Vegan often envision each other as picture perfect creatures of good health. Non-vegans often envision vegans as sick and fragile creatures. The truth is, veganism is better for you, so often times vegans are healthier by default, but, at the same time, some people are just dealt a bad hand of cards health wise, and no diet can fix that. I know this because I got dealt that bad hand.
Man, I am a mess, and always have been. Even as a kid, I always had something wrong with me. I had strep throat several times a year. I would often lose my voice. Asthma and allergies were plenty for me. I've still got super sensitive skin. Anxieties and OCD out the wazoo. It got to the point that as a kid I would literally call my doctor and tell them what I had, and often times I was right. Ashley Ronan, then Ashley Lyle, Google MD. I even used to read medical dictionaries, and 10/10 times you can bet that I, in my mind, absolutely had whatever I was reading about. Thanks hypochondria. I was in the ER a few times in high school for belly problems. I had surgery to remove a cyst under my chin as a kid. I had surgery to remove a cyst in my breast that burst from Fibroid Cystic Breast, which is hereditary and of course, I have that. I was shuffled in and out of doctors offices my whole life, even still to this day. If it's weird and uncommon, I probably have it, have had it, or will get it at some point in my life.
One of the things that's plagued me since I was a kid is IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. At this point in my life, I feel kind of like a pro at it. Unlike most people, I could talk poo all day. A lot of people are ashamed and embarrassed to talk about their bowel habits, but when you've lived with IBS as long as I have, there's not a poop convo that makes you uncomfortable. So that's what I wanna talk to you guys about today. I wanna give you some background on IBS itself, on my issues, and tell you what how being a vegan has impacted my IBS.
IBS can go a few different ways. You can have IBS-C, which is where you're more constipated, IBS-D where you're more prone to diarrhea, or you may have a combination of both.
I'm lucky enough to have IBS-D. I've cancelled so many plans as a result of this in my lifetime that I've lost count. I know what my food triggers are and I do my best to avoid them. Anywhere I go, I have to know where the bathroom is. I hate going far from home because I often fear having a flair up in public. Don't get me wrong, I've had to poo in some less than pleasant places as a result of it, but I try my best to avoid those situations.
Food triggers are easy to avoid. The harder part is the other triggers. Your belly literally has its own nervous system. You may be anxious and not feeling it mentally, but your belly knows your anxious. Every single emotion I feel, my belly feels it first. Your belly has a mind of its own. When I'm under a lot of stress, you can bet I'll get a flare up.
A flare up is when my IBS hits peak for an extended amount of time. Sometimes it'll just be a day, other times maybe a week. I've had flare ups lasts almost an entire year, and let me tell you how debilitating that is. Not just physically is that hard on your body, but mentally you just feel defeated. Because no matter what you do, your belly has its own plans.
A flare up is different for every person. One of the things almost all IBS sufferers deal with is pain. IBS hurts. Constipation causes pain and diarrhea causes pain. I get really bad spasms with mine. They're uncontrollable and often times make me cry. It feels like someone is taking my intensities by the handful and squeezing them with all of their might. And it comes in waves. Sometimes going helps relieve that and sometimes it doesn't. Often times, even after you go, you may feel like your bowels aren't completely empty, which causes a whole different kind of pain. It's not uncommon to feel nausea with IBS too. Bloating and gas are also very common as well.
When you have IBS, every day is a surprise. I never know how my belly is gonna be. I can tell you right before my period it's always bad. When I'm under stress (you know, basically every day of my anxiety filled life), I usually have symptoms. Unfortunately and also fortunately for me, I live every day of my life under a certain amount of stress because of my anxiety, so my body is accustomed to that. But anytime it's more than usual, my belly feels it. There's even been times where I went a few months without symptoms. IBS is a lifelong condition, so even when you're symptom free, it's only a matter of time. But, you can do your best to manage your IBS, and what works for me might not work for you, but it doesn't hurt to try.
