Tierney Spear suffered from irritable bowel syndrome for decades, trying all sorts of diets to help her recurring symptoms of nausea, stomach cramps and diarrhea. While cutting out processed foods and gluten helped, it wasn’t until she learned that she was allergic to dairy and eggs that she was able to make an impactful change to her diet and health. As she changed her diet, she changed her life; alleviating her IBS symptoms and learning many life lessons along the way.
To be honest, I’m not really sure when my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) first started. But I can tell you that I have basically felt sick my entire life. I remember dealing with embarrassing and severely uncomfortable digestive issues a young kid. I would either suffer from urgent diarrhea after going out to breakfast with my uncle and sister, or I would be in excruciating pain because I was so constipated. I dealt with the back and forth of diarrhea and constipation for so long that it seemed like a normal part of me.
I can’t even remember a time where I wasn’t feeling sick, or a time where I felt 100 percent healthy. I have photos of myself on family vacations, including one from our trip to Disney when I was a kid, where I look miserably unhappy and I’m holding my stomach. Sadly, irritable bowel syndrome doesn’t care how old you are or what you’re trying to do! And no matter what age you are, IBS is not fun!
Changing my diet didn’t help in the beginning
I knew that the foods I ate could be helping or hurting my symptoms. I tried so many different diets and ways of eating to heal my irritable bowel syndrome. I removed most processed foods, and now I eat mostly “clean” foods (meats, veggies, healthy fats and starchy carbs). While eating this way has lots of health benefits, at first, I still didn’t feel better! While I resembled a really healthy person on the outside, I was still suffering silently on the inside. Most days I felt great and “normal,” but other days I was miserable.
Then I tried doing Whole 30, a diet based around eating only whole, natural foods. There was no gluten, no dairy and nothing packaged allowed. Basically, it is a very strict paleo diet. Yet, here I was, two weeks into the whole 30, eating only whole, natural foods and still feeling horrible. There were days where I was so nauseous and would be running to the bathroom constantly! The nausea would last two to three days, and I would drop four or five pounds during that time. Then the diarrhea and nausea would subside and I would be able to eat again. I would regain the weight and feel somewhat normal. But a few days later, the cycle would start over. As you can imagine, this was NOT a healthy way to live!
How getting diagnosed with a food allergy changed everything
After hitting that rock bottom, I knew I needed help! I sought the help of a functional medicine doctor who helped me figure out that I was allergic to dairy and eggs. So no matter all the healthy diets and foods I was eating, by eating foods that I was unknowingly allergic to, I was triggering an inflammatory response in my body, leading to stomach cramps, nausea and terrible diarrhea.
Learning about my allergies was definitely a tough pill to swallow, but at this point, I was prepared to do anything to alleviate the irritable bowel syndrome and regain my health. I was SO SICK and TIRED of feeling sick and tired! I was done with feeling terrible day in and day out and being unable to predict what food would set my stomach off or when the diarrhea would strike.
As I set out to change my diet again and cut out dairy and eggs, it was hard in the beginning. While I struggled to understand my diet, I more or less became a hermit. Going out with friends became a lot trickier. I felt uncomfortable having to explain my newly diagnosed allergies when we went out to eat, and I became anxious about eating food that I didn’t prepare myself. It was even a challenge for my family to cook for me because I had been around for 25 years without having to deal with these allergies.
Luckily I had the support of my family and some very close friends. Without their support I’m not sure I would have made it through some of my toughest days. My relationship with my fiance Scott was definitely put to the test and fortunately we came out even stronger.
And I’m happy to report that I feel so much better! Cutting out dairy and eggs has helped me to feel like a different person. I don’t have to worry about running to the bathroom every time I go out, and I feel so much more in control of my body. I am also more confident about myself when I go out to restaurants. I know my health is a priority, and I learned to assert myself to make sure that what’s in my food is right for me.
Through it all, I’ve learned some pretty important lessons about dealing with my illness, and I am excited to share them:
- Don’t give up. I tried several “healthy” diets that have worked for some, but didn’t for me. I kept at it unless I figured out what was the trigger for me. For you, it could be something different but just keep trying until you figure out what makes you feel good.
- My health and my well-being now come first 110 percent of the time. Now that I’ve figured out exactly what I need to do to feel my best, I stick with it. I know what I have to do feel good, and I do it because I never want to hit rock bottom again!
- When you are struggling with an illness, not everyone is going to be able to tell by looking at you. People may assume because you look fine, that you are fine. It takes a little while to figure out how to deal with that, but learning to cope with a “silent” illness can and WILL make you a stronger person mentally. And it’s important to find people that you can open up to and share what is happening and how you really feel.
- You will learn A LOT about yourself. Having to become an advocate for my health and well-being taught me so much about who I am as a person. I discovered what is inside of me, what I am capable of and who I can become. It opened my eyes to the compassion I have for others and showed me how much I can help those who are struggling with a similar situation.
- Relationships will evolve; some will deepen while others may fade. Having to deal with an illness day in and day out can feel like a social burden. You might not be able to go out to eat every weekend or go out for happy hour with your friends. Superficial friends may become distant or act strangely around you. They may not understand that you are not able to engage with your crew like you used to. Stand your ground and do what’s best for you. You will relearn the true meaning of friendship from people who choose to show up and support you. Be sure to show up and support them too!
- You will begin to celebrate and become excited over the little things. Simple, everyday occurrences become victories worth celebrating! Something as normal as going back to the office or being able to go out to eat with friends can be so rejuvenating. My simple victory was being able to not be so attached to the bathroom, not worrying about when I was going to need to use the bathroom and where the closest bathroom was at all times! Little things become the most precious to you when you recognize their value.
While my experience with irritable bowel syndrome and diet may not be anything compared to someone dealing with a life-threatening illness or a traumatic experience, it was life changing for me. It took a lot of trial and error and hard work on my part to figure out the cause of my painful and embarrassing symptoms. My relationships with myself, my family, friends and loved ones, as well as my outlook on life changed drastically. I have worked hard to get to where I am today and I know that my journey. will never be fully over. There will always be obstacles to face and mountains to climb, but I am ready to take on whatever life throws at me because I know I can handle it.
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