Fashion presenter and Instagram star Naomi Isted never knew when her IBS symptoms would cripple her with bloating and cramps – here’s how she finally got it under control
Naomi Isted has nearly 80,000 Instagram followers and a staggering 225,000 on Twitter. Though the 38 year old mother of two is based in London, she often travels the world covering fashion and lifestyle trends for the likes of Good Morning Britain and the E! News network. But behind the successful, super-glamourous image, the TV presenter and celebrity stylist has suffered with chronic, debilitating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) since she was 16 years old, never quite knowing when the bloating, severe cramps and stomach pains would strike next.
IBS is a vicious cycle that few understand unless they have the condition, says Isted, who is now 38 and lives in Essex with her husband and two children. For her, this cycle was dramatically compounded by her busy, frenetic work lifestyle. ‘I remember in my 20s travelling around the world filming a wine programme and literally always being in pain. It would debilitate me and then make me feel so tired and worn out, and that would have a knock-on effect on my work, my sleep and my mood the next day. Then, I would get more and more anxious about it, thinking: ‘Am I going to be able to find the right places to eat, where will I find healthy food while we’re on tour?’ and the resulting anxiety would make the IBS worse’.
The agony of IBS
Isted was covering London Fashion Week last month and the impact on her IBS couldn’t be denied. ‘It’s fine when I am at home because by now I know the things that set me off – processed carbs such as gluten containing breads, even rice as well as milk and cheese. But when I am waking up at 5am to cover the shows, I know I need to eat right but where am I going to get my hands on some salmon and vegetables (which I know won’t bloat me) in the middle of LFW? Will there be things for me to eat? As a result, I’d end up panicking which would make the whole thing worse because there is such a link between IBS and anxiety. Sometimes would simply avoid eating altogether until it was really late and I was at home because I didn’t want to be sitting on the front row in agony the next day.’
IBS is thought to affect up to one in five people at some point in their life, according to the NHS. It usually first develops when a person is between 20 and 30 years of age with around twice as many women are affected as men. The condition is often lifelong, although it may improve over several years. Unfortunately, many doctors are confounded by it, often issuing medications that treat only the symptoms, which usually include like Naomi’s, extreme abdominal cramps and bloating, as well as diarrhoea and constipation.
The medications that stopped working
Diagnosed by her doctor at 16, Naomi’s IBS manifested primarily as extreme cramps and bloating and resulted in her being prescribed various medications over the years. ‘All my medications have been medical derivatives of mint that would help settle my stomach. But nothing worked for long,’ she says. ‘I think my body always became immune to every medication I was put on so eventually, nothing was terribly effective.’
I am a size 8 but if I am bloated my waist size can increase by two inches
Until recently, IBS posed such an occupational hazard for Isted that she was often sent clothes by designers that she would have otherwise fitted into perfectly, if not for her boated stomach which Isted estimates could make her waist girth expand by a staggering two inches. ‘I am a size eight and designers would send me outfits to wear to specific events such as LFW,’ she says. ‘ But while my whole body is slim, if I am bloated I won’t be able to get into it because I will look like I am three months pregnant. I can’t tell you what that does for your self-confidence when you are surrounded by models that are towering over you and all size zero.’
Having always stuck to her various medications, and finding nothing really worked anymore, Isted began to research other IBS remedies online. About a month before this year’s London Fashion Week, she discovered Alflorex, a probiotic that is specifically formulated for those suffering with IBS. ‘I had never really considered the idea that IBS could be related to the bacteria in your gut, but I was prepared to give anything a go. I liked the fact that it was a simple one-a-day pill and also that it seemed to come with good medical research,’ Isted remembers.
Probiotics are supplements that help replenish healthy bacteria in the gut which can be diminished by a stressful lifestyle, high sugar diet or taking antibiotics. A dearth of good bacteria in the digestive system have been shown to lead to problems as wide-ranging as eczema, depression and obesity and they are well-proven as a leading cause of bloating and IBS. The specific probiotic Isted tried was Alflorex, which contains a specific strain (35624) of bacteria shown in clinical trials as effective against the symptoms of IBS such as bloating, tummy pain and alternating bouts of diarrhoea and constipation in as little as four weeks. It was developed by scientists at the University of Cork and is recommended widely by gastroenterologists.
