Afraid To Eat With IBS
Last updated: March 2023
When a person suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) it is not uncommon for that individual to have "issues" with food. The top 3 that come to mind include:
- Being afraid to eat in general and/or in public
- Constantly worrying about every ingredient in foods and beverages
- Playing trial and error to figure out if any trigger foods can make symptoms worse or cause a flare-up
I want to share some of my experiences so anyone who may be feeling alone with this knows that someone else (MANY others, actually) understands the challenges that come with eating as an IBS sufferer. Before I continue, I want to share with those who may not know me that I have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which is a bit different than irritable bowel syndrome (IBS.) However, when this topic was brought up, I jumped at the chance to share my own experiences given I have suffered from disordered eating for over 15 years.
Mental health and IBS
Prior to connecting with other people who suffered from digestive issues, I felt completely alone. I also felt a little crazy; almost like I was making a big deal out of nothing. However, the more entrenched I became in the chronic illness community, the more my eyes were opened to the fact that both inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome can cause a multitude of problems in this area. After all, so much of both diseases center around eating, nutrition, and the bathroom.
When I was initially diagnosed, I didn’t really understand much about my disease or how much that disease would change my mentality on food. Prior to realizing there was something wrong with my digestive tract, I never gave much thought to what I put in my mouth. I was a competitive swimmer who tried to eat healthily but the food was just food to me. It didn’t cause me anxiety. It wasn’t anything that I looked at as problematic in any way. I never had to weigh the pros and cons of ingesting something because I feared the consequences. I loved going out to eat. I enjoyed trying new dishes. I loved it when social gatherings took place at a restaurant or around good food. I have always been a gal who loved to eat! :)
It has been 17 years since my diagnosis and I have learned and evolved quite a bit in this area. I have more of a handle on what foods may cause pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, gas, obstructions, etc. I also have learned what foods or drinks have the potential to make me live in the bathroom. While I feel more in control from this knowledge, eating still causes me so much mental angst.
Safe vs. nutritious food
I miss the days when I could eat and drink with other people and not be solely focused on the potential consequences. I miss being able to be carefree and go with the flow. It is impossible, in my opinion, to suffer from any kind of disease that impacts the digestive tract and not have it cause you to be afraid of eating or drinking. It is also difficult because everyone has to consume food and beverages in order to stay alive.
There have been many, many times in my life when I was convinced that I could control my symptoms by not eating. Up until pretty recently, I would refuse to consume anything but water and some of my “safe beverages” prior to 6pm. I wanted to be a productive member of society and even the thought of eating or drinking would send me into major anxiety mode. And when I was feeling so afraid of the impact eating/drinking would have on me, I found myself unable to focus on anything else. It completely consumed me which was why for so many years, I just felt like not eating during the day was better for me. This would lead to me overeating at night, which of course wasn’t ideal for sleeping or for my intestines. But, in my mind, that was/is the better alternative.
Fear of eating
I hope anyone reading this who can relate to some of the struggles I mentioned knows how common it is to be mentally torn when it comes to eating and drinking. Feeling like you don’t really have any control over how your body is going to react to something so basic to everyone’s existence (FOOD) is extremely frustrating, upsetting, and can leave you feeling hopeless. I have also found that sometimes, the foods that agree with me aren’t the healthiest. For example, I am unable to eat fruits or vegetables but candy is a safe food for me. If you are someone who also has safe foods that aren’t nutritious, that can also be awful emotionally. After all, I know most of us want to eat healthy so having to choose between something that is good for you but could cause consequences or something not so nutritious can also be a huge mental battle. Not to mention, the types of calories we consume will impact our weight, skin, hair, nails and a lot of other things that can potentially cause a person to have body image issues through no fault of their own.
Continue reading part 2 where I share some tips/thoughts I have learned over the years on how to make this aspect of life with irritable bowel syndrome just a little easier.
Can you relate to this article? Are you afraid to eat because of your IBS? Has this been the case since you started showing symptoms or has it evolved in some way? Remember, the more we share and let some of these tough things out in the open, the more we are able to not only help ourselves process it all but it shows other people who may not have the courage to share their own personal story, that they are not alone.
Which of the following symptoms of IBS do you experience most frequently?