My gastroenterologist officially diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) on December 10, 2014. This is my IBS story.
The type of IBS I have is termed “IBS-D.” It is the diarrhea variation of this digestive disorder. Since then, I have had my ups, downs, and deep bottoms (no pun intended). IBS has profoundly changed my life for the better or for worse. My diet is now completely different and I still have occasional IBS-flare ups. Despite the challenges I have faced, I now have a new and profound appreciation for and knowledge of health and general well-being.
Life before IBS diagnosis
Food is what makes life colorful for me. I love good food and exotic flavors.
Perhaps I was a wild boar in my previous life. I eat and snack constantly. Whether I am in the office, at home, or driving. There is always something nearby to replenish me. I partially blame this on an inherited high metabolism. For the most part, I just enjoy food. I maintained a good athletic figure and went to the gym at least three times a week.
Luckily, I had no restrictions on what I could not eat. There was no special diet to follow. I never bothered to read food labels to make sure it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, or organic. I don’t have any food allergies. Nothing ever stopped me from consuming something if I decided to do so.
Life was good.
If I am being honest, back then I often thought it’s funny how people are so particular about having a gluten-free or dairy-free diet. Or just any of the other diet choices out there that seem to be exponentially increasing these days.
Why are they so picky? That’s what I often thought.
I developed lactose intolerance
I used to buy gallons of organic milk from Costco.
Every day, I would drink at least a glass of this delicious and protein-rich beverage. As for cheese, I enjoyed all varieties except blue cheese. Its visible mold was just a turnoff to me. I would snack on Babybel on a regular basis though. Cookies were also my favorite. The more buttery or milky it is with a lot of chocolate, the more I liked it. The texture and flavor is comforting and always great as a dessert or snack.
Overall, dairy-products were an integral part of my life. Something that I never paid much attention to. When you can eat everything, you are not sensitive about what you eat, and you don’t examine the ingredients in detail. I never did that, at least not at that time.
One random day, everything went upside down.
After drinking a glass of milk, I ran to the bathroom within the hour with explosive diarrhea. I remember thinking to myself that day how strange that was. I must have eaten something bad. Perhaps the milk was bad or I had a minor food poisoning from something I ate in the previous day. After all, symptoms of food poisoning can show up even days later. I brushed it off without thinking much more about it.
From that day on, whenever I consume dairy-products, my stomach would churn. Something did not feel right at all. What was my favorite Babybel snack, for example, caused me gas, pain, and occasional diarrhea.
Even after purchasing a new batch of organic milk from Costco, diarrhea ensued whenever I would drink milk.
It took me about a week to figure out the correlation between dairy-products and the digestive issues. I eventually stopped all dairy products and the symptoms of discomfort and diarrhea ceased as well.
Doctor’s take on lactose intolerance
I visited my primary care physician two weeks after stopping all dairy-products. Just to make sure that there’s nothing wrong. I had self-diagnosed myself as lactose intolerant based on all the information I’ve read on the internet.
Apparently lactose intolerance can develop out of the blue. Just randomly one day, you’ll wake up and your gut decides not to process lactose anymore. Lactose is a sugar that is found in milk. We are not supposed to be able to process lactose after a few years old. However, due to a genetic mutation in some races, we can continue to process lactose.
My doctor confirmed that this is a normal occurrence. He also mentioned that over half of the people in the world have a digestive system that cannot digest lactose well after infancy.
I was not too surprised with the diagnosis and decided that it was just a normal change in my body. I was just to avoid all dairy-products going forward. Getting fully adjusted to the new change was challenging at first. Almost everything these days have some sort of dairy in it. Milk powder, butter, and milk protein is added to almost every processed food or sauce of all sorts.
I eventually got used to being lactose intolerant.
In Hindsight – What I think caused my IBS
One Sunday evening, I was making a patch of pasta for the work week. Food prep is always fun as I get to cook in bulk. That’s the easiest way to cook and use up anything that might be going bad soon in the fridge.
This was weeks after I stopped adding dairy products to my diet. There was still a half gallon tub of Prego meat pasta sauce to use up in the fridge. I grilled some burger meat on the pan as usual and mixed in my favorite onions, garlic, and spinach.
After everything was done, I mixed in the pasta sauce in the pot with all the ingredients. It sat there simmering and the aroma caused me to salivate. After it was done, I enjoyed a big bowl of pasta with the sauce as a reward while waiting for the rest of the food to cool. After dinner, I divided the rest of the pasta into my food containers. They were now stored away to be enjoyed throughout the week.
I had explosive diarrhea that night. This is very strange, I remember thinking about why I have been having so many digestive issues in the past few weeks. I did not think that much of it. It is just an exception, I thought.
In the kitchen, I had a big bag of onions from Costco. To use them up, I made myself an onion soup to comfort my stomach. However, that did not help in any way.
The next day, I had diarrhea three times. I could not pinpoint what I was doing wrong. I was still eating everything I have always been eating. There were no changes to my diet except the exclusion of dairy products. I continue to eat the pasta I have prepared for the week. I also drank more water and took a few Imodium pills.
The diarrhea never quite stopped despite Imodium in the mix. Normally a capsule of Imodium would fix any digestive issues I have. Moreover, stomach issues was a rare thing for me that perhaps happened only once in a blue moon.
Moldy pasta sauce
I started to feel weak and lost. I was also losing weight fast. Essentially, I was not retaining much of anything I ate during that week.
That week was definitely one of confusion and anguish. Little did I know that the dramatic week may have been the beginning of my IBS.
