Until I wrote Eating for IBS I had never met another person with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I have yet to meet someone without IBS who truly appreciates how devastating and excruciating the condition can be. It is literally ruining people's lives there are many folks out there with IBS who are afraid to leave their homes, who cannot work, drive, socialize, or travel. They live each day in fear. The illness has an unimaginably dramatic effect on every single aspect of their lives and yet, they often cannot even get their own family, friends, employers, and doctors to acknowledge that they have a legitimate physical problem. They feel that they are treated like hypochondriacs, and that their complaints are either summarily dismissed or met with outright contempt.
I know first-hand the sheer brutality of abdominal pain that characterizes an IBS attack (imagine someone setting their hand on fire, then plunging it into your lower abdomen to try and rip your guts out), so I sympathize unconditionally with all of these people. I know exactly what they are going through because I have been there myself. The only reason I am able to lead a normal life is because I follow the dietary advice in this book.
I have had IBS since I was nine years old, although I went undiagnosed for six long years. My pediatrician at the time refused to send me for diagnostic tests because my symptoms didn't fit any disorder she knew (though I was a textbook case), and therefore the problem was all in my head. This doctor also dismissed my suffering as "only pain." She flatly told me that my symptoms did not warrant treatment and that I should "quit whining." I was in the fourth grade at the time and had recently fainted from severe abdominal pain in a neighbor's garden.
When I was eventually diagnosed (by a different doctor) at the age of fifteen, I was offered little help beyond being given the label "IBS." Although it was a relief to finally have a name for my problem, I was not provided with any dietary advice whatsoever. My doctor simply prescribed an anti-spasmodic drug and recommended Metamucil. It took a great many years of daily trial and error, and much excruciatingly painful experience, to gradually learn which foods triggered my IBS and which soothed it. It required additional medical research to realize precisely why these foods had the physical effects they did, be they hurtful or helpful.
However, even after learning exactly what I could and couldn't eat as well as the reasons why, it was still very difficult at times to follow the IBS diet. Most typical American meals, whether home-cooked or in restaurants, were simply intolerable. What I needed was a way to bridge the gap between knowing what to eat and how. I wasn't about to sacrifice my health, nor was I willing to forego great food, so I had to find a way to create recipes that were both safe (and I use the word "safe" deliberately, knowing how justifiably fearful many IBS sufferers are when it comes to food) and scrumptious. The happy result was that by following the IBS diet I was led unexpectedly to a life of culinary adventure, and along the way I developed a cooking strategy that's surprisingly simple, fun, and delicious.
How did this happen? Well, instead of viewing IBS food guidelines as a dietary prison sentence to be borne with grim determination, I took them as an opportunity to explore new cuisines, as an incentive to take control of my own health and life, and as an invitation to practice a little kitchen wizardry. This often meant exploring techniques from different culinary traditions and cultures. One important lesson I learned early on was that delicious American homestyle cooking was amazingly easy to adapt to the IBS kitchen the key was simply clever substitutions, never deprivation. A second realization was that ethnic cooking frequently offered the most exciting variety of foods as well as some of the most easily modified recipes. Finally, I learned that even if a recipe adaptation failed miserably, the dog would always eat it.
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