This is the success story of one of Stephen Williams, written in his own words, and his battles with dealing with Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The following story is written by Stephen.
Finding out that I had IBS was a very long and drawn out process that started in the mid to late 90s when I was in my late teens. Back then IBS wasn’t really a ’thing’, it certainly didn’t have the awareness it has now.
It presented itself with the pretty standard, constant but irregular painful bloating and uncomfortable stomach cramps. I went through a long list of tests with doctors and at hospitals, all that gave negative results meaning the only thing that was left was IBS. As there’s no real test for IBS, it’s a matter of elimination.
During this period I was a very keen rugby and football player, playing several times weekly so exercise was definitely a part of my life. My diet was fairly standard for a teenager at that time, a time when health foods were scorned for being the work of the devil. However, despite eating a fairly standard diet and exercising regularly I was still suffering, mostly in silence, and the stigma and embarrassment attached to talking about guts, flatulence and bowel movements meant it was something only really discussed in a GP’s surgery.
As I grew older it became very difficult to plan nights out, dating, going out for meals and so on, as there was no clear indicator as to when, where and how a bout of IBS would strike.
I can also recall a number of occasions where I had to decline an event, a date or a night out as the pains arrived just in time for to destroy the plans I had and turning a planned night out with the woman of my dreams to an evening on the sofa moaning and groaning and breaking wind! As IBS was a fairly new medical condition there was nothing like the range of medicines available that there is now, almost 30 years later.
I will never forget my GP at the time telling me to drink 2 pints of cask beer each day as the live ingredients in the drink was good for the bacteria in your gut! A doctor prescribing beer as a medicine will always be a hero in my book! Music to the ears of a spotty 19 year old.
Over the years I’ve tried many different ‘cures’ for IBS and the fact that I still suffer today is proof that they don’t work. Probably the most successful of these was drinking those small fermented milk drinks (Yakult, as it’s called over there).
I was drinking one bottle a day but as they were very expensive in the UK back then I decided to stop. During the time that I was drinking them, however, I suffered with IBS far less than I did prior to drinking them. Once the pains began to flare up again I went back to the drinks and they instantly made me feel sick. I guess my body decided they were too good and it wasn’t having any of that!
At this time I also journaled what I ate and when I had a flare-up of pains and cramps.
The only two real constants in that period were bread - of all types, and raw onion! That was the end of my cheese and onion sandwich fetish! So now I actively avoid both of those and that does definitely help. I’ve since realized that high fiber foods do also cause bloating, but as a married father of two, the breaking wind issue now does nothing other than entertain my kids - and I’ll never stop entertaining the kids, if you get what I mean!
I moved to Thailand in 2008 to work with a small travel company that specialized in sourcing volunteers for projects and NGOs in the region. This then developed over the years to where I am now, the Founder of a travel company that specializes in ethical, responsible and sustainable travel. I absolutely love living here and my passion really lies in helping those less fortunate to become more self-sufficient.
The diet in Thailand isn’t wonderful for IBS sufferers, but that goes for most countries that I've visited. Rice in particular isn’t the easiest to digest and therefore makes me feel uncomfortable almost immediately. However, the serving sizes, being a lot smaller than the standard meal size in the UK, does help. I’ve never been one who struggles to clean my plate but with the plates being smaller in Thailand the suffering has been less.
I am also a regular gym-goer and so need to eat high protein foods and good complex carbs, as opposed to sugary carbs. Trying to find the right mix isn’t easy to do. I did once try to go vegetarian but then found the high fibre foods would affect my IBS and not in the way I hoped!
So I knocked that on the head and have returned to being a the control of IBS. I do some times splurge and demolish a pizza or a KFC but on the whole I now eat a healthy and balanced diet, not only to best manage my IBS but also because I’m a 45 year old father of two and that’s what people like me should do, right?!
As far as the managing of my diet goes, I know the foods to avoid now. Fried foods and ‘junk’ or fast foods are particularly bad. All types of bread, foods with either a high fiber or high fat content give me the dreaded cramps and most things processed; which I take as a blessing, to be honest as we all know just how bad for our health processed foods are.
Oddly, carbonated drinks also make me suffer. I blow up like a very annoyed puffer fish and it can take hours for that to pass. But just like processed foods, I have no problem with not being able to drink a can of sugar!
I try as best as I can to only eat clean foods and the fresher the better. It is expensive to do, certainly more expensive than a slap-up Thai street-meal, that I will indulge in once in a while, but physically I feel much better for having a wild salmon steak or a meal from the Meal Plan instead of a Big Mac, or some free-range chicken than half a pizza.
I guess managing the problem is down to the individual.
I imagine that in this day and age most sufferers know most of the foods they bear an intolerance too and can therefore avoid them. In the days of more modern medicine there are also other coping products but I’m a big believer in not putting medication in your body unless it’s absolutely necessary so I’d rather just keep a close eye on what I put in my stomach, which thankfully is becoming easier to do in Bangkok.
I’m completely honest that I still suffer with IBS from time to time. I’m just far less embarrassed or concerned by it now and don’t let it rule me as much as it once did. I am in a position to better manage my diet and with 30 years of IBS experience I can better guess how and when an ‘attack’ may happen.
Furthermore, when I was diagnosed with IBS I was a teenager and therefore a lot fitter and more active, both being traits that help manage the pains and the cramps. Basically, now it’s a balance.
I need to stay fit, as that helps manage the symptoms, but quality of life is also important for both physical and mental health. So I may throw caution to the wind on the odd occasion, but rest assured that I’ll be paying for it in the gym at the earliest possible opportunity.
I hope you enjoyed reading Stephen's journey and if you have a success story of your own, I would love to hear from you! Please send me or my brother Erik an email as your story can help to inspire others. You can reach us on Facebook or email at [email protected].