Heather's Story

It was summer vacation.

I was playing in a neighbor's garden on a gorgeous sunny day. Suddenly I was paralyzed with pain. The most agonizing pain of my life.

I couldn't move. I couldn't breathe.

I tried to scream for help from the neighbor but I couldn't even whisper. The whole world went gray. I woke up face down in a carrot patch.

I had been a happy, healthy little kid. Now suddenly I wasn't.

My parents took me to my pediatrician and I told her what had happened, that I had blacked out from the pain. She told me to quit whining.

This Was My First IBS Attack. I Was 9 Years Old.

That pediatrician refused to send me for any tests. She said my symptoms didn't fit any disorder she knew. Therefore the problem was all in my head.

(It was decades before I learned I was actually a textbook IBS case.)

This heartless quack dismissed my suffering as "only pain." She flatly told me that my symptoms did not warrant treatment. I begged her to send me to some other doctor. She literally laughed and left the room. I was in the fourth grade at the time. What was a little kid supposed to do?

I was so humiliated I was afraid to even mention the problem to another doctor for the next six years. And I wasn't accurately diagnosed until twenty long years later.

(But I was misdiagnosed with diverticulosis by a different doctor at age fifteen! I wasn't given any diagnostic tests. You can't diagnose diverticulosis without a colonoscopy. And children can't have it. So I'm still not sure what to make of this...)

Even after that misdiagnosis, by a doc who seemed like a genuinely nice guy, I wasn't offered any real help. It guess it was a relief to finally have a (wrong) name for my problem.

I Desperately Needed Dietary Advice.

Instead, my nice guy doc prescribed an anti-spasmodic drug and recommended "fiber." Sound familiar to you?

By this point it had been years of missing school days. Spending holiday family dinners in the bathroom. Camping trips stuck in an outhouse. Avoiding pizza parties and sleepovers, afraid that I'd get sick.

A memorable first date with my eventual husband that ended with him carrying me out of the restaurant bathroom, where I'd been immobilized for an hour, while he worried I'd stood him up.

It was yet another fifteen years after the misdiagnosis before I was accurately diagnosed with IBS. I was finally given the required tests to rule out inflammatory bowel diseases, celiac, and other gut disorders that can cause the same symptoms.

By that time, I had gone through endless daily trial and error with my diet, and so much excruciating pain.

But There Were Discoveries Along the Way...

All along I'd been gradually learning trigger foods and safe foods.

I'd been doing research to understand how foods physically affect the gut.

I was figuring out why some foods hurt and other foods helped.

And if you know me at all, you know I live to eat. I get out of bed in the morning dreaming of breakfast. I will never give up great food. So I had to have an IBS diet, and recipes, that were safe and scrumptious.

I use the word "safe" deliberately. I know how terrified many IBS sufferers are when it comes to food. I truly understand, because I've been there.

This meant I needed a way to successfully manage IBS that was simple, fun, and delicious. That led me to...

A Life of Culinary Adventure

How did this happen? I refused to view my IBS diet as a prison sentence. Instead, it would be my path to good health and a good life. I'd been offered no help by doctors, or anyone else, but so what? They couldn't stop me from helping myself.

I'd been cooking since childhood, right next to my grandmother. Grams was a fantastic cook and I grew up in her kitchen. I just needed a little of her kitchen wizardry.

I started to see IBS dietary restrictions as challenges. Creative thinking and cooking would overcome them. My motto was that food is fun, cooking is a pleasure, and eating a delicious meal is the wonderful end reward.

I had to eat safely for IBS but by God that would not mean limited, boring or bland.

Time passed and recipe adaptations were becoming quicker and easier with practice. Lightbulbs were going on.

I realized I could just sub soy or oat milk for dairy in virtually all my grandmother's delicious creamy recipes - lightbulb!

I could just use an extra (fat free) egg white to replace a (high fat) yolk - lightbulb!

Wait, there are two kinds of fiber, soluble and insoluble? And that explains the mystery of my smushy safe foods versus roughage danger foods? LIGHTBULB!

My personal IBS recipe collection kept growing over the years. It eventually filled a long shelf of notebooks in my kitchen.

