Lifestyle | Health & Wellness

IBS Attack At The Gym: The Nightmare I Never Saw Coming

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Hey there, friend. Did the title catch your eye because you can relate all too well to the horrors of an IBS attack? I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. IBS can strike anytime and anywhere. This is my story.

BAM! You Are in Pain!

woman in pain.
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Picture this: you’ve been breezing along, your IBS triggers held at bay. Maybe you have even been following low FODMAP diet protocol for months, even years, and BAM! One day you have an irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) attack.

And it happens as you are right in the middle of a gym class surrounded by people. There is nowhere to hide.

IBS Attack OrWhat Was That?

man in pain.
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I think I know what happened, but it was so odd that it felt like it came out of nowhere. I was going on my merry way, having a perfect low FODMAP, symptom free day.

I moved to a gym station where I was standing in front of a vertically hanging punching bag and I was simply supposed to punch the bag at rapid fire with both fists, one after the other, for 40-seconds after which there would be a 10-second rest.

So I performed the exercise and then rested. I felt a tightness and contraction in my upper abs, but that was to be expected. As I began the next 40-second round I felt my lower intestine beginning to spasm.

Stop Ignoring What Your Body Is Saying

Listen to yourself.
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Here’s the stupid part. It should have been a recognizable feeling for me and I should have stopped immediately. But I hadn’t had a debilitating intestinal spasm in so long (years!) that I just didn’t believe what my body was telling me.

So I continued with 4 sets of the exercise and by the time I was done, I was in undeniable pain, beginning to bloat and blow up and I should have stopped, but there I was in the middle of a class with 6 other people and our trainer clicking the timer and trying to keep us on track.

Pay Attention To Your Experiences

man in hoodie.
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I was supposed to move to the next exercise station, and I did, but I couldn’t start. The pain was coming on like a freight train. I was aware that my face was showing pain and my trainer Jay noticed right away.

He asked me if I was all right. I couldn’t say yes and at the same time how was I supposed to tell him during the 10-second break what was going on. I said something like I thought the last exercise had triggered some IBS pain for me. He said to do what I needed to do to care for myself.

So I went into a private adjacent room and lay down. I knew from prior IBS attacks that I needed to get horizontal to relieve some pressure from the intense and immense trapped gas.

What Does YOUR IBS Look Like?

woman in pain on toilet.
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Some of us have bouts of diarrhea, others deal with constipation, some of us experience both and others, like me, have main symptoms of debilitating trapped gas that blows us up like balloons and is so painful we cannot remain standing.

That was me in the middle of a boot camp type class the other day.

Know What Helps – And What To Avoid

woman and tight jeans.
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Years ago I learned a few things about certain physical positions and logistics that could trigger my intestinal spasms:

  • I cannot sit perfectly straight with my hips at a right angle
  • In fact even sitting on a hard chair for an extended period of time could wreak havoc
  • Certain kinds of movement that crunch my middle, like sit-ups, can set off a wave
  • I cannot sit cross legged on the floor
  • Tight clothing around my waist is a no-no

Such was my life pre-FODMAP diet. Navigating the day was fraught with possible triggers that extended way beyond what was on my plate.

The Low FODMAP Diet Changed Everything

eat the rainbow.
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Once I began eating low FODMAP, my IBS symptoms faded away, and so quickly that I soon realized that many of these situational issues were no longer the huge triggers that they had been for 25 years!

Talk about a change of lifestyle! I began wearing jeans for the first time in years and crunching my abdominals and obliques like there was no tomorrow.

Your Experience Counts

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What is really interesting about stuff like this is that these are not things that are clinically studied or proven. They can’t be! They are highly individual and here at FODMAP Everyday® we know that each and every one of you has a unique experience and relationship with your gut.

Getting excited about wearing jeans might seem silly or crazy to most people, but I bet some of you know what I am talking about.

Advocate For Yourself!

talking to doctor.
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When you live with IBS for as long as so many of us have, you learn how to take care of yourself. It is different for all of us, but what we have in common is that we do learn what our bodies need. We have to learn; it is a matter of survival.

When you are in pain, you seek to alleviate it. Sometimes it is drugs, like an antispasmodic or anti-diarrheal. Other times it is the need for a daily stress relieving yoga class and/or dietary changes such as a low FODMAP diet.

Whatever it is, only you can tell what’s working and what isn’t. I can tell you this – I am not going near that punching bag again. Not anytime soon anyway. (UPDATE: I did try it, went a little less full throttle, and I was fine!)

Identify Your Personal Triggers

dietitian with food and notebook.
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I know that for me during the Challenge Phases of the low FODMAP diet I questioned whether I was having reactions or not. Sometimes it was hard to tell. I would have a little burp or something minor and wonder what it meant?

This is one reason why some Registered Dietitians, like Kate Scarlata who coached me through my Challenges, always suggests that you try enough of a food item to trigger a reaction (if there is a reaction to trigger) so that there is no question and then you scale back from there.

Other RDNs have a different approach and certainly follow the lead of your dietitian, but the point here is that your body does know what’s going on.

New Foods & Situations Can Trigger IBS

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The key is that some of us aren’t so good at listening to the cues. So whether you are eating a new food, trying a new exercise or donning a new pair of skinny jeans, listen to your body. It might have something to say.

So as I type this, it is the day after this crazy experience. I ended up having to take hyoscyamine, which I still had in my purse in a pillbox, thank goodness (old habits die hard).

Do What You Need To Do To Feel Better

woman on bed.
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I hadn’t needed it in years, but I certainly did at that moment. I left the gym, called my husband and had him fill up the tub. A nice hot soak was another pain reliever that I had learned to employ over the years.

Getting horizontal always alleviated the gas pain of an IBS attack and the warmth was probably a physical as well as psychological comfort.

I feel okay today, the day after. After attacks like this I always feel very delicate, so I take it easy. I am having a low FODMAP breakfast of lactose-free yogurt, banana, raisins, almonds and chia seeds.

Share Your Story With Us

your story matters.
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The only silver lining to this experience is that I knew I could share it with you. To let you know that you are not alone with your IBS and that we are here to help you the best we can – and sharing and caring is one way to do that.

Where was the worst place you have had an IBS attack?

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