit hole to fall down – that of  “catastrophising” – imagining all the things that might go wrong starting with the wrong-ness of the IBS.  (It flares up every 2 or 3 days)  I can generally catch that after its started and  before it really takes hold.

I sometimes keep a gratitude Journal to make myself find the positives in the day and I originally started Instagram as a way of being more observant and outward looking.  That for me is a helpful way to be “non judgementally in the present”.  That phrase for me typifies a mindful outlook.  It maybe a superficial definition of Mindfulness but it is still a helpful starting point.

This week I have decided to return to finding a “daily moment of thankfulness”.  It will shift my thinking from “woe is me” to “I am happy, grateful, pleased for……” and help me to go through each day on the lookout for happy moments.  Being on the look out  feels a bit like cheating .  After all, I’m not completely non judgmentally in the moment if I’m deliberately on the lookout for stuff!  However it upturns the  metaphorical glass from half empty to half full so it works for me.  I am blessed in that I encounter multiple opportunities in my teaching which make my day.  When an exercise really works, someone has a eureka moment or we all just leave a session feeling better.

Exercise is very helpful.   I know, I know, I sound like all the rest: like an annoying messianic exercise guru extolling the benefits of exercise.    But it’s true!

However, for some  people that would make them feel worse – if everyone , all chipper and keen, goes on about exercise..  Suppose you can’t do any or don’t feel confident about doing exercise?  I should say “movement is very helpful”.  That sounds more manageable already – T’ai Chi, Yoga, Chair Based Exercise, dancing along to the radio.  (Yes, really), walking in the park.

Exercise works for me because it shifts my mind into another space.  I can’t, during exercise, focus on the way I look and because the discomfort isn’t severe I can block it out, especially when exercising – be it running, gym work, or the bike.  And the effects last longer than the workout.   Irony of ironies, I don’t turn to Pilates because  that is work!   It would work but only if someone else taught me, then it would succeed splendidly!

I have noticed over the years that exercise is all very well, but supposing you are in a situation when you can’t exercise?  Another annoying twist, and I’m sure I’m not alone in finding this, is that when I’m on holiday I feel worse, because I haven’t got work to occupy me and I can’t exercise – a double whammy.  And I’m supposed to be having fun and relaxing!


I have started to wonder if this is where meditation comes in.  I have failed to make space for this in my life and for that reason I haven’t succeeded even with a basic meditation.   The most likely time is first thing in the morning and I really must give it a try.  A lady who I see every month who does Qi Energy release has showed me a way to do basic “entry level”  meditation, focusing on a simple mantra “I am happy”.  This was only last week and it is so serendipitous and fitting that she has suggested meditation, that I really must start.

You might be thinking at this point, justifiably, that I’m being rather self indulgent.   I agree entirely.

My mother has a daily battle with deteriorating MS.  My brother in law has severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  And that is only my immediate family.   Despite IBS, I am healthy, thriving even and not limited by physical or mental health problems.

I know that many people are much worse off than me and I am genuinely thankful for the rest of my health, my family, my job, my house – the list really does go on, but I think we shouldn’t rob ourselves of the desire for more, for better.    Reverse self indulgence might, in the end be worse – self denial of how I feel.   Better to be honest with myself about where I am and what I want but can’t have.      It is a matter of balance.    I know that in almost all respects I am a very fortunate person and I am thankful for that.  Despite this, sometimes I’m hacked off and fed up.

So What Makes Me Happy?

  • Meeting friends – I don’t do this much but when I do it feels special and memorable.
  • Spending quality time with the kids.   Making pack lunches doesn’t count, or washing up whilst they are in the room and probably staring at an electronic device!
  • Having a bit of time at the end of the day to read a book or listen to the radio – I really treasure that 30 minutes or so
  • Visits to the cinema, concerts or art galleries.
  • Seeing plants grow in the garden.
  • A job that I enjoy, that enables me to be creative, is intellectually challenging and where, for the most part, I am in charge of what I do.
  • Random events, happenings, bits of weather, something I hear on the radio, meetings, interactions – the stuff of day to day life that punctuate the ordinary and make life worth living
  • Fairy lights and all things sparkly
  • Music in general, but at the moment, Baroque music in particular, especially Henry Purcell

I could go on, but…….

Further Reading

On Music

I have started listening to the Radio Three “In Tune Mixtape” which is 30 minutes of non stop music.  Nothing to heavy or cerebral or too long.  Calming, helpful and not a spotify ad  in sight!  It’s on 5 days a week with the back catalogue accessible.


Have you heard of binaural beats?  Weird pseudo-music designed to calm and relax the mind.  I find it wonderfully calming, especially if i’m stressing before bedtime. I’m not explaining it very well so get more info from these guys.

How Binaural Beats Music Works

They sell their binaural beats but there’s loads for free on Youtube.  You need to listen through headphones though.

On Mindfulness

There is a ton of resources out there.  I like the work of Alfred James whose website is Pocket Mindfulness.

