In mainstream society, discussing bowel functions is taboo. Though we all suffer from indigestion and other unpleasant gut symptoms at times, talking about them outside of a tight-knit friend group is unheard of. In addition, while it is common to experience bloating now and then, beauty standards that uphold flat stomachs tell us to suck in, encouraging us to put our stomachs in more pain. For those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), these attitudes not only perpetuate feelings of shame but make it even more difficult to find effective information on diagnosis and treatment. We need to raise more awareness about IBS and chronic gut discomfort, and the work of Lottie Drynan is a good place to start.
Drynan is an influencer from the UK who is passionate about supporting those with IBS and encouraging body positivity. Drynan herself has IBS, a chronic gastrointestinal disorder characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort that may be experienced alongside change in bowel habits or frequent bloating.
In a recent interview with Insider, Drynan describes her experience with IBS and her frustrations, saying, “I regularly left work or events early due to needing to be reunited with my hot water bottle or toilet and it made me really miserable. I felt constantly confused and frustrated and had no idea what it was that was causing my discomfort. I remember looking at my friends who seemed to be able to eat anything or wear anything without worrying about how their tummy would react, and feeling quite jealous.”
Now, Drynan finds her symptoms to be much more manageable after educating herself on the potential causes of IBS. But it took her eight years to get diagnosed after undergoing several tests, a reflection of how notoriously difficult it is to detect IBS, let alone treat it.
Drynan’s symptoms peaked in her early 20s, an experience that is not uncommon: Out of the 10% to 20% of people worldwide who have IBS, prevalence is highest among women in their 20s. My personal experience also reflects this trend, as I have been dealing with chronic gut symptoms since my late teens and into the first years of my 20s. Like Drynan, I went through restrictive elimination diets and many tests only to be met with frustration. I eventually had to do my own research and take responsibility for managing my symptoms. Drynan’s content has helped me feel less alone, giving me a space where I see my experience reflected in the lives of others.
On her Instagram and her blog, The Tummy Diaries, Drynan chronicles her experience with IBS and provides tips to her followers on how to manage their own symptoms. Drynan’s content always focuses on positivity and non-judgment, and she takes a holistic approach to educating about IBS. While Drynan does include tips on things like FODMAP-friendly meals and other foods, she emphasizes taking care of your mental health as a way to also manage gut symptoms.
Recognizing that stress is her biggest cause of flare-ups, Drynan has shared resources on managing stress and anxiety that can help with chronic gut discomfort. But she acknowledges that many different factors can cause an IBS flare-up and that you should be kind to yourself when pain does occur.
“It’s very easy to see someone on Instagram who has cut out a food group due to IBS and think, ‘Oh, I need to do the same then,’ but actually we’re all very different,” Drynan says in the Insider interview. “For some, cutting out a food group may work, but for others we need to be looking at our lifestyle with a more 360 degree, holistic approach; looking at the combined areas of diet, stress, movement and sleep.”
To more widely share resources on the connection between the gut and the brain, Drynan started an online community called “You’ve Gut This,” in which she posts tips and reminders about taking care of both your body and your mind. In one post, she describes what she calls the “stress-bloat cycle,” which happens when worries about symptoms cause those very symptoms to occur. In another, she reminds followers that their self-worth is not dependent on things like productivity, weight or how well they manage their illness. The community serves to break down stigmas and shame surrounding IBS and mental health and has garnered over 14,000 Instagram followers. Drynan also hosts a You’ve Gut This Facebook group in which people with IBS can post about their experiences and ask for or provide suggestions.
To provide something even more tangible for her community, Drynan recently created a tummy diary to help those with IBS track and manage their symptoms. The journal includes sections in which you can record symptoms and practices regarding diet, stress, movement and sleep to better understand how your body responds to certain triggers.
In addition to all the tips that Drynan includes in her content, she also puts an emphasis on body positivity and feeling good in your body even when dealing with IBS flare-ups. The #mybloatedwardrobe page on her blog has helped many women who suffer from stomach pain and bloating find clothing that is both comfortable and fashionable, as pieces like bodycon dresses and skinny jeans can make a flare-up feel even more painful.
Drynan has been especially vocal about showing how not only IBS, but just day-to-day life, can cause your body to change frequently. Though societal standards of beauty claim that gaining weight is to be avoided, having IBS can cause your weight to fluctuate and your stomach to appear very different due to bloating, even on an hourly basis. Whether you have IBS or not, what our bellies and bodies look like during the day changes depending on what and when we eat, if we exercise and other factors — and that’s okay. One of Drynan’s key messages is that all bodies are beautiful and that it is natural for them to change. The most important thing is to be in tune with what is healthy for your own body.
On her Instagram, Drynan aims to challenge preconceived notions of what healthy bodies look like, frequently posting pictures showing how her stomach looks during an IBS flare-up. She also posts photos comparing how different poses and angles can make your body change from one moment to the next, highlighting the fact that bodies do not always need to look or feel the same, and that images you might see in the media never show the whole story. Drynan also encourages this body positivity through her online communities, and recently shared a video of folks with IBS showing off and celebrating their tummies. The video’s title, “All Tummies Are Worthy Tummies,” sums up the empowering messaging that is at the heart of Drynan’s content.
IBS and other chronic illnesses are often invisible, leading to a lack of conversation about how these experiences affect people’s lives. We need to talk more about them in order to share better information and minimize stigma and shame. Whether you personally have IBS, have a loved one who has it or just want to be more informed, Drynan’s community is a great place to find support. She not only has helped me understand my IBS better, but has inspired me to raise awareness about it within my own communities.