Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is probably something you've heard of. But what is it, how do you know if you have it and what are the symptoms? We asked Gut Health Specialist and IBS mentor - Suzanne Goldenberg-Shrove - founder of Happy Gut Co - to give us the 101 on IBS.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is widely known as one of those annoying ‘silent’ illnesses. I remember when I was first diagnosed, it was very much an eye ball rolling moment, I mean no one suffering an immense amount of abdominal, often debilitating pain wants to be told that their problem isn’t physical or an easy fix. Up until this point I was very much the kind of person who paid very little attention to my body or my mind. Who would have thought this one diagnosis would be the beginning of my journey to self realisation and contentment?
IBS is a pretty common issue thought to affect the digestive system which seems obvious due to the symptoms it presents with including stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. However more recent research pinpoints the importance the role the gut brain axis plays particularly in IBS sufferers. Which suggests that perhaps the cause isn’t solely linked to an oversensitive gut or the types of food digested, but the role of stress.
You may have heard of an elimination FODMAP diet playing a pivotal healing part for sufferers, and whilst it really does provide relief in the gut, it’s this untapped ‘mind’ element that most recently has proved to be a total game changer for sufferers like me. I like to think of it a little like an entire 360 degree wellness prescription - something greater than any pill can ever give. Small tweaks to daily life that in return provides clarity of the mind, peace in the body and sheer acceptance of the soul.
Here are a few of my simple, daily tips for maintaining balance…
Be kind to your mind..
Nobody else will take care of it! A happy mind is essential to our sense of wellbeing and it works flipping hard day and all night. We need to treat it with kindness and respect, which means striking a balance between activities in solitude, social activities and productive activities. Often missed in daily routines are these mindful activities in solitude - and I don't mean the time spent scrolling on your phone, or reading a book. I mean actually giving your brain a break. Gratitude journaling is great way to get started. Just a short entry in the morning and another in the evening goes a long way in helping dump unhelpful thoughts.
Without feeling like you need to run a marathon. Research suggests that low to medium intensity exercise helps keep symptoms at bay. As well as the happy chemicals dopamine and endorphins released during the movement itself, the sheer nature of joining in a class from a social aspect, as well as absorbing new surroundings goes a long way to making us feel good, particularly in today's world where most exercise is favoured in an outdoor setting. This connection with nature has proved to play a huge positive impact on our mental health, so imagine the power of walking in the woods!
Eat more whole foods & plants…
Because in all honesty plants are far more delicious and exciting than anything created in a factory! Bursting full of fibre, vitamins and fibre, whole foods and plants really are medicine for our bodies. Think wholegrain, rice, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit (preferably with skins on as this is where the nutrients are found) all in their super delicious natural state. Quick and easy hacks to a rich diverse diet include toasting a bunch of tamari seeds ready to sprinkle on top of your lunchtime sarnie, and oven roasting a whole host of seasonal veg to keep you going all week long. Perfect for chucking in rice bowls, noodle salads and pasta. Some IBS sufferers find some foods set off their symptoms - if this is the case for you it’s worth chatting with a dietician as restricting any foods from your diet long term may disrupt your happy gut balance.
Get some probiotics inside you...
Because they’re exactly the kind of good stuff your body and mind craves. Probiotics can come in the form of a supplement but often these are expensive and nothing you can’t get from delicious fermented food and drinks. Think kombucha (hello delicious Fix8), water or milk based kefir, live yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, pickles and fermented cheese - all of these are sources that feed and balance our gut bacteria. It’s worth remembering, for any probiotic to be effective, make sure you fill up on your fibre. Those little bacteria need lots to feed on!
Without it our bodies and our minds can’t function properly! Our bodies are 60% water, so it makes sense if we’re not constantly replenishing it, we won’t be feeling our best selves. As IBS is a gut related chronic illness, with symptoms including regular diarrhoea and constipation, we can get ahead of the game by feeding our bowels the masses of water it requires to function properly. It’s also much needed by our brain, so all in all you can’t go wrong with keeping a refillable bottle of water on you. I like visuals, so making a note of how many bottles I’ve drunk in a day really helps me to keep on track of my intake.
Suzanne is an IBS warrior, plant based chef and recipe developer, host of the sell out Brighton based FODMAP friendly supper club experience Fakeaway Friday, educator and all round advocate for good gut and mind health.
Her new workshop series ‘Journeying into a Happy Gut and Mind’ begins on Tuesday 8th June at Brighton's newest beachside venue, Rockwater Hove. Along with expert friends, Suzanne will be demystifying common myths and unpicking exactly what it takes to have a happy gut and mind.