What to do when you love food but experience digestion problems

When you love food and your GP says that IBS could be what’s wrong with you, that’s not easy to hear. In theory you might feel relief that tests don’t reveal serious disease, but then you’re faced with a vague and inconclusive diagnosis for a host of symptoms.

IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) is a diagnosis that can mean ‘don’t know what the problem is’.  How can you continue to enjoy eating? As someone who has valued being able to maintain my figure through to middle-age without dieting or faddy regimes this is an added blow.

In the last few months I’ve been experiencing major issues with digesting food. I wondered whether it was because I was working too hard. When you’re self-employed you can’t say no to work because the recession has brought too much uncertainty.  Researching and writing a third book in just over a year whilst keeping up my teaching commitments (the book work doesn’t pay enough) and working on my own projects too (because the books don’t carry my name on the cover –  the brand is the author) has been tough. This perhaps explained why I’ve been feeling tired, but did it account for my digestion problems?

Tummy troubles: from loving food to fearing food

I realised I often couldn’t keep food in or let’s say what was going in wasn’t coming out in the best format. The last time this happened I became very ill so I was determined to act fast.  Five years ago following a period of stress which included snapping a ligament and my ceiling falling through (because of an irresponsible neighbour and contractor), eating became a major problem. Unfortunately doctors in the UK are not savvy about digestion. I was prescribed antidepressants which I refused. Eventually in Italy I was diagnosed as severely dairy intolerant and with a medium egg intolerance. I wept, grieving for the love of my one daily cappuccino. I wasn’t consuming huge amounts of dairy, just a little Greek cheese, the odd egg, a sweet treat a couple of times a week and every now and again my mother’s dream moussaka, but I enjoyed these very much.

With patience, following the advice from the doctor and dietitian at Espace Chenot (a fortunate fortuitous work assignment that I could never have afforded) I got better. I repaired my gut and became able to tolerate small amounts of dairy and eggs and could eat cake again.  MIlk is still a no-no but I learnt to love my black coffee.

I believe the first step in any dietary decisions (from weight loss to digestion) and the essential starting point is the GP. Any medical diagnostic test you can have is valuable. You need to know where you’re at with thyroid function (which affects how we metabolise food), blood sugar, cholesterol, vitamin D, liver function. As we get older digestive issues can signal serious disease like diabetes 2 or cancer.

When all the above were ruled out and the GP pronounced IBS I heard a strong voice in my head: I’m going to beat this whatever it is. I’m going to heal myself and get back to eating and enjoying my food. I’m going to research this and find a solution. I’m not going to be miserable and worried about eating. I’m going to heal this and eat with joy again. . I didn’t entirely trust that my problem was IBS but I can’t give a logical reason why.  But at least this was a starting point. Even if you don’t trust your doctor’s diagnosis, you have something to research and rule out, and in the process you are likely to feel empowered and find out what’s wrong.

In the next few posts I’ll be letting you know how I’ve been getting on.

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