Happy New Year IBS world! I am sure fellow IBSers can relate to the post-Christmas symptoms that I am experiencing at the moment: bloating, lack of appetite, nausea, going to the toilet about five times a day (so fun, really), the whole lot. I blame alcohol and not following an IBS-friendly diet; I have eaten so much gluten I don’t know if I will ever actually deflate….😂
Anyway, I haven’t written anything since April 2017, bad effort. Therefore, I want to start the new year with a new post: I have some new experiences that I want to share with other students with IBS and further, the general IBS population.
But first a life catch-up:
Summer 2017: turned 20. Had a leaving party. Discovered Yorica (DF froyo, GF waffles and more – branches in Soho, Notting Hill, worth a visit). Visited Rome with Dan (gluten free heaven!!!!). Visited Düsseldorf. Saw Mamma Mia live. Visited parts of London I hadn’t properly ever had a chance to see e.g. Chelsea. Had proper afternoon tea, my first time! Prepped for my move abroad. Conquered and came to terms with anxieties I had had for years. Conquered IBS a little bit more.
September 2017: Moved to Hamburg for my year abroad. I can’t even begin to explain how amazing the experience has been so far. It’s hard not to just go into clichés when answering questions about it, because I honestly have already learnt so much about myself, being an adult and a very (surprisingly) different culture. I have made so many new friends for life. My life has practically become one long cliché. But one of the main things I am continuously struck by is how I now feel that Hamburg is my home away from home, ‘mein zweites Zuhause’.
And yes, I have become the classic Erasmus student stereotype who can’t stop talking about her year abroad, even when it hasn’t come up in conversation. Sorry, particularly to my close friends 😄
However, to keep this IBS-friendly, which is always my aim, I wanted to go into a bit of detail on moving and living abroad when you suffer with something like this. Whether this is IBS, a similar stomach condition or a long list of dietary requirements, hopefully something here might help you! I appreciate there’s a lot on the internet about this already, but this is tailored to students and people moving/living abroad. It’s all an experiment.
The toil: Two parts to this. One: don’t underestimate the change that moving abroad will have on your stomach, your IBS, and actually your health in general. My stomach took a good while to settle down again. And my skin went absolutely crazy, I looked 16 again with proper chin acne. So within this time, don’t focus on it too much, try to start living your new life as best as you can, explore the city, the new opportunities, whilst at the same time keeping your stomach happy. I bought a bike pretty much as soon as I got to Hamburg, and started cycling around getting to know the city. This not only helped my IBS, but also kept my mind off the massive change, and it’s always nice to discover a new city on a bike! As always, this is all easier said than done, but I truly believe it can make a difference if you take it lightly.
Secondly: make sure you tell people whatever is going on with you – it helps just to register it and get it out. I always my worries about my IBS are worse in my head. So for me I just occasionally speak to my mum, or a couple of my best friends and get straight to the point with ‘yo my stomach is not great right now and I hope it’s okay for me to complain about it for a little bit.’ They’re always happy to listen (so much luurve thank you!!) and I always feel that my problems have been halved after.
And what about my diet? Diet is always going to have to change when you move abroad. You probably, like me, have grown up knowing the ins and outs of the freefrom aisle in Sainsburys, or knowing where to find the best GF pizza in London. So when you move, you effectively have to re-learn how to grocery shop/eat for your condition. Find the freefrom aisle in your local supermarket (or a stockist), even if you have to ask someone working in the store. Use TripAdvisor to your advantage – this has become one of my favourite apps because of its ease of use in finding gluten free stockists/restaurants etc. Ask around on Expat Facebook groups, there will be someone with relevant knowledge. Read blogs online just by simply googling ‘gluten free/ fodmap friendly/dairy free *insert city here*- there’s bound to be someone who has written something. Visit health-food shops, these often have a freefrom section now, e.g. DM in Germany. Find an open-minded friend and go out to try new places to eat, obviously only if they can cater to your diet!