Here is a post he wrote which outlines a simple breathing meditation

6 Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try Today

Recently I have stumbled across the work of Blogger John Parrot, whose moniker is RelaxLikeABoss.   He has penned a really comprehensive article covering many aspects of mindfulness, from its history, how to practice it, why and how you might apply it to various aspects of your life.   This is an article that could give you the confidence to give Mindfulness a go and stop it feeling tricky or the kind of thing that “other people” do.


How To Practice The Art of Mindfulness, 5 Exercises & The Benefits…

I am also inspired by the work of Rohan Gunatillake who as written a fabulous book called This is Happening which I would thoroughly recommend, or he has a popular app which I have just downloaded but not yet used called Buddhify


On Meditation

Not sure where to start?  Try these.  They are one minute guided meditations, spoken beautifully with or without music.  All downloadable from the resources page.  It kind of subcontracts out the meditation, that is, you can quietly meditate without having to summon the focus and discipline of the “inner contemplation” bit yourself.


And finally

I’ll struggle to find a better metaphor than this one.  It is considered to be Native American in origin.

A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. 

One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear.

The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?”

The grandfather quietly replies,the one you feed



10 thoughts on “IBS and Me. I can’t banish the bloat so how do I banish the blues?

  1. Alison, commiserations. I have some idea as I have to control my diet to stay off diabetic meds.
    Hope you found some good cheer anyway x

    • It’s hard work but not impossible Jane. Staying away from Restaurants , cafes and bars helps but is not very sociable! Went out NYE though and sipped my way through plenty of G & Slimline T!

  2. Hope 2018 will bring you better health. Can the doctor not give you Colifoam steroid until you get it under control or perhaps you don’t want to go down that route?
    Love your positivism even in your darkest hours.

    • hi Linda. I have not heard of Colifoam steroid. My GPs haven’t been too good really but I know they are rushed off their feet. The first time I presented with my issues, after having symptoms for years, I was told “even Jessica Ennis will be bigger after she’s eaten a big meal” Not much empathy huh? She gave me Buscopan but that made me worse. I don’t think i have much inflammation – more severe bloating. Maybe that is why it wasn’t suggested. The next GP said that “the NHS doesn’t do bloating”.
      The next one after a 2 year hiatus has referred me to the Dietician service. They don’t know what to do with me really. They’ve referred me to the Fodmops team – another 3 month wait, but I’ve been on the Fodmops diet for a number of years now, so I don’t really know what they will say. At least because i don’t hold out much hope, I don’t mind waiting!!

  3. Hmm… Whilst you’ve got it tougher than me, I know exactly what you talking about regarding IBS. It can be very debilitating if it’s not challenged/managed/treated; each person can experience it differently too.

    I’m afraid I’ve had not a fantastic experience of our overstretched dietary services but, if you can afford it, there are some private clinicians not very far from you that I’m working with and they may try to encourage a “compassionate approach” to these issues. If you look up some compassionate [psychological] approaches to this type of stuff, then it springboards on to mindfulness and other methodologies to try and remove the vicious circle that I think anybody with a chronic condition has to face. Worth a read/visit although I think you are already on with putting some of it into practice!

    • Hi Jon. yes the initial consultation was fairly pointless.To be fair, that is because I was doing the stuff they suggested already, not because they had no ideas/suggestions.
      I have months to wait for the Fodmops team, but i’ve followed that diet for years. It’s pretty good but not extreme enough for me!!!
      Would you mind giving me the name of your local guy? I like local and I would value some help. I did see a lady privately but it was £95 for a hour consultation on Skype and she was very absent – too busy to devote time to clients I felt, given the money. So I stopped seeing her.

  4. Unfortunately I don’t have anything useful to contribute really – but I just wanted to say that I felt very moved by this piece, which is a balanced and highly readable account of someone going through real hardship and managing nevertheless to find a positive perspective…..I don’t think you are remotely ‘self-indulgent’ – I would really struggle to cope with your predicament, and am full of admiration for your spirit…..
    Thanks for sharing your experiences – the result is empowering, affirming and inspiring….I look forward to following up some of the links and value always the gentle reminder to pursue a mindful outlook…..

    • thank you for your kind words Rachel. I really appreciate it. I turned on the radio last week to hear a feature about living with Crohn’s disease. Now that is really problematic and life threatening even. It made me think thats this is at least partly why GPs might be a bit dismissive – because they are managing a case load with people suffering that kind of thing.
      I ate a bit of carrot this eve. I’m bloated but not that bad. I might return them to the fold, so to speak!

  5. Hi Alison, I use remedies provided by homeopathy practitioner to control my IBS. She is fantastic and goes into great depth to find out what is the cause and triggers looking at the whole of my body and mind. Have you tried this? Emma

    • hi there Emma I haven’t tried it, but it has been suggested to me many times, and I even know a couple of Homeopaths! You are definitely giving me another push in that direction. Do you find that you have had to have a very long course of therapy Emma? This has been one thing that has put me off?

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