WELCOME to the hardest blog I’ve ever written.
Why do I say that?
Because, as anyone who knows me will testify, I’m not one for putting my toilet habits out there.
Contrary to popular belief, I’m ladylike and perhaps a little old-fashioned. I cringe when I hear girls talk about breaking wind in front of their boyfriends. And I don’t find the concept of the Dutch oven even remotely amusing. I’ve been with my partner for 21 years and if he dared drag my head under the covers while he let one go, I’d hurt him.
But I need to share my story with you. So here goes.
I used to be an irritable bowel syndrome sufferer. In fact, I was more than a sufferer. I lived in irritable bowel syndrome hell. My life was one big stomach cramp. I veered between not being able to go the toilet for days, to being seized by urges so strong I’d be throwing babies out of my way to get to the loo when the call of nature came.
Now, I have never even publicly admitted that I do number twos, let alone brought them into the limelight for discussion, in a virtual Gillian McKeith style.
So the idea of laying bare my bathroom activities – or lack of them – is excruciating for me.
Why, then am I bothering putting myself through this, I hear you ask? It’s quite simple…
- Because I want to help you.
- Because it’s one thing to hear me preach about the joys of clean-eating, ditching wheat, processed food etc. But I want you to know how eating this way literally changed my life and set me free. There’s more to it than that, don’t worry. But we’ll get to that in time.
- Because more people suffer from IBS now than don’t. Literally, every day I meet someone who is stricken with it.
Here’s the second thing I need you to realise. I’m not a medical person. I have a better knowledge of the human body than the Jo Average, but I’m not a stomach specialist or a doctor. Nor am I pretending to be.
I’m simply telling you my story here. And if you’re an irritable bowel sufferer, it’s a compelling one. This is what I did to unchain myself from the misery of a horrible condition that dogged me literally from childhood.
You can choose to take my advice and give my way a try or not. But if you’re struggling like I used to, you have really got nothing to lose!
“It’s not supposed to work”
Fact. I suffered from IBS before they even had a name for it.
I was always laid low with bad stomach pains and irregular movements, so much so that I was even sent to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital so they could investigate it. That means I was under 16 years of age. There I was treated to a barium meal. I had to drink a special drink that would then show up my intestines in some sort of weird x-ray machine which spun me round. I kept thinking someone was going to throw knives at me.
I didn’t really think about it at the time, but there were looking for tumours, growths, hernias, abnormalities. Anything that might have explained the pain I was suffering.
They didn’t find anything, thankfully. They diagnosed me with what they used to call “spastic colon.” If you google this now, you’ll probably find references to psycho-somatic disorders. Or to put it another way, they thought it was all in my head.
Their way of treating the problem was to send me back to my doctor who prescribed me something called Fybo-gel. This is a bright orange powder that you mix with water and drink. It’s job is to help relieve constipation. This first line of attack may help a lot of people but it didn’t help me one little bit. It didn’t stop the pain, it didn’t help me go to the toilet. If anything, I was getting worse.
On one of my trips back to my GP, I told him: “This stuff is not working and it’s not giving me any relief at all.”
This particular doctor – whom I didn’t care for anyway – looked at me witheringly and sneered patronisingly: “It’s not supposed to ‘work’, it’s supposed to stop you getting bowel cancer in 20 years.” Not a great comfort to me as a teenager.
Irritable bowel continued to rule my life into my 20s. As well as Fybogel I was prescribed a lots of anti-spasmodic drugs and treatments including colofac, colpermin etc. I was sent to see another stomach specialist and referred for another scary sounding x-ray called a barium enema. This is a truly horrible, uncomfortable process which involves you taking an extremely strong laxative and eating only clear soup for 24 hours before. And when I say strong I mean strong. I literally couldn’t come downstairs once it kicked in. (No, we didn’t have a downstairs loo at my mum’s house.) Once they’ve cleared you out, they take you in to hospital and pump you full of barium. They then insert a tube into your booty which blows you full of air to push the barium around to see if it meets any obstruction in your gut.
Again they found nothing. But by this time, they had a grand new name for it. Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
I saw a different and nicer GP who tried to explain that the brain and the bowel were inextricably linked. And that the pain I was feeling was very real because my guts were literally going into spasm. He made me sit with my fist clenched tight in a bid to explain what was happening with my bowel. He told me to try and keep stress to a minimum and prescribed me another drug called Buscopan. Funnily enough, I had heard of this before because it’s actually used to treat horses with colic. Scary thought, isn’t it.