Although this part may seem very bitty and chaotic, there is a positive side. It forces you to discover new things and become more conscious of what you’re eating. Quinoa is a new favourite of mine – really IBS-friendly and so versatile. And fresh ginger tea!!! I love this stuff and ginger is so good for the stomach, including nausea and upset stomach. And for anyone who is running out of FODMAP Friendly spag bol, I really encourage you to get hold of the cookbook ‘The FODMAP Friendly Kitchen” by Emma Hatcher, a fellow IBS-sufferer and lifestyle blogger. It has some amazing recipes in it, which I find are actually more interesting than non-FODMAP friendly options.
One thing that is worth mentioning though, particularly for those with predominant IBS-C, is linseeds. I eat a tablespoon of these every single morning by sprinkling them onto cereal. I am no scientist and therefore this is very unscientific, but I have done this for about a year now and it really helps digestive flow. They absorb water, and this draws water into the gut, helping everything move along, or rather, down, if you catch my drift. My dietician confirmed this. Perfect for IBS-C.
- The very true cliché – exercise: I know, it’s just another IBS-sufferer banging on about the benefits of exercise for the condition. But no, that is not my aim. I am someone who has for very long completely ignored the benefits that exercise can have for IBS. I used to have very patchy phases at school where I would go out for a run at the weekend or do some pilates but this didn’t really do much, I still ended up with a hot water bottle on my stomach that evening. The exercise wasn’t regular enough.Thus, I stress the importance of a regular, IBS-friendly exercise routine. No, you don’t have to become a protein shake-downing gym freak (are protein shakes even FODMAP friendly?), nor do you have to go on olympic swimming regimes every day at 6am before uni/work. But what has helped me is having a regular routine where I do something or a couple of things each week that I know help my IBS. For me this is still running, although I know that this can actually irritate some people’s stomachs. I have also started yoga recently and it is a truth universally acknowledged that yoga is beneficial for the stomach, particularly relieving the cramps, aches and pains and even the mental strain that IBS can cause. Cycling is very IBS friendly because it doesn’t put a lot of pressure on the stomach, as is swimming. And I find pilates also very helpful, strengthening my stomach muscles is a little goal of mine for the next few months. Even just a short, brisk walk will help. If I realise I haven’t moved around in a day now, I feel my stomach tighten and as a result my body tightens. Just a short walk is better than sitting watching another episode of New Girl on Netflix, just go and shake everything out, breathe in some fresh air and then return home. Or if you are a big fan of the outdoors like me, go for a longer one e.g. on a Sunday afternoon, pine forests I find so relaxing!!! Benefits of living in Germany😁
- Socialise – get a life! I used to, and still do, find it sometimes very hard to socialise when I am having a bad IBS day. IBS is such a big part of my life that this is a very hard aspect to govern. But as I have said in past blog posts, having a conversation with your friends, particularly the new ones you’re making in your new home, will probably be beneficial. If they have a problem with you having different dietary requirements, or with you having to be careful when you’re out because of your IBS then quite frankly, but they’re not worth it. I sometimes joke that my IBS is a friend filter, because I can then spot very early on who is open-minded, understanding and non-judgemental and who isn’t. I have previously on a few occasions used IBS as an excuse to not go out, because I didn’t actually want to socialise with someone who didn’t understand what I go through, not because I wasn’t well enough to go out. And often, once I get out I feel much better, and I’m sure you find the same. Remind yourself of this.
Side note: If you’re a uni student like me, you probably feel the struggle of socialising with IBS. A lot of (British, fair?) uni students, see having a life as synonymous with going and drinking themselves into a coma every weekend. That’s pretty much a no-go for us, so having a life doesn’t have to entail ending up on the floor passed out, unless that’s what you want to do! I remind myself of this often, and I am glad I have friends who understand that I don’t want to and can’t drink myself into this state, and who also like doing other things – we end up exploring and travelling to some pretty cool places as a result.
I apologise for the length of this blog but I had to make up for 8 months of silence… Expect other posts in the next few months with other IBS-related things I discover and come up with as a result of my new life here in Hamburg!