5 Things You Shouldn't Say to Someone with IBS
Last updated: March 2021
We all know those well meaning friends, family or complete strangers who like to throw in an offhand comment every now again without really thinking it through. Sometimes they don’t understand IBS or what it’s like to suffer from it and sometimes they just want to help, but sometimes what they say can hurt.
So here are my top 5 things that you shouldn’t say to someone with IBS and what might be useful for the person to say instead:
“Oh I had an IBS moment this afternoon”
An IBS moment is not IBS. A IBS moment is just that, a moment. It’s not a set of symptoms and triggers that appear day in day out that result in a syndrome. Was “a moment” just a case of diarrhea, bloating, a bit of gas. That could have been caused by anything and will likely just disappear again with no long lasting issues. It would be better to say “oh I had a bad case of gas/diarrhea/constipation/pain this afternoon, it must be tough to experience that all the time”.
“It’s probably all in your head”
Really? I wish it was because then it could be resolved if I just changed how I thought about it! IBS can be caused by any number of issues including infection, stress, high bacteria levels, food intolerances or malabsorption issues and the cause can also be unknown. Hinting that someone might be causing their own symptoms is not helpful and it can actually make them feel more stressed and make IBS worse! It would be better to ask the person with IBS what they think the cause may be.
“Should you be eating that?”
Food triggers can change all the time, sometimes we need to reintroduce food again to see how it affects us. The purpose of the low FODMAP diet is designed for this step because how we will know what our triggers really are unless we eliminate them and try to introduce them again in different amounts. But sometimes we just want to feel normal for a little bit and that may mean eating something that we shouldn’t. It’s tough always saying no to things because IBS can make you feel really unsocial and left out. It would be better to say “how are your food triggers these days?”.
“Geez not again!”
Often other people can get frustrated when IBS stops us from doing things, again. If you've had to miss another event, family function or work day, you don't want someone else getting upset with you and your IBS when you feel bad enough as it is! It can be really hard for people that don't know what it feels like to live with IBS to understand what you are experiencing, but it would be better to offer support and comforting words to the person with IBS rather than expressing frustration.
“What were you doing in there?!”
This comment might be used when you have spent a long time in the toilet. IBS doesn’t come with a set bathroom schedule; and it doesn’t like to be rushed. Whether you suffer from constipation or diarrhea, you can get mighty friendly with bathrooms everywhere and it’s always made worse when someone points out the obvious. It often results in an embarrassing conversation, or a few 'ums' and 'ahhs' or a lie, like saying there was a queue. It would be better to either not say anything at all, or genuinely ask “hey, is everything ok?”.
Feel free to add your favorites in the comments below and share this with family and friends who could use a little friendly education!
Have you ever tried acupuncture to relieve IBS symptoms?