Recently over on Instagram I’ve been asked a few times now about how I cope with IBS at university. Since it is that time of year when everyone is packing for uni, doesn’t really know what to expect, but is nervously and excitedly anticipating the new start, thought I’d bring together my best tips for starting uni as a student with IBS, including how to tackle freshers when your tummy isn’t feeling so fresh.
DOWN IT FRESHAAAAA
Probably one of my favourite phrases ever. But not one that’s very compatible with suffering IBS. Here are my top tips for dealing with freshers whilst having to take care of your tum.
If you DO drink:
It is a truth universally acknowledged yet disliked that alcohol can trigger tummy problems, even for those who don’t have IBS. If you do choose to drink with your IBS:
- Stick to a few and know your limits, you will thank yourself the morning after.
- Stick to tummy-friendly alcohol e.g. gin, vodka, wines.
- Watch out for FODMAPs in mixers e.g. fructose in tonic water / sweeteners in coke/lemonade.
- Cocktail night fans (like moi), stick to gin based or vodka based cocktails.without fruit juice, or with a portion of FODMAP friendly fruit juice like cranberry.
- Have a good meal with carbs before you pre-drink, IBS doesn’t like empty stomachs, especially when you’re pouring alcohol into it.
If you DON’T drink:
Few ways you can tackle this. From experience & what people have said to me, not drinking during freshers can be a daunting prospect, it is the expectation (which I really don’t like) that everyone drinks during freshers.
- Choosing not to drink is so fair. You’re making a choice based on your health. You’re respecting your health and your body, something that is necessary when you suffer with IBS. You can still have a great time and make memories without drinking yourself into a coma. That’s better than your freshers week memories consisting of you sitting on the toilet or lying in bed with a hot water bottle on your tummy the whole week. Easier to remember this when you see people chilling on the floor in pools of their own sick.
- Good friend screening test: people that judge you for not drinking, health condition or just because, are not people you want to be friends with. I learnt this pretty quickly. It puts those who are chill and accepting, against those who are uptight, desperate or boring. Fresher novelty wears off pretty quickly and uni is so much more than that.
- You may be really conscious of what people think about you, because you’re not drinking. I was, particularly during freshers when you could potentially encounter judgy people. Good trick, have some sparkling or still water in a bottle or glass and if asked, tell people it’s vodka lemonade, works every time. Chances are, the judgy person that asked will be too drunk to even realise it’s not alcohol, JOKES ON THEM!!
- Do disclose your IBS to your uni’s disability support service and/or psychological service. A personal tutor is also a good first port of call. It’s likely you’ll be offered special provisions e.g. exams taken in a separate room/rest breaks/extension of deadlines/absence allowance, because of the unreliability of IBS. You’ll need a doctor’s written confirmation of your IBS as ‘proof’, consider getting hold of this to take with you to uni.
- Take a couple of tummy-friendly snacks on a night out, pop them in your clutch or jacket pocket. Who cares what the bouncers think. Regular snacks/meals with IBS are important, and if you can’t eat post-sesh McDs then you won’t regret this one. Don’t hate me if you ain’t me, drunk munchies aren’t fun.
- Let yourself recover properly from late nights. IBS reacts badly to lack of sleep: don’t go overboard with nights out, give your body what it needs. Sleep (enough) when you need to sleep. Eat when you need to eat. Poop when you need to poop. And so on.
- Don’t abandon your tummy-friendly food just because everyone around you is eating baked beans, pot noodle and those disgusting microwave burger things (why is student food the most IBS-unfriendly food ever?) . You will regret that after eating it, plus you’ll become the talk of your flat if you cook up some FRESH tummy-friendly meals, that don’t involve popping a frozen pizza in the oven. Fun fact, baked beans were one of the first things that made me consider a change of diet in my first year of uni, purely because of how badly I reacted to them😂
- Be open with your flatmates and new friends about your tummy, if it comes up. Obviously don’t introduce yourself like “Hi I’m Helena and I have IBS!!!” But if you’re sharing a toilet and other facilities, may be a good shout. If not, it’s good to be transparent from the very beginning. New friends value honesty and it will ease your anxiety, especially since you’ll most likely be spending a lot of time together.
- Freshers flu: it’s inevitable, I’m sorry, just here to tell you how it really is. It’s also not very nice. Just gear up, make enough nice friends so you have people to take care of you if you get struck down. Have pain medication, hot water bottles, deep heat, sports direct mugs, vapour rub, oil of olbas, sudafed, peppermint tea, water at the ready, tummy-friendly lozenges. Your tummy probably won’t be great during the flu but this will pass!
MOST IMPORTANTLY, ENJOY YOURSELF. IBS can get us so caught up in itty bitty details simply because we focus on our bodies so much. But you’re going to be absolutely fine. Enjoy the new independence, the chance to meet new like-minded people, the a new start. It will be up and down, but you will conquer it, bloating and all. Live outside your tummy and you will find your tummy goes with it.
Am always happy to chat further about coping with IBS at uni, just slide into my instagram DMs @lenashappytummy or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.