A Battle with Body Image

It’s almost become taboo to talk about body image since it can be a sensitive topic. But it’s something I want to discuss in relation to IBS. For most of my life, I haven’t been that concerned by body image, which I guess is because I was happy with what I had. But recently, I’ve had to admit that my IBS is messing with my concept of body image and how comfortable I feel from day to day.

Why it’s hard not to focus on body image

Who we are and how we feel, often centers around how we look. That’s not to say that the important parts of us aren’t the things that are inside, because I know that there’s much more to me than my outward appearance. My brains, thoughts, opinions, strength, kindness, compassion, and all the other things that make me the human being that I am.

But the fact of the matter is that I’ve been looking at my appearance every single day of my life. And over the course of 40 and a bit years, I’ve gotten used to that appearance. My face, hair and general body shape haven’t changed a whole lot over that time. Sure there’s some wrinkles, a few grey hairs, and my skin has changed a little. But my smile, eyes, and somewhat unruly hair, are much as they’ve always been.

The effect of IBS on body shape

What I struggle with the most though, is my belly. Now while the media constantly shows us images of flat bellies, as a nutritionist, I know that a flat belly is not essential for health. In fact, your abdomen is meant to increase in size a little as the day goes on. When you eat, that food has to go somewhere… into your digestive system, which naturally rounds out your belly a little. Also, as your gut ferments fiber, some gas is produced, which will also round out your belly. And this is a very natural and necessary process for a healthy gut. So there should be a small increase in the size of your belly each day, and it shouldn’t remain flat.

But an IBS belly reacts a little differently. And on some days, it reacts a whole lot differently.

The bloating that occurs in IBS can at times be quite extreme. And it can come on quite fast too. Sometimes it feels like you can go from ‘fairly flat’ to ‘5-months pregnant’ in the blink of an eye. And when that sudden change doesn’t match with what you saw in the mirror earlier that day, it can affect the way you feel. Plus the pain and other problems don’t help your mood either.

How the bloating affects my body image

I think for me, what’s hardest to deal with is the unpredictability of the whole thing. Some days, my belly stays fairly stable, and I’ll look much the same throughout the whole day, with only a small increase in my belly by the end of the day. But other days, I can get dressed in the morning, knowing my outfit fits well, yet by the end of the day it’s like my body belongs to a different person.

Trying to reconcile that rapid change sometimes does my head in. It can make me feel like I’m in someone else’s skin and not my own. And that is the point where IBS affects my body image the most. The lack of constancy from day to day, or even across the day, can change how I feel about myself. I know it doesn’t change who I am inside. But when I can’t reconcile the body in the mirror as being the one I’m used to, that’s when I struggle the most.

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