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IBS: Not Just “A Little Bloated Once in a While”

This is gonna get a bit ranty. Sorry.

I’ve been in many situations, face to face and online, where someone has suggested to me that bloating “is no big deal.”

That’s absolutely true. Bloating is no big deal. It happens to everyone, and it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.

Itching is also no big deal. However, if you said that to a family member of mine who has an autoimmune disorder which causes her skin cells literally to attack themselves, she might want to punch you get a smidgen irritated.

This was on my mind Monday because I had been having an IBS flare-up for a few days. And, at risk of sounding whiny, I just want to clarify that for some IBS sufferers, the digestive disorder can interfere with our lives much more severely than “a little bit of bloating once in a while.”

Because IBS has no known cause, it is frequently attributed to our digestive systems being unusually “sensitive.” That might be 100% true. However, the word “sensitive” has a connotation suggesting “wussy” or “weak.” “Sensitivity” is often used to describe emotion, and our culture (at least here in the U.S.) likes to pretend that emotions are insignificant. They’re not, and for many, being emotionally “sensitive” can be, in certain contexts, quite debilitating.

Having a “sensitive” gut can also be quite debilitating.

For folks with IBS-D (diarrhea-predominant IBS), it can mean the emergent need to get to a restroom stat: in the middle of a concert, in the middle of class, in a meeting at work, halfway through a date, in the car on the highway…

For some, including sometimes for me, it results in painful cramps that have us skipping school, work, or social occasions because all we want to do is lie on our backs with our best friend, the heating pad.

As someone with IBS-C (constipation-predominent IBS), my bloating can often severely distort my ordinary hunger and fullness signals. Frequently, I get what I call the “two Thanksgiving dinner feeling” after eating a very small meal, and this will last until I’m suddenly stomach-crampingly hungry. Often, the bloated “two Thanksgiving dinner feeling” is accompanied by nausea. And, as followers of this blog know, IBS was one of the major underlying reasons I developed anorexia.

For many people with IBS, these symptoms are a weekly or even daily occurrence. No wonder we are willing to try the very restrictive low-FODMAP diet to minimize our symptoms–it’s one of the few treatments available that consistently works for about 2/3 of IBS sufferers.

I’m not saying this to whine or complain. We all have crummy stuff in our lives we gotta deal with, and that crummy stuff takes many different forms. In most ways, I am a very fortunate person.

I’m just saying: please don’t tell an IBS sufferer that “a little bit of bloating once in a while is no big deal.” Because for many of us, it’s a lot more than a little bit of bloating once in a while, and it is a big deal.

That said, we still need to eat.

Monday was a very crummy tummy day. I’ll spare you the play-by-play on the gut issues, though. Here’s what I ate.

Thanks to Arman, Laura, and Jenn for the What I Ate Wednesday linkup!

Breakfast: Mesa sunrise cereal with lactose-free milk, gluten-free/vegan soy sausage and a banana. I tried the soy sausage because I’ve been making an effort, as per my dietitian, to get more protein in with breakfast, but I don’t just want to eat eggs every day cuz I’d get sick of ’em and I try to not eat a ton of meat because of its impact on the planet. The soy sausages were ‘meh’ though. Might try looking for a different option.

Mid-morning snack before I taught: an orange and a strawberry Greek yogurt on my messy desk.

I was feeling particularly crummy mid-day, but I ate some sweet potato chips and then slowly nibbled on a tuna sandwich between 1 and 2. I also packed some cucumbers, but by the time I finished my sandwich, there was just no way with my tummy feeling how it was.

I went to my new favorite weight lifting class and didn’t get home until close to 7:00. Dinner was some gluten-free chicken nuggets I found on sale at Whole Foods, plus some sweet potato fries, and I boiled up the last little bit of a head of broccoli I had in the fridge.Oh, and ketchup. Cora, you should be proud of me!

I felt a little bad that I didn’t cook or eat anything homemade this day (unless boiling broccoli or mixing mayonnaise and tuna for my sandwich count as “homemade.”) But I don’t like to cook when I’m feeling really crummy–I honestly don’t want to spend any more time around food than I have to on those days. Sometimes even the smell of food makes me queasy.

I was more hungry after I ate supper than before (another weird symptom of IBS), so I ate some dark chocolate with crystallized ginger.Sorry to complain at you guys. So many of you have been so supportive. As you can see from my post, I’ve just been a wee bit frustrated lately.


Have you ever dealt with a circumstance or condition and felt that others around you didn’t acknowledge its significance in your life?

Do you ever feel more hungry after you eat than before?

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  1. I’m so sorry 🙁 I have two family members with very bad IBS and I see them struggle with it very often! I also struggled for years with digestive issues and remember people making such annoying comments while I was struggling and feeling so sick all of the time! I hope you find something that works for you!
    What brand of soy patty did you try? I really like the “Sol Veggie Breakfast Patty” brand for a vegan breakfast “meat” It’s also gluten free!

    1. Joyce says:

      Blech! I’m so sorry that people can show such little empathy for something that can impact our lives in such a big way.
      These actually were the Sol brand. I guess everyone has different tastes. 😉 I appreciate the suggestion, though!

  2. Kaylee says:

    You shouldn’t have to apologize for complaining. I’ve realized over the past couple of years thru recovery that we are entitled to our feelings. I cannot even begin to imagine what living with IBS is like so thank you for giving me a little bit more insight into it.

    For the protein during breakfast, you could try tofu if you want to consume less meat. Scrambling them up with spices and salsa yummm

    I can definitely relate to feeling like people don’t recognize the significance of my ED, how much of a role it plays in my life or what is going on in my brain. And then they carelessly make these comments about my weight/my eating habits that affect me more than even I know sometimes.

  3. It is so so true that it can be really hard to just do normal life with IBS, because it makes it so difficult to just function. It does make me even more grateful for those days that are not as hard. <3 <3 Please email so we can talk if you ever want someone to support you.

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks so much, Emily. I am also really grateful for the days when I feel pretty “normal.” <3

  4. Alyssa says:

    OH my gosh I get so annoyed when people tell me that bloating isn’t a big deal for me… as a fellow IBS sufferer I totally get you and feel you on that. I’m praying that the discomfort lessens though Joyce. IBS is a real pain that’s for sure. Hugs <3

  5. Chelsea says:

    this was a great post! I too suffer from IBS and I hate it when others say oh it’s just bloating, it will go away. stop stressing about it. Coming from an ED background as well, not only does it mentally stress me out but it also is not good for me physically as it could mean I’m not hungry for half a day. That is a lil tricky too as I’m underweight and so I still have to eat.

    So many things. So yes I get it and no it’s not complaining although I often say the same thing when the words “I’m bloated and some I’m mad lol’ come out of my mouth.

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