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The Lifestyle that Paved the Path to IBS

I was never one to have stomach issues. When I was growing up, I was known as "The Eater". I could eat pre-breakfast, breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner (x2), dessert, etc. every day. And I would never leave a plate empty. I had the fastest metabolism a kid could have, and was in fact, very fit and strong. Being involved in physically intensive sports like gymnastics, volleyball, basketball, and dance, kept me active and energized from a young age. So, I constantly ate - whatever and whenever I wanted! Stomach issues were never on my radar as a kid.


I was raised on the stereotypical North American diet, with meatloaf, chicken pot pies, and cereal being the base of the food pyramid. Growing up in a Southern/Midwestern household, we were never short of fried foods, chips and salsa, Dr. Pepper, and Bluebell ice cream. I wouldn't exactly call us a health-conscious household. That being said, I was also keen on eating my fruits and vegetables, and my gymnastics coach made sure I guzzled down a gallon of water a day.


I remember as a kid, I would get sick quite often. There was a series of seasons where allergies would hit me hard, and it would turn from a runny nose to a nasty sinus infection, eventually leading a month-long upper-respiratory infection. Antibiotics and the Netty Pot were like second nature to me.


By the time I was a teenager, I began to pay more attention to the types of food I was putting into my body. I became more conscious of eating healthier snacks, like fruits, yogurt, and trail mix, and stopped drinking soda. I would beg my mom to make "healthier" dinners, until the point I would just start cooking for myself. Call it being a teenage girl, but I realized during that time that what I ate and how active I was played a huge role in how my body began changing during those years. I started adopting fitness and cooking as a hobby, especially dancing and baking. Those two passions became the center of my life during my middle/high school years.


Going off to college at 17, I was one of the few that could actually cook an amazing meal on their own, that didn't consist of anything from the freezer section. Again, I focused on my health by working out and eating well, but that's not to say that college got the best of me. Like most college students, drinking and late-night munchies started to become more prevalent. I was on my second year of birth control at the time, too, and the side effects of the pill began to take effect. I started gaining weight, breaking out, and became more anxious/stressed. By the time I went home for Thanksgiving break, my grandma said to me "Wow, you have gotten so BIG". At that point, the Freshman 15 became all too real.


Explaining my dietary and fitness habits from childhood through college may not seem like a big deal, especially because my lifestyle has dramatically changed. But I have come to learn that the root causes of my Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is from my lifestyle habits: A high carb/sugar diet, drinking, chronic stress, antibiotic use, frequent illnesses, and genetics. It also shows that for the majority of my life, I had no symptoms of IBS. I would have the occasional upset stomach, but nothing compared to the symptoms I have today.


It wasn't until after my study abroad program in Florence, Italy, that my IBS symptoms began to take shape. Prior to this trip, I was having some gut issues, but I brushed them off. I thought it was the new, low-estrogen birth control pill I was on. I noticed after the new prescription I would bloat more before, during, and after my period (soooo basically the whole month), was more nauseous, had low energy, acne, and the occasional migraine. Nothing but girl problems, I guess.

While abroad, gut issues were never on my mind. I was literally living my best life being abroad in Italy for 5 months eating (and drinking) just about everything in sight. It wasn't until after I came back to the United States that the pasta, wine, cheese, and prosciutto were affecting me in a different way than when I was in Florence. I began feeling sick after meals I would eat - healthy meals that would consist of salad, chicken and vegetables. This sickness felt like a lingering nausea. A nauseousness that would persist into the evening, making it difficult to sleep; carried to the morning, making me not feel hungry during normal eating hours. It threw off my eating schedule, never feeling hungry and always feeling just a bit sick.


During this time, January 2020 to be exact, I was also in my last year of college. A career was on my mind and stress dwelled on me daily as the weight of the real world started approaching. I was also balancing an internship, 2 jobs, and a leadership position in my sorority while being a full-time student. Stress became a close companion of mine, and it was the only way I knew how to operate.


When COVID hit a couple of months later, I moved from New York back to Texas to live with my parents and finish my semester online. I thought being at home in my normal environment, my stomach would return back to normal. Instead, my gut issues seemed to have boarded the flight with me. If anything, my stress, anxiety, and digestive health became worse during my time at home during COVID. This is where I started to see a professional for my digestive issues.

 

Since the moment I decided to see a professional for my digestive issues almost 3 years ago, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my upbringing and past decisions. From speaking and listening to a variety of doctors and reading new books, I realized that my whole life has led up to this moment. There is no one reason why I developed IBS. In fact, the past three years I have been the healthiest version of myself. It has been a whole series of experiences, habits, and partly genetics that switched these symptoms on. The root issues, like diet and stress, were always there. The timing of returning home from Italy was the catalyst my body needed to signal that something was off.

I am a firm believer that our whole body is connected: When one system is off, it is like a domino effect impacting the rest. I have learned that my gut issues are impacting my mental health, the functioning of my liver properly, my hormonal health, and probably more. I do not view this as a sign of dread, but as an opportunity to correct one system: My Gut. By correcting the underlying cause of my illness, it can stimulate and strengthen my body's own healing properties. Allowing my body to heal from the inside out.


This is not a story about regret or "what I could have done differently growing up". I am proud of where I came from and how I was raised! It is just the product of the environment I was in - the typical, North American high-animal fat, high-sugar, high-processed carbs diet riddled with antibiotic overuse and genetic stress and worry. It's a cycle I am acknowledging, and hopefully will take part in breaking for the next generation. There is nothing that can be undone, but simply new and better decisions I can now make.

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Welcome! If you made it here, you are probably looking for answers on where to begin your wellness journey. I'm Jessica, and I started my gut health journey over 3 years ago. As an avid foodie and wellness enthusiast, I hope to inspire you on your realistic wellness journey.

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