Dr. Payal Maharaj

Last updated: January 2023

IBS Community Advocate Payal MaharajPayal was previously a health leader on IrritableBowelSyndrome.net.

I am a scientist, food blogger, photographer and outdoor enthusiast; I was diagnosed with IBS in 2020. The IBS diagnosis was a big shock. Not only was it unexpected but I had not heard of this condition before. It started off with abdominal pains here and there which I would try to resolve with antacids or other over-the-counter medications. Slowly and surely, I began to experience painful symptoms. I suffered the pain and other symptoms for many months. For some reason, maybe because I had always been in good health prior, I did not see a doctor about my symptoms. Then suddenly one day, I experienced extremely severe symptoms.

By the evening, my condition had worsened, and I ended up in the ER. This was my first visit to the ER and I was terrified. They ran a battery of tests on me, gave me some medication, and sent me home with more medication. After the ER visit, I was extremely weak and could only tolerate small amounts of food. It felt like my gut had been wrung out. In my follow-up visit with primary care, my physician listened to everything I had to say and immediately diagnosed me with IBS. She told me to control my stress levels and told me to start a low FODMAP diet. I was handed a list of ingredients to remove from my diet and set up with more specialists and tests. I was devastated by the diagnosis and in retrospect was in denial about having this illness. After all, I have always enjoyed good health. Not only that, I love food and never had any problems with food before. The idea that the foods I loved were suddenly hurting me was a bitter pill to swallow. In addition, one of my biggest wishes was to travel the world trying all kinds of food. Now what?

I started the low FODMAP diet begrudgingly. It was very difficult as much of the food I loved and ate on the regular was not low FODMAP. Sometimes, I didn’t know what to eat so I would just eat potato chips because ironically enough potato chips did not hurt my intestines. The added stress of constantly scrutinizing each product for ingredients that are not low FODMAP just fed back into the IBS. I was told that unless I controlled my stress, I would continue to suffer and collect stress-related illnesses.

Slowly, with the support of my family, I figured out how to eat so that I was not always suffering. I am still learning though and it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Even with my background in science, I had such a difficult time transitioning into this IBS mindset that I began to wonder how other people in my community would fare especially those who don’t have access to special foods and educational material.

In my food blog, Cooking With Mum, I write about our Indian-Fijian family recipes. I was inspired to convert my family recipes into IBS-friendly recipes so that I and other IBS-sufferers did not have to give up on the foods they grew up with. While this is an ongoing process, I am excited to join and to also be able to write IBS-friendly recipes for the IBS community here on IrritableBowelSyndrome.net.

Click here to read all of Payal's articles on IrritableBowelSyndrome.net.

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