Lifestyle | Health & Wellness

I Had an IBS Attack at The Gym

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Sound Familiar?

Did the title get you because you’ve experienced this? Or because you were intrigued – and a little bit horrified? Either way I thought my story about an IBS attack was well worth sharing.

Picture this: you’ve been breezing along, maybe you have even been following low FODMAP protocol for months, even years as I had, and BAM! one day you have an IBS attack.

And you are right in the middle of a gym class surrounded by people. Nowhere to hide.

An IBS attack can happen anywhere at any time.
Photo credit: Robin Jaffin

What Does YOUR IBS Look Like?

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. 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. Navigating the day was fraught with possible triggers that extended way beyond what was on my plate.

Things Changed Post FODMAP

Once I began eating low FODMAP, my gut settled 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.

I think 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.

So What Happened at The Gym? IBS Attack Or…

Well, 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 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.

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.

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.

You Know Your Body Best

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 and Listen to Your Body

I know that for me during the Challenge Phases 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 RDNs 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.

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).

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

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.

We would love to hear your stories. We believe that by sharing our plights we take IBS out of the shadows and can educate not only friends & family, but offer solace to other IBS-ers as well.

Use our Contact page to drop us a line or a story. If you would like to discuss your idea with us first, just let us know.

You May Want To Read: How to Avoid Gastrointestinal Issues During Exercise.

More Info On IBS Triggers: Be sure to read our article, The Hidden Culprits, 12 Common Triggers of IBS You May Not Know About.

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