Talking About IBS Isn't Always Easy
Talking about your bowel movements is not considered polite conversation in most circles. I was at a party recently and someone was asking me about what types of conditions and patients I wanted to work with when I finished my nutrition degree. I said my preferred area of focus would be digestive issues and then I started to ramble on and explain that "I have digestive issues, IBS, you know...Irritable Bowel Syndrome...I have food intolerances and trouble digesting food, bloating etc and so I’m fascinated with gut health and healing gut issues." She nodded her head and just said 'hmmm' and looked away and I immediately flushed red with embarrassment.
What that too much information? What was she thinking about? Does she know what IBS is, does she need more information? Was it too much information? Was it a good idea to share my health details with a stranger? These were the thoughts running through my head.
IBS is difficult to talk about
Throughout my journey of exploring my health and IBS symptoms I have found it difficult to talk to people about it. I find it easy to talk about food intolerances, or to joke about being bloated and looking like I'm 6 months pregnant, but I didn’t always find it easy to talk about my bowel movements.
Maybe you have always joked or laughed about it with your family or friends, but not me. It was something I shared with my doctor, my husband if needed and no one else. However, since becoming more interested in gut health and IBS, and of course studying it, I find it much easier to talk about it, except perhaps at a party!
Gut health is a hot topic
Gut health has become a somewhat cool topic of late. Everyone in the health and wellness world is talking about the gut microbiome, the importance of a healthy, functioning digestive system, about how to heal the gut, about what foods are good for the gut and about the gut brain connection. There are so many books and blogs (yes, mine included!) and websites that have gut in the title, it’s everywhere!
Should we feel comfortable talking about IBS?
But how comfortable do you really feel about sharing the details of your bowel movements, your bloating, your abdominal pain, your diarrhea, your diet, your condition, with others? Should we feel comfortable about it? Should we be swapping stories with work colleagues, strangers, family members, or friends about our trips to the bathroom like we share stories about our trips abroad?
In a workplace talking about being sick with a cold or a strained back can be standard lunchroom conversation but a conversation about diarrhea or cramping or pain from IBS is generally hush hush and usually covered with a blanket term of gastro; “oh yeah I wasn’t at work yesterday, had a bit of gastro.” But I want to ask why is gastroenteritis a socially acceptable condition that requires no explanation but IBS is not?
Talk more about IBS to normalize the condition
I think that these are important questions to ask ourselves. Talking about poop, gas, bloating and pain may cause embarrassment but it may also cause a positive ripple effect. Many people may have IBS and not even know it because they think that their symptoms are normal. The more IBS is talked about, the more people can understand their own bodies and what is considered normal and when someone should be seeking help. The more IBS is talked about, the more standard and regular it will become and perhaps it will lose the embarrassment surrounding it. The more we share our stories on sites like this, the more comfortable we can all become and that has to move in the right direction.
Do you read nutrition labels on the food you buy?