But I was still the only person I knew with IBS. These recipes, as well as the diet guidelines that formed them, were just for me. I never dreamed there could be millions of other people suffering from the same problem. And I had no idea I could help them.

Along Came the Internet and That Changed Everything

The internet radically changed my life with IBS. I surfed onto IBS websites and message boards casually at first. I wasn't really thinking about my own IBS anymore. I'd lived with it on a daily basis for so long now that controlling my diet, and thus my symptoms, was old hat.

So I was astonished by the people on the IBS boards. I was appalled by their suffering. Their stories were heartbreaking. Their desperation was palpable.

They were treated with a complete lack of respect by their doctors and given no help at all.

They were told to "stop complaining" and "the pain can't be as bad as you say or you'd kill yourself."

Their lives were so devastated by IBS that they attempted suicide, purchased RVs with toilets in the back so they could drive without worrying about a sudden attack, and wore adult diapers every day in case they couldn't make it to a restroom in time.

I was deeply affected by these people's stories.

I started typing up all the IBS diet info and advice I had to give. I emailed it to anyone who asked. What began as that one page email grew to over 200 pages and started crashing mail servers. So I turned it into a website and now I could just send people a link. I added in my recipes as well and this little email was on its way to becoming my first IBS book.

I had to do research at medical libraries to verify and annotate the accuracy of my information. I also made a point to read every other IBS book on the market. I have to admit that was shocking.

The books I found had dietary advice ranging from worthless to downright dangerous.

One book's insulting suggestions so infuriated me I threw it across the room and nearly hit my poor husband. If that author had been standing there I think I would have smacked him. He had no clue, no concept of what people with IBS endure, and no sympathy for their suffering.

That was one of the days that really made me determined to write a full-fledged IBS diet book. People with IBS needed this help, and I could give it to them.

The end result was Eating for IBS. The first and only book about IBS, by someone who personally has IBS.

I believe this was also the first and only book to give IBS sufferers the dietary info they need to live a happy healthy life.

Because IBS is not a mental problem, and it's not just from stress. It can't be cured by drugs or surgery.

Yes, IBS is Unique to Each Person.

Some folks can trace their IBS to an insult to the gut - food poisoning, abdominal surgery, C. diff. Some people are born with it.

And symptoms can vary. But all IBS symptoms - diarrhea, constipation, pain, bloating, gas - stem from the same underlying pathology. IBS is a dysfunction of the enteric nervous system of the gut.

This means dietary generalizations can be made. The colon reacts to specific foods in predictable ways. This is basic biology.

You can't manage IBS without the proper diet, and the explicit recommendations of eating for IBS have helped everyone who has followed the advice.

Until I wrote this book, I had never even met anyone else with IBS. I have yet to meet someone without IBS who truly appreciates how devastating and excruciating it can be.

IBS is still ruining people's lives. I continue to personally hear from folks who are afraid to leave their homes, who cannot work, drive, socialize, or travel.

They live each day in fear.

People with IBS can't even get their own family, friends, employers, and doctors to acknowledge they have a real physical problem. They're treated like hypochondriacs. Their complaints are dismissed or met with outright contempt.

They're still going through what I went through with my pediatrician over forty years ago. This enrages me.

I know first-hand the sheer brutality of an IBS attack. Just imagine someone setting their hand on fire, then plunging it into your lower abdomen while trying to rip your guts out.

I sympathize unconditionally with what you're going through because I've been there myself.

The only reason I'm able to lead a normal life is because I follow my own dietary advice.

So I hope by now you realize that eating for IBS does not mean deprivation, never going to restaurants, or poor nutrition. And unless you tell them, your family won't even realize the meals you've cooked for them are tailored for your medical needs.

In addition, eating for IBS is inherently healthy. It's low fat (not fat free!), plant-based, lowers the risk of heart disease and cancers, and it's delicious, too.

People with IBS Can Achieve Their Dearest Goal.

After endless pain and suffering, they can finally eat without fear.

I know this to be true because I am one of those people.

By the way...when Eating for IBS was published, I took a copy to my old pediatrician. Much to my horror she was still in practice. I signed a book just for her and wrote, "When you finish reading this, you know where you can stick it."

And my inner nine year old rejoiced.
Heather Van Vorous today
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