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Katrina Lander: Life with IBS

katrina-lander
From travel to traffic, IBS-D got in the way of Katrina’s day to day life. Hear her story on getting to grips with her condition, and the lifestyle changes that helped her.
When Katrina Lander developed IBS symptoms as a teenager, she struggled to cope with her symptoms and was reluctant to travel. Now, aged 29, her IBS is under control, and she is happy to fly long haul.

Katrina spoke to The IBS Network about the lifestyle changes she made to better manage her condition. Read her story here.

When did you first start experiencing symptoms?

I first started experiencing symptoms when I was in secondary school. Sometimes when I ate, I would need to go to the toilet almost immediately. As a result, I experienced anxiety, and this would cause a vicious circle with my IBS symptoms. 

What impact did this have on your life?

I went through years of anxiety. I had the IBS-D subtype and, at the time, I had no idea what my triggers were. I felt anxious leaving the house, even for short journeys, and would only want to go places if I was the one able to drive. I would take toilet paper in my car for a ‘just in case’, and if there was traffic, my anxiety would be at an all-time high.

I never wanted to travel far, and if I was going out to eat, I wanted to come straight home after, as I didn’t know how my stomach would react. The thought of getting on a plane would leave me in tears. I couldn’t get a job where I would need to travel via train as I then wouldn’t have my security blanket that was my car. It ended up impacting my everyday life.

When were you diagnosed? And how old were you?

I can’t remember my exact age, just that it was after secondary school. I wasn’t offered any support. I was told I had IBS, and nothing could be done. A few years later, I paid for private healthcare and had some tests done and was told I have severe IBS. I then found out about the Low FODMAP Diet.

What are your symptoms?

My symptoms are different now that I am managing my IBS through diet and looking after my mental health as best as I can. I do still suffer with bloating. However, I have fewer ‘bad’ flare-ups than in the past. I now only experience IBS-D around a handful of times a year. Before managing my IBS, this would be more or less weekly. It would cause awful cramps in my stomach after a meal. I would sweat because of the pain and not be able to move until my cramps eased, (to come back minutes after). I would then need to go to the toilet and would suffer with diarrhoea.

How do you manage your condition?

Years ago, I started The Low FODMAP Diet (an elimination diet) to try to learn which foods I can tolerate, and which trigger my IBS symptoms. It really worked for me and I’m now able to manage my IBS, to a certain extent, through my diet. The brain/gut axis is also a massive factor for IBS. I try to look after my mental health as best I can, although it’s not always easy. I exercise, get out for fresh air and maintain a balanced diet.

Do you know your triggers?

Luckily for me, I’m aware of the majority of my triggers. I now have a much better understanding of what I can and can’t tolerate, as well as portion sizes. A lot of foods are how much I eat and eating in moderation. I stay away from onion. My stomach doesn’t like certain sugars, (some fructose and some sweeteners). I can’t tolerate gluten in cereals. While I can tolerate some foods in small quantities, when eaten together, they’re a no-go. I feel like with IBS, you are constantly learning about yourself.

How do you live well with your IBS?

Over the years my anxiety calmed down and I learned to manage my IBS through diet. Anxiety was a massive trigger for my IBS, so once I learned to manage my symptoms through my diet, my anxiety eased. One of the other things that really helped me was talking!

When I was younger, I felt very alone and embarrassed about what I was going through. I didn’t know anyone else suffering the way I was. As I felt alone, I set up an Instagram account called @fitnessfodmap_ which was initially to help myself, to find people also suffering. Through my Instagram, I realised just how many people suffer, not just with their IBS, but mentally. I’ve made good friends through my account and have now built my Instagram to help others. 

Before the pandemic hit, I worked in London. Now my IBS is under control, I don’t suffer like I used to with travel. I no longer get anxious when taking a flight and feel proud of myself that I’ve been able to fly long haul, when a short two-hour flight trip used to fill me with dread.

When eating out at restaurants, I will call beforehand to ensure they can cater for my intolerances. I also make family and friends aware if I’m invited over for food. I’ve learned it’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and not to feel like it’s an inconvenience. I now talk about my IBS, as opposed to hiding it.

How has your IBS been during the pandemic?

At times of high stress, I experienced prolonged bloating. However, I’m aware that stress is a symptom and that with the pandemic it was normal to feel anxious. I tried to use some lockdown days to my advantage by re-introducing certain foods. I knew I didn’t have to leave the house, so found this as the perfect time to try something new.

What advice would you give to others who are struggling with their IBS?

Talk! It’s so important to not feel you are alone. Visit your GP and ask for a referral to a dietitian so they can help you with the best ways of managing your IBS. Look after your mental health, find what makes you feel at ease and join The IBS Network for support.

Listen to your gut feeling with the help of Holland & Barrett

Bloating, constipation or diarrhoea? It's something we all experience that's why we're on a mission to break the taboo around poo.

Our Gut Health Hub offers FREE expert tips, advice and product recommendations to support your gut health.

More support from The IBS Network

The IBS Network is the UK charity supporting people living with irritable bowel syndrome. Their mission is to provide information and advice, working alongside healthcare professionals to facilitate self-management.
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