Irritable Bowel Sydrome (IBS) – are you getting the support you need?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can be a debilitating condition causing bloating, cramps, diarrhoea and constipation in pretty much any combination and level of severity. For some people symptoms can be manageable and may even resolve themselves, but for others it can be a chronic problem with more serious implications for long term dietary choices and eating patterns – not to mention the impact it can also have on socialising and relationships. The stress of this in itself can then trigger symptoms and sufferers can find themselves in a vicious cycle. In more extreme cases this can result in nutritional deficiencies and social isolation or depression


I’ve helped many IBS sufferers in my clinics and they consistently tell me several things about their experience:

  • that it was much easier than they thought to talk about their issues
  • that they didn’t realise how much their diet could be influencing their symptoms
  • that the changes weren’t extreme and were much easier to make than they had anticipated
  • and, that they wished they’d come to see me sooner.


So what exactly was stopping them coming sooner?  From my clinic experience I’ve seen a few common themes, all of which have an emotional basis:


Fear of not being taken seriously

It does happen to some people, and you will hear stories and read about people for whom this has been the case, but you shouldn’t assume that this will be the same for you so you should try first and hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised. If you do have a bad experience, don’t give up, but do try a different practitioner. If it’s your GP try to see another member of the practice or change clinics completely. If you are thinking of trying a complimentary therapy take time to check that they have suitable experience and qualifications. You can also ask around to see who has a reputation for an empathetic and open approach, and it’s always a good idea to call before you book so you can get a sense of what they are like and whether they are the right fit for you. Being heard is an important part of the healing process – so don’t settle for anything less.


Embarrassment discussing personal issues

It’s normal to get embarrassed talking about intimate body functions with a stranger, but remember healthcare professionals are trained to deal with this and most people who offer healthcare services do so because they genuinely care about your health and just want to support you. A good practitioner will make it a priority to help you feel at ease so you feel comfortable opening up about tricky topics. I for one use visual aids for some symptom questions so my clients can indicate an issue on a chart rather than having to talk about it. Another simple trick is to write down the issues in advance and just hand them to the practitioner. We understand that it’s not easy for you, so we try to be as sensitive as possible.


Guilt that you are somehow responsible for your condition

Many of my IBS clients are harbouring guilt when they first come into clinic and I think this partly stems from a lot of them being told IBS is due to stress. When someone tells us our issue is stress related what we really hear as ‘it’s all in your head’ or ‘you are making this up’ or ‘this is your own fault’. This can be very distressing and unhelpful and clearly won’t help you feel better about your situation. Certainly stress can be a key factor, but more often it is the effect of IBS, rather than the cause. Also, it’s important to remember that there is a biochemical basis to stress and that means right nutrition can actually help you lower your stress levels to a certain extent. In my experience there are multiple reasons why the gut is struggling and stress is usually just the last straw to break the camel’s back. Your practitioner should be take time to explain what factors could be at play in your case and how best you might move forward.


Denial that you need help

For some people the issues will just resolve themselves, but for many they do not. If you have been struggling for a while or have been trying to self-manage the condition to no avail then it’s probably time to get expert help. There a lots of other conditions that might give you similar symptoms (for example lactose intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease, Coeliac disease, stomach bugs, etc.), so if you haven’t already done so start with your GP to verify that what you have is actually IBS.


As an evidence-based approach nutritional therapy offers an ideal adjunct to any conventional medical treatment with the benefit that any diet and lifestyle advice is specifically tailored to you and your unique set of circumstances. Using information about your diet, lifestyle and health history an experienced nutritional therapist can start to unravel the factors that might be contributing to your issues and support you with a programme on how to address them to break the cycle.


And the sooner you start the process, the quicker you could start to get advice and support to get you on the right track.