Being Afraid To Eat With IBS: Part 2
IBS and Food. Oh, how complicated that is! Being afraid to eat because of irritable bowel syndrome is very common, even though it isn’t an easy thing to talk about or admit. The fact that IBS is poorly understood by most people can make it even harder to navigate through life when you have a lot of fear surrounding food and drinks.
In part 1, I shared some of my experiences about this topic. My goal in that article was to show anyone who may be feeling alone because of this, that they are in good company. If you are afraid to eat or have developed disordered eating because of your IBS, please know that there is nothing wrong with you for feeling the way you do. Even if people make comments (which I am sure happens a lot) no one can understand what it is like to be in your shoes. And while it is easy to feel like you are a nutjob for thinking and feeling the way you do, trust me when I tell you, there is nothing wrong with you. You are reacting and trying to survive under conditions that no one was meant to have to experience. While I wish I had a magic wand or pill to make everything easier for you, I do have some thoughts that I hope you might find helpful.
Five things to think about and/or try when you are afraid to eat
- Do your trial and error with food/drinks at home when you don’t have a lot going on the following day. Feeling more in control of your body can have enormous mental health benefits. It is devastating when you don’t really know how your body will react to something you ingest but it is even worse when you are in a place that isn’t comfortable for you. Trying new things at home can give you the confidence to then maybe try it at a family member or close friends house. From there, assuming your digestive tract is okay, it will hopefully allow you to feel like you can eat/drink in public or around other people. If things don’t go well, at least you know you have a little bit of time to get yourself back on track.
- Make a list or mental note of the foods your body responds well to. While sometimes something can be okay for you one day and not the next, you will likely experience some kind of pattern. For example, if I know that a particular yogurt smoothie is okay for me, then I can feel semi okay trying the same brand of yogurt. In all likelihood, the ingredients are relatively the same but the consistency has a slight variation.
- Write down your fears in a journal or notebook. Meaning, what exactly are you afraid will happen? Are you nervous you will be in the bathroom with terrible diarrhea? Worried about constipation? Fear of pain? Concern about bloating or gas? Once you take the time to write down what specifically you are afraid will happen, you can begin thinking about various ways to handle a problem should one arise. For example, if you are concerned that you’ll be in the bathroom for a while after eating, enjoying something new in a place where access to the restroom is limited and/or it would greatly impede on your day, wouldn’t be wise. If you are worried about a food causing gas or gas pains, having something OTC to help prevent symptoms either before or after eating can help alleviate that anxiety. Also, if you are fearful or worried that your stomach will become distended or bloated from a particular food, you can alter your wardrobe accordingly. Ex, looser pants and shirts.
- Remember that you are more concerned with what is going on with you than anyone else. It is understandable why those of us who suffer from a digestive disease are constantly concerned about what others may think about our bathroom usage, food choices etc when the reality is most people aren’t going to be focused on you. Everyone has their own insecurities and while this is definitely still a work in progress for me, I have been trying to internalize the fact that I care more about what is going on with me than anyone else does.
- Be upfront before anyone has the chance to make you feel awkward. This one has been key for me. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been out to eat with friends or family where I have consumed nothing but water. I just wanted to be there to enjoy the company and knew eating would put a damper on my plans. In this case, depending on who I am with, I am either upfront about my disease OR, if I am with people who I don’t think will “get it,” I pretend I just ate or some other excuse as to why I am not enjoying the festivities with everyone. In my experience, saying something right away mitigates the chances that a comment will be made that might make you feel badly.
I am far from an expert on how to completely overcome a fear of eating brought on by a disease you have no control over. The thoughts mentioned above are just some of the things I have found to be helpful over the years. I wish I could take away all our fears and anxieties when it comes to this. I know how difficult it is to live a life where you struggle to be able to enjoy something as simple as …eating. If it pisses you off, frustrates you beyond belief, makes you want to cry or scream…it should! And you have every right to react however you feel you need to. I hope you know that there is hope and things that can be done to make things a little less tense for you in this area. I am not saying it is an easy process or even a short one… but there is a way for you to figure it out. We have a wonderful community here with people who are completely non-judgmental and who are living in your shoes. Don’t be afraid to reach out to us anytime either on our facebook support site or our website.
Do you have any tips or insights into helping others get around being afraid to eat? Is this something you have mentioned to your doctor? If so, have you found him/her to be helpful? If you haven’t brought it up to your GI, is there a reason? I know for me I find the conversations too infuriating that I would rather deal with things on my own or with those people who truly get it.
Did you start experiencing IBS symptoms before adulthood?