The probiotic supplement that helped
‘I was ready to try anything and thought that in order to give it the best chance of working, I would stop my medication and see what happened,’ says Isted. Though Alflorex is supposed to take up to four weeks to work, for Isted the difference became noticeable more quickly. ‘Within about three days I noticed I wasn’t getting the stomach cramps I used to get and I was thinking, ‘Oh, it’s probably in my head,’ but about ten days later I noticed my stomach wasn’t getting bloated.’ Then, even her husband noted the difference. ‘In the evening my belly could get really bloated ordinarily, so I would use all the tricks; wear clothes that were loose around my stomach, cover up and so on. But at home I was always really relaxed so I guess it showed more. Just over a week after I started taking the Alflorex, my husband said ‘Wow! Your stomach’s looking really flat!’ which was nice.’
being able to carry on through your day and not feel cramping, tummy pain or bloating, feels nothing short of a miracle
Consequently, this year’s London Fashion Week was a different experience for Isted from years gone by. ‘I was able to fit into all the clothes I was sent,’ she remembers. ‘But it wasn’t just about fitting into clothes, it’s also what having a flat stomach has done for my confidence. I know it sounds stupid but after you have had two children and having spent what feels like a lifetime waking up feeling bloated, to suddenly be waking up with a flat stomach and being able to carry on through your day and not feel cramping or more tummy pain or bloating, feels nothing short of a miracle.’
Now, though Isted’s busy lifestyle hasn’t changed, the panic and anxiety and terrible symptoms IBS used to cause her has. ‘Of course, I still take care with what I am eating – avoiding gluten and dairy and processed carbs where I can – but now during times when I am always travelling and having to eat with film crews whatever is available or if it’s half term and I am out with the children and there’s no healthy food in a play area I can get, I don’t have to panic because I can have a little not-so-healthy food and my stomach won’t react the way it used to. That’s meant the anxiety about my IBS has lessened and as a result, I have had a reprieve from that horrible vicious cycle of bloat-panic-can’t-find-healthy-food-panic-eat-whatever-I-can-find-bloat-again. Relief from the huge stress of that has been the biggest confidence booster’.
Eating for IBS: Naomi Isted’s diet
It’s taken years of trial and error but Naomi Isted has finally discovered that certain foods can worsen her IBS. Having said that, there is now nothing she avoids eating altogether, only foods she eats less and those she eats more of. ‘In the past I tried to eradicate everything that bloated me but that only meant that if I ended up in a situation where I had to eat some bread or pasta, the effect on my IBS was ten times worse,’ she explains. ‘Now, I eat the things that don’t bother me in unlimited quantities and have a very little of others that bloat me and – along with taking the Alflorex daily – I seem to have finally got this thing under control.’
Eats little or never…
Pasta (I love it so much I actually do eat pasta once a week, though it rarely agrees with me), rice, white bread
Dairy products such as milk and most cheeses
Prosecco, Champagne or anything with bubbles
Anything containing gluten
Salmon and other fish
Vegetables and salad
Apples, bananas, berries
Chocolate (in small amounts!)
EXPLAINER: HOW ALFLOREX WORKS
Alflorex, is the result of more than 17 years of clinical research and 75 leading scientific publications. Probiotics contains special bacteria, and different bacteria in the gut have different functions in the body. Alflorex contain contains a probiotic strain called B. infantis3564 which specifically targets and alleviates the symptoms of IBS, such as bloating, tummy pain and unpredictable diarrhoea and constipation. Only recently launched in the UK, the strain is known in the US as Align, where it is the number one probiotic recommended by gastroenterologists for the treatment of the symptoms of IBS. ‘The gut bacteria plays an important role in many digestive health issues,’ says Professor Eammon Quigley, one of the world’s leading Gastroenterologists in IBS and Chief of Gastroenterology at Houston Methodist Hospital. ‘B. infantis 35624, the strain in Alflorex, is one of the few products that has been truly developed on a scientific basis and tested in high quality clinical studies to help the symptoms of IBS.’
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