I have found that being on a vegan diet has surprisingly helped my IBS more than anticipated. I think it's from a combination of things too. Eating basically fruits and veggies all day means I have a higher fiber content than I used to. Soluble fiber, like the kind found in strawberries, blueberries, and carrots, tend to work better with IBS-D patients. Insoluble fiber, like the kind found in zucchini, broccoli, and most root vegetables, works better for IBS-C patients. A balance of both is important though. Certain fruits, like cherries and grapes, can be a little irritating for my stomach, so I eat them in small quantities with other less irritating foods to balance it out.
This one has nothing to do with a vegan diet, but I absolutely cannot drink coffee or anything high in caffeine. The highest caffeine I can do is green tea. I could have one PSL and I'm down and out for days. I haven't had coffee since I was a teenager. Shame too, because I like the taste of it. Even decaf coffee I can't have. It's the coffee itself in addition to the caffeine that kills me. Even chocolate, which contains caffeine, I have to be cautious with. A few bites for me and I'm done.
Alcohol is another one of the biggest triggers. When we face the facts, alcohol really is poison for your system already. Anyone who's ever been a little too drunk can tell you the next day they pay for it, especially their bellies. And that's normal people. IBS people the next day is even worse! I rarely drink. And when I do, I have one glass of wine that I know my belly can tolerate and that's it. I also drink tons of water with it to help alleviate any possible issues it can cause. The last time I was like really drunk was probably my 21st birthday and I literally couldn't leave the house for at least 3 days afterwards. Drinking to me is absolutely not worth all of that suffering.
As a vegan, you tend to eat less junk food. That means less preservatives and less processed sugars, so your body really benefits from not having all that gunk in there. I also stay away from fried and fatty foods, since they wreak havoc on the belly naturally.
The biggest factor in all of this is avoiding meats and dairy. Meat causes colon cancer, especially those horribly processed meats, and that's a fact. Based off of that, you already know how terrible that is for your belly. But dairy is also one of the worst. My entire life I always believed that "cheese binds you up," which is one of the reasons it took me so long to give it up. Turns out, it never did! Our bodies are not meant to digest dairy. That's why lactose intolerance is a very real thing. Milk is meant for baby cows. That's why even people who aren't lactose intolerant have milk or ice cream and have stomach issues afterwards.
My first suggestion is to keep a food journal. Write down what you eat and drink, and keep track of how it makes you feel. It's a long and tedious process but it's worth it. Knowing what food triggers to avoid will make your life so much easier. When you know what to avoid, make sure you avoid them, even if it's a favorite of yours! I love chocolate but I know the havoc it wreaks on my stomach so I avoid it and when I do have it I know my limit.
If you have anxieties and you're pro-medication, see a doctor and see if a prescription is best for you. If not, find ways to cope with your anxieties and your stress. Cook, do yoga, read, write (like a blog, that's what I do!), even unload your problems to your cat or dog! I've found that often times people usually just want to say their problems out loud and don't really need a response. There's something therapeutic about saying your issues out loud. Plus, pets are the best listeners and they never judge you! Limiting your anxieties and your stress will have a profound affect on your belly.
I don't like taking medicine, but Imodium and Pepto are two thing I keep in my house at all times and I always bring them with me no matter where I go. I also have a prescription medication called Hyoscyamine to help with my IBS, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. When I first used it, I noticed a difference, but I think I just got used to it now so I might need a higher dose. I don't often take it because it's got some less than pleasant side effects. It makes my mouth super dry, and it also makes me dizzy and sleepy. Like most medications, the side effects can really outweigh the benefits. Also, taking ibuprofen helps with the pain.
I'm not a doctor, just a girl that's suffered with IBS for longer than I care to remember. These are just tips I've found that have helped me and if I can help someone else, that's all I care about. I absolutely first and foremost recommend seeing a doctor before trying any medication. Make sure you go armed with questions you have, and be fully detailed about your symptoms. Doctors have heard it all before so don't be ashamed to talk about your poo! Remember, everybody potties!
Best of luck to anyone out there reading this and suffering. If you have any questions or just need someone to talk to that won't judge you, please know I am here for you. You don't have to suffer in silence and you don't have to suffer alone. 💜