On reflection it’s only when I started feeling better did I realise how much my IBS symptoms had been affecting me. It wasn’t a story of racing to the toilet for me, more an insidious build-up of symptoms that over a period of 6 months to a year had translated into a daily “gnawing” band of abdominal discomfort; nausea and acid reflux with intermittent periods of constipation. The pain and nausea in particular had led me to feel anxious around meal times. Alongside this I nearly always felt tired and generally unwell which impacted on my overall mood both at home and in work.
I had tried all the regular over- the-counter remedies and experimented with peppermint/ginger teas but nothing seemed to make any real difference. With no sign of my symptoms abating I was referred to a Gastroenterologist who recommended that I have an abdominal MRI and endoscopy. By the time it came for me to have these investigations I had totally convinced myself that something serious was wrong.
Whilst awaiting the results of my investigations I happen to notice on the Cwm Taf intranet that a Dietician, Deb Thomas was looking for volunteers that suffered from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to be part of a CTM staff pilot study. Whilst I had never been formally told I had IBS I felt that at least part of my symptoms had a similar presentation. Interested to find out more I contacted Deb and she explained that the only requirement from my side was to be motivated and have a willingness to modify certain elements of my diet. Deb asked me to complete a food/symptom diary for the week. Completing the diary was a complete eye opener for me as it showed just how erratic my eating pattern had become. I would often skip breakfast and lunch, achieving my sugar and caffeine fix through several cups of coffee and biscuits with my only consistent meal being the family dinner every evening. It occurred to me that my joy of eating had virtually diminished as it would nearly always be accompanied with abdominal pain so I had, as a result, subconsciously been avoiding meals. During this week I thankfully discovered that the results of my abdominal investigations were normal (aside from a small hiatus hernia and acid reflux) which was a massive relief!
My first zoom session with Deb was really informative. We went through the findings of my food/symptom diary and Deb explained the concept of the FODMAP diet. Essentially I would be eliminating certain foods from my diet in a bid to discover which, if any were causing my symptoms. Deb provided me with a list of low medium and high FODMAP foods and clearly guided me through those foods that I would need to avoid during the study. Deb was happy to have my husband sit in on the zoom session which was really helpful, given that he does a lot of the cooking.
Armed with a shopping list of gluten free and dairy free options myself and my husband ventured aisles in Tesco we had previously never given a second glance! J. I was enthusiastic to get started and had my lacto-free milk with my coffee for breakfast the following morning which I was pleasantly surprised to find tasted no different from ‘ordinary’ milk… good start. The bread is a slightly different matter, I found it drier but not unpalatable. Gluten free brioche rolls would be my recommendation as they have the sweetness but don’t seem so dry. I had been advised to omit garlic and onion entirely and this made me realise how often we used it in our evening meals (Deb came up with a spice equivalent that I have yet to try).
A couple of days in and I realised that I hadn’t been glugging on my ‘Gaviscon Advance’ at all, neither had I woken up with my abdominal discomfort that morning.
Surely it wouldn’t work this soon? I was wondering whether this was psycho-somatic… then that evening we had a family favourite, Spaghetti Bolognese that we had previously cooked and frozen. Half an hour after eating the evening meal that all too familiar band of pain returned and I realised that in the pre-prepared recipe was a generous amount of garlic and onion as always!
Deb has asked me to report back every two weeks. So far I can honestly and legitimately say I feel so much better! I am barely getting any abdominal pain, the nausea has entirely disappeared. I am eating more regularly, am no longer constipated and I generally feel better. My family and work colleagues have commented that I also look healthier.
Under the guidance of Deb I am currently at the stage of re-introducing the foods I was told to avoid back into my diet in a gradual way and keeping a log of at each stage of any symptoms, if any. A fairly interesting picture is already emerging! I will be reporting back to Deb again with the findings.
I can honestly say it’s been a relevation! I would have never thought that something as simple as what you eat can influence how you feel in such a way.
I consider myself extremely privileged to be be given this opportunity to be part of this study and have the benefit of such comprehensive advice and support from Deb, who is clearly an expert in her field with a wealth of experience behind her.