By now I was getting into my 30s and still suffering. I started to notice that certain foods would make it worse. Within minutes of eating a baked potato cooked in a microwave I would blow up like a barrage balloon and be in instant pain. Pasta too – even though I didn’t eat a great deal of it – would cause the same reaction, although not as aggressively.
The other thing I noticed was that if I didn’t eat, I didn’t get pain. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, I was starting to think that maybe it might be triggered by something I was eating. I didn’t really eat much pasta anyway, but I started to avoid baked potatoes.
At the point, I should point out that I was brought up eating a healthy diet. My mum is a great cook and we always ate plenty of fruit and veg along with chicken, steak, lamb (yes I used to eat all that then.) But in between meals, I used to eat an awful lot of crap too. My sister and I owned horses and we’d spend all day at the stables so we’d be nipping off to the shops all the time for chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks to wash down our white barm butties. The reason I never got fat is that looking after horses is a very physical job and we were always pushing wheelbarrows and lugging bales of hay and straw around.
Even as a student living away from home. I ate quite well. I used to buy proper food and cook dinners from scratch. But I always ate a lot of bread and potatoes and quite a bit of pasta then, Later in my 20s, when I moved in with my partner and started working long hours, I probably didn’t eat as well as I should have. I came to rely on things like pre-bought lasagne and spag bol made with sauce from a jar.
Truth is, compared to how I eat now, my diet was horrendous.
So there I am heading into my 30s and still plagued by IBS. The buscopan did help a bit but it was more about controlling the symptoms than treating the problem which was as bad as ever. In fact, I clearly remember having a conversation with the GP where I told him if there was an operation I could have to cure it which would leave me with a scar from my throat to my pubic bone, I’d have it tomorrow.
Happily, I didn’t know it, but salvation was just over the horizon and delivered to me by one of my oldest friends. Alison De Ridder (then Alison Readey). She had met a lady called Savitri Chib who specialised in alternative therapies including colonic irrigation. At the time, not much was known about this treatment, but it was said to have to ability to cleanse your bowel of matter that had been sitting there for months, maybe even years. Having experienced the barium enema all those years before, I must admit I dismissed the idea quite quickly.
But one Saturday I changed my mind. I was hit with a bout of cramps and bloating so painful that I literally couldn’t get off the couch. I can actually remember writhing in agony in a pair of baggy tracksuit bottoms in tears. And I hadn’t been to the loo for quite some time.
I decided I had nothing to lose so I picked up the phone, rang Ali and said: “Give me that colonic lady’s number. I can’t go on like this. It’s got to be worth a try.”
She passed on the details and offered to go with me for moral support. I accepted gratefully.
I made an appointment for Monday for a consultation and I must admit I was almost sh*tting myself with fear. I don’t usually use that expression by the way but, given the irony, it just seemed appropriate!
Light at the end of the tunnel.
Obviously, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But Savitri sat down with me and spoke at length. She asked me about my history, my problems, my symptoms, my diet. She gave me literature to take away with me all about how the western diet was causing people’s bowels to literally come to a standstill. How we shouldn’t eat wheat because most of us couldn’t digest it. How we should start our day with fresh juiced vegetables. And she explained how because colonic irrigation can cleanse the gut of the good bacteria, as well as the bad stuff, we needed to take acidophilus to replenish it after the treatment.
I was like a light bulb starting to flicker at the end of a bloody pitch black tunnel. Everything she said made sense. I felt positive, ready to take the plunge. The consultation had opened my eyes and I was going to give this colonic thing a go and see if it helped. I was about to shake her hand and ask her when she could fit me in for the treatment when she said: “Okay, let’s move into the treatment room and get started.”
“What, er.. now?” I stammered.
“Yes”, she replied calmly. “Having carried out the consultation I’m happy that the treatment is right for you.”
So we did. At the time Savitri used and continues to use a method called “gravity fed” colonic irrigation. It’s very discreet, painless – although a tiny bit uncomfortable at times. You can’t see anything, smell anything and there’s nothing unpleasant visible at all. Yes, you do have a tube where the sun don’t shine, but once that is inserted, you are covered up, you have your dignity and you can relax. In fact, it’s so sanitary that Ali was able to stay in the room with me the whole time and while we’re great pals, I wouldn’t want to show her my number twos, nor do I think she’d want to see them!