Turns out, the half gallon tub of Prego meat pasta sauce to meal prep that weak was long expired. By about two weeks…
Stupid, I know. It beats me why I never noticed the expiration date. I actually went back to look at the container and noticed that the lid had mold on it. The tub of pasta sauce sat in the fridge much longer than I expected.
It turns out that I was eating pasta made with moldy pasta sauce that whole week. Obviously my diarrhea was caused by that. It just took me longer than it should have to determine the cause. We eat so many things a day that it is hard to pin point what went wrong. The cooked pasta sauce still taste great and I did not suspect it was the culprit initially. I am not stupid so it wasn’t as though I was eating green moldy pasta sauce this whole time.
Nothing was ever the same
After the fateful week with the pasta incident, my stomach was never the same.
It would rumble and growl constantly. Often it would just churn and cause pain. The whole digestive system felt very awkward and something was off. Even when I was not eating anything.
I would also have constant diarrhea, sometimes almost every day.
Something was just not quite right.
My visit to the gastroenterologist
After constant diarrhea for almost two weeks, I knew it was time to visit a professional. I urgently scheduled an appointment with a gastroenterologist in my area.
The doctor heard my narrative and asked me many detailed questions. He then ordered a bunch of different tests, including blood and stool samples. He also mentioned that he could conduct a colonoscopy just to be sure there wasn’t any issues with my colon. Based on my reaction (no way I want a tube meters long stuck inside me!), he said it wasn’t necessary as my symptoms did not indicate it was anything serious.
All the test results came back negative. My gastroenterologist then concluded that I have IBS.
I had no clue what this IBS thing was. My gastroenterologist advised me that there really isn’t a cure for IBS. In fact, he warned me that the medical community still does not have a lot of answers for IBS patients.
IBS diagnosis is made through the process of elimination. After eliminating everything else that’s possible (i.e. infection, parasites, Crohn’s disease, tumors, gallstones, etc.), the doctor is able to make the diagnosis.
After my IBS diagnosis
At the time of diagnosis, I was a college graduate five years into a full-time consulting job in New York city. I now have what is essentially a disease at a young age.
Sure, I have always heard of other peoples’ health woes. Never thought much about it other than trying to offer some sort of sympathy. Although at much emotional distance. For the first time ever in my life, something is wrong with my body. And I didn’t know what to do.
Thankfully, I did not give up. My drive to find clarity fueled me to push forward. Perhaps ultimately a cure. In any case, I was not going to live a life where IBS handicapped me.
Researching about IBS
Following the diagnosis, I spent weeks poring through the Internet. Read tons of articles and viewed many videos. Scientific studies or casual forum comments, nothing stopped me. My quest for an solution was a matter of great importance. I wanted to feel normal again.
The interesting thing about IBS is that from all perspectives, you appear normal to others around you. I had no limp, scars, jitters, or cough. I appear as healthy as ever. However, just a bit further inside me is a digestive system out of sync and wreaking havoc to my health. The digestive system is such a vital part of us. In the midst of our busy lives, we don’t pay much attention to it. The vital function of transporting the nutrients I need to sustain myself had suddenly turned against me.
My IBS symptoms
I cannot eat most things on the high-FODMAPs list.
My IBS story includes many dietary limitations. Mostly learned through research and trial and error.
This includes fruits such as watermelon, apples, and mango. There’s also a large category of vegetables and seasonings that I cannot touch.
The biggest two are onions and garlic. Anytime I have food with onion or garlic, it guarantees a trip to the bathroom shortly afterwards. Leeks, celery, and corn is also a no.
Wheat is also something I avoid. Pasta, bread, and cereal can cause me some digestive issues. So I have gone mostly gluten-free.
Obviously, this is a very restrictive diet. It takes having IBS to know that most prepared food has some sort of garlic or onion in it. I also happen to love having garlic or onion in my food. So the change in my diet was definitely dramatic. At restaurants, I have to remind the waiter or waitress that I don’t want any garlic or onions added.
I have also continued to be dairy-free.
Despite every effort to control what I consume, sometimes ingredients on my prohibited list still accidentally slip into the food I eat. Even with a perfect diet, I would still have occasional IBS flare-ups. I would randomly have diarrhea even though I did not eat anything that it would disagree with.
What I have learned from my IBS story
Through time and perseverance, I found comfort in accepting my new state of health. My IBS story have and will continue to teach me a lot.
I believe there is always some “cause” for IBS to develop. It may take time, perhaps over the course of months. However, there’s always that push over the edge and into IBS territory.
As you can see from my IBS story, how I developed IBS was perhaps due to several occurrences. First, I developed lactose intolerance months before episodes of diarrhea for weeks. Then, I ate moldy pasta for the week during food prep and further damaged my digestive system. That surely did not help the situation.
The week of diarrhea due to moldy pasta likely killed off the remaining good gut flora balance. After that point, my digestive system was never the same. It just felt weird from that point.
If you have IBS, perhaps you can trace back to the original factors that caused it.
There can be a variety of reasons why someone would have IBS. You know your body the best, though, and I am sure you have a feeling about what may have caused this digestive imbalance.
In any case, now that I have IBS, I will spend the rest of my life healing my gut. Taking care of my body and nourishing it with good nutrients.
I may never fully heal from having IBS. In fact, many say there isn’t a cure. You can only slap a bunch of band aid on this problem. This is why I dedicate this website to those who are in the same boat as me.
I know how you feel. I have probably been there at one point in time. One way or the other.
I believe one step at a time, we can make progress, however little it is. The most important thing is not giving up.