It’s difficult to predict what’s going to set off my IBS-M (also known as IBS-A). I can have a string of good days, even weeks, and then have a day like today. You know, making the post-lunch 50-yard dash to the bathroom at work? Then missing a meeting because you can’t leave? Oh, yeah. Good times.
What triggered this flare-up? I have absolutely no idea.
As a writer, I’m kind of a word nerd. Since I was diagnosed with IBS, I’ve thought a lot about the word “trigger” and what it means. Where does it even come from? (Answer: Old Dutch, “to pull,” which is why we say “pull the trigger.”)
Trigger has a number of synonyms, none of them positive for those of us with IBS. Provoke. Touch off. Stir up. Trip. Activate. Aggravate. Yep, all those things happen once in a while, right?
From denial to acceptance
Figuring out what your particular triggers are can take time and patience. Those are hard qualities to maintain when you’re struggling with symptoms. Once I got past the initial diagnosis, I was advised to start trying to identify what my triggers might be, starting with foods.
I didn’t always have a great attitude about it, to be honest. Instead of trying an elimination diet or avoiding foods known to be common IBS triggers, there was a period of time where I stirred things up on my own. Ice cream? Why not! (Well, I’m moderately lactose intolerant, so that’s one good reason.) Indian curry? Sure, I’ll just ignore the sounds my stomach is making! Texas BBQ? Pass the pickles and onions, y’all!
I realize now that because I was angry, and somewhat in denial, I was provoking myself. Consciously or not, this was a battle meant to show IBS who was boss. I wasn’t going to let it decide what I could or couldn’t eat. So I ate literally everything, no matter how it made me feel.
Then one afternoon, things clicked for me. You see, I happen to have a superpower: I don’t care much for chocolate. I’m immune to its charms; it simply doesn’t tempt me. Sure, I’ll eat it if I’m super hungry – it is food, after all. And that’s essentially what happened: it was getting late at the office, and my empty tummy was rumbling. A coworker had received a box of dark chocolates as a gift and brought it to work to share. I grimaced and ate one, shuddering at the bitterness.
Within about 10 minutes, I started feeling painful stomach cramps. And I knew exactly what caused it. My gut apparently doesn’t like chocolate at all, especially dark chocolate. That probably explains why I never learned to enjoy it in the first place! The light bulb insight: I had never cared enough to listen to my body and receive that message.
Because I’ve had stomach issues all my life, my default response to symptoms was throwing digestive products at them to dampen the discomfort and noise. You could say that my mind and body weren’t on speaking terms. Dealing with chronic IBS has made me stop, listen and re-integrate.
Today, “trigger” now has a new, more neutral meaning for me: message.
Acknowledging that I have some trigger foods isn’t about “surrendering” to IBS – it’s about listening to my body and showing it care and respect. Chocolate, dairy milk, yogurt, ice cream, bananas – these are foods that don’t work well for me. OK, gut, message received. We’re in this together now, and I’ll try to avoid those items, for both of us.
What messages is your body sending you?