It took about 40 minutes from start to finish. And it still remains one of the most momentous 40 minutes of my life. I’m not joking. I could actually feel myself getting healthier from the inside out.
There was actually a point – and I’ll never forget it – where Savitri asked me when I had actually last been to the toilet properly because I was producing enough waste to fill a bucket. (I can’t believe I just shared that. But while we’re at it, I also wax my moustache once a month to stop me looking like Tom Selleck and have a varicose vein in my left leg!)
Once the treatment is over, she gently removed the tube and left me alone to go to the loo just to finish off and get dressed.
I will never ever forget the moment I put my jeans back on. They were high-waisted flares in a kind of stretchy elastane material Before you start laughing, they came from Warehouse and they were in bleedin’ fashion at the time! Anyway, when I had arrived my stomach was so bloated that they were stretched over the top of it. When I slipped them back on, the waistband was just hanging. I could actually pull it away from my newly flat-belly like they used to do in those Slimfast adverts.
I left literally with a spring in my step. I actually felt like a completely new woman. I made sure I bought the acidophilus and I also bought a juicer and started having carrot juice for breakfast every morning.
Over the next few weeks I had another four treatments, all two weeks apart. In between that, I started to cut out wheat and anything processed and up my veg intake. I also cut red meat from my diet – although that was more about feeling guilty for eating cows and lambs. I don’t eat pork because I used to have a pig as a pet. In short, I became aware about everything that I put into my body and I’m still like that now. More so, if anything.
Within weeks I started to notice that I was getting up and going to the toilet first thing the morning. The cramps had disappeared. I felt better, healthier and happier than I had I years. I continued to have colonics but they were more about maintenance now and probably more like three months apart. These days I have one maybe once a year, usually after I’ve been on a holiday where I’ve overindulged on bread.
So in summary, the colonic treatment cleansed my bowel and changed my life. Following that up by overhauling my diet was what really helped free me long term from the ball and chain of IBS.
So let me spell it out for you. If you identify with anything I’ve said, if you’re suffering anything like the way I used to and you’re still eating wheat, gluten, pasta, bread, starchy foods, white rice, processed foods, fast food, takeaway food full of chemicals, microwaved foods, you really only have yourself to blame. That is the truth. It’s your own fault. Now read on if you actually want to do something about it.
Here’s what I recommend…
- Find yourself a reputable colonic therapist. If you’re in Liverpool check out Savitri Chib http://www.colonic-clinic.co.uk/ If you ring for a consultion and mention my name, you will get a £5 discount off the treatment. If you’re not in Liverpool try and find a therapist who does gravity-fed treatment. There is another method out there involving a very high-tech looking machine. I did try it when my therapist was away, but I personally found it very uncomfortable and not as effective. Again, that’s just my experience and opinion.
- Become aware of everything you put into your mouth. (Insert obvious joke here if you’re childish!) Stop eating rubbish while complaining about being tortured by IBS. Replace your breakfast cereal/toast/porridge and milk with freshly juiced veg.
- Increase your intake of green vegetables. Broccoli, kale, cauliflower, spinach.
- Don’t eat farmed or processed meats.
- Don’t drink fizzy drinks. Cut down on caffeine, switch to green tea and water.
- Keep a food diary. This is vital. Jot down what you eat and, if your symptoms are triggered you’ll soon identify a pattern. Like I said, baked spuds used to do it for me.
- Before you dismiss anything I’ve said here. Think about it. Why are conditions like Coeliacs Disease and IBS on the rise? Back in the day when docs were prescribing medicines to me, they had about four different things at their disposal. I have literally just this minute googled “Medication for treating Irritable Bowel Sydrome” and found a list of about 30 different varieties. These things are epidemic now because of the way we eat. We are stuffing our guts full of non-foods that our bodies were never designed to process. Because of this, our digestive systems are grinding to a half faster than the M25 at rush hour.
- And this is kind of point number 7 repeated again…Stop looking for sexy answers and new drugs to solve the problem. Just start looking after your gut. That’s the bottom line! (See what I did there?)