'I wish my IBS didn't prevent me from wearing jeans..'
My first experience with IBS was when I was around the age of sixteen, in the height of GCSE’s and exam season – a stressful time for anyone. But I found it more stressful than most as I’d started to notice symptoms that I’d never experienced before. The stabbing pains in my stomach that stopped me from getting out of bed in the morning, the sickness and nausea, and the embarrassing issue of changes in bowel movements, just to name a few. Little did I know that this would be the start of a long and tough journey towards a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
When I had finally had enough of the pains in my stomach, I decided it was time to visit a doctor, the first of many, who after hearing about my symptoms told me almost immediately that it was most likely IBS I was suffering with. I’d never heard of this condition before and spent hours researching online in my spare time, wondering what it was that could cause me this much pain and how I could cure it. (Spoiler alert – there is no cure!) It turns out that medical professionals don’t know a great deal about it, and don’t really know what causes it, and because everyone has different severity of symptoms and different triggers, it is extremely hard to find a solution that works for everyone. There is no ‘one size fits all’ fix unfortunately, it’s a case of trial and error and finding what works for you as an individual. Now of course, this is not what I wanted to hear from my doctor! The last thing I wanted was to endure the pain for longer and keep track of my symptoms in a diary to see what my triggers are, I just wanted it fixed.
Years later, after going through countless investigations and treatments, I still felt no closer to finding a solution. Every scan and test would come back clear with doctor’s telling me ‘there’s nothing wrong with you’ – which was a bittersweet response in all honesty! I’m glad there’s nothing medically wrong with me, however, there’s obviously something not quite right that they haven’t spotted otherwise what is the explanation for these symptoms? What I’d come to realise over time is that IBS is a condition which is so vague in its diagnosis, that essentially if you are having symptoms and the doctor can’t find anything medically wrong, they will diagnose it as IBS. Which isn’t ideal when you’re after a proper treatment plan that is going to enable you to feel better and be able to get on with life without being held back by the symptoms.
Following the investigations that took place initially, it was time to crack on with some sort of treatment plan or ways to minimise the stress caused by IBS. I feel like I tried everything from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Meditation, Counselling and a Low FODMAP diet (twice!). Fun fact – the last time I properly had a go at meditation was in Bali and I fell asleep for almost the entire class…
The Low FODMAP diet is a medical diet used as a way to find out whether a food or group of foods is responsible for triggering a reaction in your stomach. FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols. These are scientific terms for different groups of carbs that are well known to cause digestive issues. It involves a strict avoidance of all high fodmap foods for around four weeks, and a slow reintroduction of individual foods one at a time, so it’s easy to spot whether this particular food has had an effect on you. I tried this particular diet on two different occasions and unfortunately it didn’t work for me, but I do know lots of other people who have benefitted from this diet under the supervision of a medical professional. I did find that as the diet is so restrictive in what you are allowed to eat, it made me became so stressed and anxious about meal times that it actually added to my symptoms. I think the reason it didn’t work particularly well for me is that my stomach tends to change it’s tolerance towards food on a daily basis. I can eat a meal one day and be completely fine, and eat the exact same meal the next day and be doubled up in pain – making it very difficult to spot trigger foods. Also, stress is one of the biggest factors in IBS diagnosis and treatment, scientists have even called the gut our second brain. There has been a lot of research done over the past few years relating to the microbiome and the gut-brain connection and the research states that there is a strong link between how our gut processes stress, explaining why most of my flare-ups are due to stressful situations.
Nowadays I mostly have the symptoms under control, with a little bit of experimentation along the way still due to the curveballs life can throw at you! Our lives are not static, they are always changing, so our ways of keeping on top of symptoms need to change with this. I try and stick to a regular schedule of exercise and yoga, taking time out for self-care, and eating healthily without worrying about how a food will make me feel - I find the fear of food is sometimes the worst part!
The one thing that I have not managed to get under control, though, is my clothing. I find that I can put something on in the morning and be absolutely fine, but by the afternoon I’m bloated and stressed and so my clothes just don’t fit as comfortably as they did when I first put them on. Earlier this year I made a huge decision, and that was to start my own fashion brand. My work background is in interior design and office fit out, so I knew very little about how to create and run a fashion brand, but here we are! I had finally had enough of googling ‘stretchy jeans for IBS’ and receiving no helpful results that I’d decided to take matters into my own hands and make some comfortable clothing for myself and other IBS sufferers. And that is how my brand Maia Jeans was born.
I did sit on the idea for a couple of years, due to my own doubts, but after seeing such a revolution of strong, empowered women in the news I almost felt bad for not doing it! After having this vision it almost felt like my responsibility to create a range of comfortable clothing for the hundreds of thousands of women who feel like me and suffer with bloating and uncomfortable bowel conditions daily.
I’m currently in the process of creating my first collection which will consist of a simple straight/skinny fit jean suitable for women regardless of whether they are rocking the full bloat or whether they are not suffering with symptoms at the time and just want something more comfortable than a standard pair of jeans. My aim is that these will stop women from being stressed about the consequences of their fashion choices every morning and have a long-lasting wardrobe staple that will last for years and allow a blend of comfort and style.
I have received my very first prototype recently and had positive feedback already regarding the comfort and the quality of the fit, so with a bit more tweaking and with the perfect fabric we can make the perfect stretchy all-day jeans – even from women who do not suffer with IBS or bloating and just want something that feels more comfortable than a standard pair of jeans which can dig into the waistline. Recently I spoke to a close friend who has just had her first child and she mentioned that she would’ve loved to have had a pair post-pregnancy for when the maternity jeans were too big and her usual jeans were too small – making it clear to me that there is a wider market for these than initially thought!
There has been lots of news recently regarding the ecological crisis the world is currently suffering from (including climate change) and how the fashion industry contributes to it with the choices of materials, and the ways in which garments are manufactured. Otherwise known as fast fashion. The fashion equivalent to fast food – in that you can get the latest trends fresh off the catwalk at rock bottom prices every couple of weeks. It means that you can buy tons of clothing for hardly any money, which may seem like a win-win situation, but ultimately someone is paying the price somewhere. Whether that is in factory workers being paid unfair wages and working long hours, or even child labour in some countries, or the use of pesticides and greenhouse gases produced from making each garment. Which is why we are anti-fast fashion, sustainable and ethical in production - giving us pieces which are not damaging to the environment, are made from sustainable materials, last for years and allow consumers to not have to worry about their fashion choices.
The past eleven years have taught me a lot about my health and my choices in life, the main one being that I must take care of my myself properly. And making sure my gut is in good shape is one of the things that is non-negotiable, hence why I’m so proud of my journey so far and excited for what Maia will bring in the future. The more we talk about our issues and the less embarrassed we can be, the more we can help each other, and I truly believe I am able to make a difference with my jeans. So keep an eye out, follow my journey on social media, and I’ll be sure to let the world know once we launch!