Dove’s Story – IBS

"It wasn’t something people talked about much. I guess it’s uncomfortable to talk about your bowels, and you’d never look at me and think, ‘she has IBS’."

Dove is at a conference wearing a pastel green suit and holding a large frame in front of her that is from the society of tissue viability. Her upper half of her body is inside the frame. Behind her is an large orange banner and table labelled as the British Lymphology Society.

Tell us a bit about you

“I’m Dove, I’m originally from Hong Kong but moved to the UK 11 years ago. I’m a registered dietitian working for the NHS, specialising in palliative care and oncology.

In my free time I have lots of hobbies, like basketball, pole dance, commercial dance, running, cooking, and going to the gym. Where I can, I love to travel the world too and have managed to visit 37 countries!”

When did your digestive symptoms begin?

“I’ve had a mixture of constipation and diarrhoea since I was a child. Sometimes I’ll open my bowels once each week, other days I’ll empty my bowels with watery diarrhoea three times a day. I’ll experience stomach cramps, urgency and wind too.

During my final year of University, my symptoms were at their worst. The exam stress seemed to be making my bowels worse. I remember my final sports and science nutrition exam. We had two phases of the exam, the first half I was having really bad symptoms and we weren’t allowed to leave the room to go to the toilet either. Before the second half, I managed to go to the toilet and empty my bowels.

Dove is tightening her hairband at a basketball court. She is wearing purple basketball top and shorts and walking while staring towards her left.

After the exam, my Professor asked to meet me. He said, “You failed the first exam, but did really well on the second half, what happened?” I explained to him about my symptoms, and he encouraged me to talk to my GP.”

What did your GP do?

“My doctor said it was most likely Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), but she wanted to rule out some other causes first (such as coeliac disease, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease like Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis). After my blood and poo tests returned as normal, I was officially diagnosed with IBS.

At first, I did question my diagnosis. I’d heard of IBS, but it wasn’t something people talked about much. I guess it’s uncomfortable to talk about your bowels, and you’d never look at me and think, ‘she has IBS’.”

How do you manage your symptoms?

“I realised that there is no magic or quick fix for IBS, and so much of it is knowing my body and knowing how to manage my symptoms to reduce their impact on my life.

Personally, I can’t have dairy or spicy foods, as these always trigger my symptoms. But my biggest trigger is always stress, which, of course, is much harder to avoid.

Dove is seen in a race running uphill. She is wearing a sports bra attached to a running number in front with pastel green running shorts and bright orange trainers. She is amongst many other runners with people standing beside the track and observing on the grass.

Sometimes, I find when I’m constipated, eating a meal particularly high in fibre will help me. With my nutrition background, I have an in-depth understanding of insoluble and soluble fibre, so I try to balance my fibre out throughout the day. When it comes to FODMAP foods (foods that can be triggers in people with IBS), I can personally find this quite restrictive and not always necessary for me. So, instead of avoiding things like onion or garlic altogether, I’ll have smaller portions of foods that I know include FODMAPs.

The final thing I want to mention is how much exercise and going to the gym help me. There’s something about moving my muscles, and maybe it’s stress relief! I plan out my time to make sure I have a chance to do activities, keep my body moving or do things like yoga or meditation.”

Dove is in a studio with a pole and crash mat in the centre of the room. She is doing a handstand with both hands on the crash mat and right leg hooked onto the pole and left leg behind her.

Have your experiences helped you professionally at all?

Dove is taking a selfie outdoors with a monkey. She is smiling at the camera with sunglasses on her head, wearing yellow earrings and dress. The monkey has their mouth open while looking into the camera.

“Definitely! When I’m with a patient, I can recognise when someone might be uncomfortable talking about their bowels because I know what it feels like. I also understand the other side effects of symptoms like diarrhoea because I know how exhausting it is to live with, physically and psychologically. My experiences have allowed me to put myself into their shoes and help them realise that this isn’t something they can fix, but with the right support, they can learn to manage it.

My key message is, please don’t feel uncomfortable talking about your bowel habits. Everyone poos. Let’s talk about your symptoms openly and honestly and empower you to manage your symptoms and know your body even better.”

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