TFDC in the Wild: Erin's story

Perhaps you've heard the words "it's just IBS" before...Erin's story will definitely feel familiar to you in that case. So she took matters into her own hands - read on to find out how she reined in her IBS symptoms and got them under control.

Erin diary photo.jpg

"I was "diagnosed" with IBS about 2 years ago, I say "diagnosed" because I presented to the GP with unknown, inexplicable Gastrointestinal symptoms, and was given IBS as a diagnosis. I have since gone back to the GP on multiple occasions over the last 2 years, and have received very little help - from a prescription of Mebeverine that made my symptoms worse, to a prescription for anti depressants.* 

(*there are clinical research trials that have taken place where study participants were prescribed Imipramine in low doses to help with IBS. The study is called "A Randomised Controlled Trial of Imipramine in patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome" - World Journal of Gastroenterology, 2009, Volume 15, No 29. )

The worst was being told by a GP that if it's just IBS, hen there is nothing they can do for me, because a Gastroenterologist wouldn't take an IBS referral - pants I know! 

By the beginning of 2018 I was at my wits end, I had felt I had tried everything, I was exhausted, there was little that helped me; in the mornings I would struggle to leave the house from intense cramps and crippling nausea, I was also experiencing large amounts of mucus in my stools, horrific heartburn and feeling so bloated and windy on a daily basis, I thought I’d take off like Aunt Marge in Harry Potter! I felt like a mess. Nothing was helping, not even Buscopan or peppermint oil/tea. I was at my wits end. 

So I decided to take matters into my own hands, I decided to do my own research on IBS and the management of IBS. I deduced that I have IBS type A, the kind that alternates between constipation and diarrhoea. 

I also referred myself through Occupational Health at work to a Dietitian, who sat down with me for an hour discussing my diet, and lifestyle. She deduced that the stress caused by my job was making my IBS worse, not necessarily the food that I was eating, so I was to look into ways of managing my stress better. We also discussed keeping a Food Diary to identify any food triggers - that was when I turned to the internet to see if there were any that were pre-formatted diaries designed for people suffering with IBS. 

That was how I came across The Food Diary Co, and Laura’s blog. It felt too good to be true, there was an entire company built on tummy troubles! I looked into it, read blog entries like this one, and I was sold, for the first time I didn’t feel 100% alone, so naturally I ordered my first diary. 

At first I referred to other users who had shared their TFDC stories to see how they maintained their entries. I found using the food diary simultaneously with the Fitbit and Sleep Cycle Apps to help record specifics in the diary,  I input things like my mood, sleep and medicines first thing in the morning while I was either eating or had breakfast, then at the end of the day before I went to bed, I would complete the food/symptom entries, and input the steps that I had done that day. I also tracked the amount of water I would consume during the day through the Fitbit app, recording the millilitres I had consumed into my diary. 

The note pages in the back  themselves I found were really helpful; I was able to note down the Bristol Stool chart, so that I was able to record what type I was experiencing in the daily symptoms column without it being obvious, as well as a list of the different pre and probiotic foods that are available, breakfast ideas and a list of the different types of positive and negative moods you can experience. 

The physical design of the diary is inconspicuous and modest, so I could carry it around with me, often leaving it out on the desk at work, and no one was any wiser. It was also big enough to fit into my handbag to carry during the day, allowing me to record the food I was eating, or if I experienced any symptoms, allowing me to write it down while I was thinking about it. 

Not long after the arrival of my diary, I had yet another trip to the GP after a particularly bad flair up that had left me feeling the lowest I have ever felt. He talked to me in the same way the Dietitian had, and recommended that I look into Nutritionist, Jeanette Hyde, author of the Gut Makeover. Having the food diary was beneficial during this intense 4 week plan; when I finished the plan, I was able to reintroduce foods in a controlled manner. My food diary was able to tell me that I had a sensitivity to bread, pasta and rice in multiple large portions. I also deduced that when I ate too much refined sugar I would bloat. It also pin pointed that when I was stressed, my symptoms were at their worst. 

The food diary is more than just a food diary, it is a tool that enabled me to gain a level of control over my IBS, and general well being. It gave me the ability to track not just my food, but how my symptoms corresponded with the levels of activity, sleep, mood, and stress levels I was experiencing at the time, allowing me to constructively reflect on me and my body at the monthly round up pages, allowing me to pinpoint what I was doing right and what wasn't working for me.

As it stands I have come to understand that my tummy and IBS symptoms are a lot better when I control how much bread, rice, pasta and refined sugar I consume. I also know that having a more plant based diet (including meat and fish) is more beneficial to not just me and my tummy, but also for my skin and my energy levels. I know that increasing my level of physical activity also helps, both for my physical and mental well being. Unfortunately I've been without a new food diary for over a month now, and I have noticed the change in my life without it, so if you're feeling helpless like I was, then I would recommend using this food diary to help you gain back some control in your life. There is an amazing online community of IBS sufferers including this one, that are slowly breaking the stigma and taboo surrounding IBS, gastrointestinal issues and toilet troubles, it highlights you're not alone with your experiences, and gives you people to talk and relate too! However it is always important to refer to a medical professional when looking at making changes to your diet, and not to settle until you find the one that listens and helps."

- Erin L, Birmingham, UK (@erinanne_91)

Erin, thank you for sharing your story! I can certainly relate to the GPs . "Just IBS" seems to be something that people hear a lot, which you are completely right: is absolute pants.

And if you've been told recently you have, or might have, IBS Erin is proof that getting a food diary and tracking what you're eating puts you on the path to managing your body and condition better. Want to get started for yourself? Get your diary here.