Why and How I Mistreat My IBS

Why and How I Mistreat My IBS

I have IBS with constipation. I also have multiple sclerosis (MS). You would think that the focus of my energies would be on managing MS, the more serious condition of the two. Alas, no.

My relapsing-remitting MS symptoms have remained stable for years. It’s a matter of staying compliant with my medications and willing myself to get off my tush and keep those weak, stiff legs moving so the muscles don’t totally waste away. And although there are daily adjustments to be made, it’s become familiar and manageable.

But IBS, though not life-threatening or progressive, creates bigger challenges. This diagnosis came along many years after MS. Unlike MS, there are no drugs I can take to manage this condition. Managing IBS centers on diet. After going through diagnostic testing with a gastroenterologist and ruling out more serious digestive diseases, the IBS diagnosis was, like MS, one of exclusion. And while a certain amount of relief came along with knowing I don’t have Celiac or colitis or Crohn’s, I was dismayed when my gastro handed me a FODMAP diet and said I must identify my triggers and then watch what I put in my mouth every day until I croak.

It is somehow easier to accept all the medications I have to take for MS. For example, I take a muscle relaxer for spasticity and cramping and I get immediate relief each time I pop a pill. I have to take them three times a day to keep the cramping at bay, but at least the connection between taking a pill and having looser muscles is clearly experienced.

Confusion and indulgence

Taking on IBS after living with an often confusing neurological disease complicates things even more. Dysfunctional digestion causes its own symptoms, and those I’ve experienced are similar to MS symptoms. For example, that all too familiar bloated sensation after eating a small meal can cause severe pain and pressure across the rib cage, so much so that I’m convinced my ribs will crack open at any moment. Problem is, MS can cause a similar phenomenon called the MS hug, painful rib-level pressure that can restrict breathing at its worst. There is no treatment for it beyond soaking in a warm bath or applying a heating pad. The only way I can know whether IBS or MS caused this is by waiting until the food digests and my colon expels gas and waste that relieves the fullness.

Probably the most aggravating challenge in my journey with IBS is indulging the hype about using supplements such as probiotics to regulate digestion. Though I understand the science behind this and agree that the science is solid, my experience using probiotics has been disappointing and ineffective. I took them for one year, containing 20 billion bacteria and 10 different strains. After a year my finances were strapped and my IBS symptoms remained unchanged. Several people have told me that I need to take a higher dose and it will work. But that means spending more money and that is one of my gripes about supplements. At this writing, I’m glad to rely on drinking Smooth Move to regulate my bowel. It works and it’s relatively inexpensive.

And how do I mistreat my IBS? It involves the simplest approach to managing IBS: food. I’ve identified my triggers as being high fiber veg, the worst being broccoli, so I totally avoid that. I don’t eat gassy beans such as kidney, black, pinto, Lima and navy. I can tolerate (and love) Brussels sprouts, celery, carrots, and asparagus, so I keep to those. But the bane of my existence is simple carbs: pasta (including gluten-free), potatoes, any kind of chips, and rice. And what kind of food do I crave the most? Starches, of course. I’ve tried regulating the amount I eat every day rather than denying myself all together. Problem is, if it’s in the house then I will binge on it until it is gone. Only after it’s all gone will I start eating the complex carbs in the fridge along with homemade turkey chili and mandarin oranges. Mixed nuts are a binge food too. As healthy as it is, I’ll eat too much if it’s in the house.

Emotional creature

Mistreating IBS for me involves a purely emotional component. As soon as my stomach empties, I get a desperate feeling. My brain obsesses on the empty space until I do something to fill it. It is not a physical hunger. I quit smoking two years ago and food has replaced cigarettes. Smoking once filled that emptiness. The cigarettes went away but the emptiness did not. Weight gain, abdominal pain, constipation, bloating and distension are constant reminders of how I mistreat my IBS.

Why is it so hard to eat small amounts many times a day and cool it on the pretzels? I feel good on the days that I do these things. You would think the weight loss, no more bloat and distension would be enough to inspire me. But as long as I am such an emotional creature I will struggle to do the simple things, the right things.

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