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Being Afraid To Eat With IBS: Part 1

Being Afraid To Eat With IBS: Part 1

When a person suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) it is not uncommon for that individual to have “issues” with food. The top three that come to mind include:

  1. Being afraid to eat in general and/or in public
  2. Constantly worrying about every ingredient in foods and beverages
  3. Playing trial and error in an effort to figure out if there are any trigger foods that can make symptoms worse or cause a flare up

In part 1 of this article, 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 just 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 angst

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 into what I put in my mouth. I was a competitive swimmer who tried to eat healthy but food was just food to me. It didn’t cause me anxiety. It wasn’t anything that I looked at as problematic in anyway. 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 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

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.

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.

Stay tuned for 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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • sunnydayz
    2 years ago

    I have gone through a whole range of emotions since being diagnosed in 1985. My world was turned upside down one day. I lost 35 lbs. in three weeks; they tested me for Crohn’s which I luckily did not have. The disease reacts to each person differently. I never eat in public or away from home, or if we have company at home. I can’t take the risk I will have an episode that takes me out of action for a couple days.

    I take a few foods with me I know I can handle if I am out of town, sweet potato and a box of bland crackers; plain oatmeal and my green tea packets. That’s it and I only nibble as needed, but I do drink the tea hot or cold, to help with any hunger. I would much rather be a little hungry than deal with food consequences.

    It still is a little difficult for me to even go to a restaurant and watch others eat; being in a buffet style restaurant is the worst for me, seeing people with loaded plates makes me want to run away. it can make me anxious. I take my Immodium before leaving home just even to help with that stress.

    I have learned what I need to do. My family is mostly understanding about it and sometimes I just use the “I already ate” excuse so I don’t have to go into the whole medical background if someone new is in the group. I don’t like talking about it or focusing on it.

    I actually feel better when I don’t eat. I don’t eat when I know I have to go somewhere; I wait till I return home for the day. I can’t eat fried or oily foods (like Salmon); red meat; fresh fruits and vegetables (a few exceptions I’ve found for myself like watermelon, strawberries, pears, banana, and sweet potato), processed foods, breads, artificial sweetened drinks or foods; grains and wheat; and sweets of any kind (the sugars create issues). I try to keep gluten free, yeast free, etc., etc. This is the only way I can feel good, so I try not to let it get to me. I do have flare ups when I don’t pay close attention. It is constant analysis of my tummy condition. Basically bland and pure foods can keep things calm-ish.

    It is tiring and tedious, but I’ve always reminded myself there are other worse medical conditions people deal with, so I figure I can do the best I can with this one.

  • kplatt
    2 years ago

    I also don’t like to eat when I have a busy day because I never know what the reaction will be. Sometimes I can eat something and be well and other times, not so much. Thanks for sharing about the fear and anxiety many of us face.

  • GrandmaDolly
    2 years ago

    I have had IBS-D for 52 years. I, too, long for the day back when I could eat anything and everything. For me the trigger foods have changed over the years. The only fruits I can safely consume are: applesauce (not apples), anything citrus and bananas. Again for me IBS-D has become progressive…has worsened over the years. I take Welchol which ‘sometimes’ works and often does not. It is still a daily battle.

  • DorisE
    2 years ago

    Excellent article which addresses the anxiety of even eating an apple! Were it not for anti diarrhea medication I would have cramps and diarrhea every day muktiple times, but one has to wait for a bowel movement before taking another pill! … you explain it so well. Eating is a mini crisis, so stressfu, and we long for the times years ago when we could actually enjoy any food we wanted.Thankyou

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