Less-Irritable Bowel Syndrome: How Weight-Lifting and Dietary Habits Have Impacted My IBS
Although it has become a cliche to boast that staying active can help your IBS symptoms, I have to say, there's method to the madness. I know it's annoying to constantly hear how fitness routines and regular exercise can help not only curb but also control your symptoms, but, at some point maybe we need to realize that there's a reason something has become a cliche: often, it's simply true.
As I've mentioned before, I've recently been delving back into the world of strength training and power-lifting (after roughly a fifteen year hiatus). It was a long road to travel due to my fibromyalgia, but now that I've gotten into a regular routine, it's been amazing. I feel stronger mentally and physically, and although I still have my ups and downs, flares ups and episodes, I am generally in less pain than I have been in a long time. In a previous article I discussed how difficult it was to maintain a proper, balanced diet due to my various allergies and intolerances (dairy and gluten to name a few). It has been difficult to find protein sources that did not exacerbate my IBS. Regardless, in the last few months I've adapted my eating habits to the point that I am actually seeing positive, albeit interesting, effects upon my IBS.
First, my fitness journey has helped me maintain a slightly better mental focus. I say slightly because I still endure the ups and downs of mental illness on a regular basis; however, the positive effects are obvious. If I am at the gym, focusing upon muscle groups instead of dwelling on whatever thoughts are running through my head, I am clearly having a better mental day than I might have if I'd stayed inactive. Idle hands are the devil's playthings, right? If I am not staying active - mentally and physically - I am almost guaranteed to have an episode. The more I focus upon achieving my fitness goals, and simply keeping myself from becoming stagnant, the more I feel less anxious and less depressed. And, instead of having rather manic episodes, I can focus my energies on fitness - have a little too much energy today? Go to the gym. Feeling a little too antsy? Go for a walk. Mind playing tricks on you? Focus on your muscles - go ahead, watch yourself lift weights in the mirror!
Second, I've noticed that the dietary changes I've made, specifically the higher doses of healthy fats and proteins, have had an immense, and rather positive, impact upon my IBS symptoms. Generally speaking, eating like a weight-lifter has made me more regular. In the past I struggled with a combination of both loose and constricted bowels; however, my new diet has all but erased my inabilities to maintain semi-stable trips to the bathroom. Though the former still likes to rain on my parade, the latter issue has almost entirely disappeared. Clean protein and a steady supply of healthy fats have made my mornings - and afternoons, and evenings - less painful, and, generally, less complicated. Though my IBS symptoms are still here for the party, they're generally less drunk and disorderly.
Experiment and perservere
The moral of the story is, before you start ripping on those who tell you to stay active and maintain healthy dietary choices, try to imagine a life where you feel less pain and a less complicated relationship with your bathroom. Try to imagine a life where your bowels, though not always in direct compliance with your wishes, are not clawing at you from the inside. Try to imagine a day when you feel mentally and physically stronger without fear of public bathroom stalls. I'm not saying that staying active will cure all, or that including more protein in your diet will automatically make your life better. I'm not even saying it won't be an uphill battle - it will. You'll need to experiment. You'll need to persevere beyond your frustrations. And, most importantly, you need to remember that everyone is different and that your life - your movements, your habits, your level of fitness - will directly impact how and what changes should be implemented.
So, give it a shot. Get out there. Go for a walk. Start a routine. Lift a couple weights. Throw caution to the wind - actually, don't do that... just try to make safe, thoughtful changes in your life, and if all else fails remember to have fun!
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to IBS?