Books I Want to Read in 2017

Sunday, 8 January 2017

In 2016, I set myself a challenge on Goodreads to read 6 books in the year. That might seem like a small number, but that's because I'm not a very big reader. I do, however, want to be. I joined Goodreads as I thought it would encourage me to read more and it does. In fact, I actually ended up reading 12 books this year. Double my actual goal, which is an amazing achievement for me. This is the most I've ever read in a year! With this in mind, I think in 2017 I will set myself a goal of 10. I don't want to aim higher than my achievement because I'm amazed I even reached 12. I also want it to be a challenge, but to still be achievable. So here are some books I'd like to read in 2017. I do wonder if I'll end up not reading some of them as I imagine I'll most likely come across others I'll read instead which are not on this list - for example new releases and other finds! The book summaries and cover photos are taken from Goodreads.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

The Princess Diarist is Carrie Fisher’s intimate, hilarious and revealing recollection of what happened behind the scenes on one of the most famous film sets of all time, the first Star Wars movie.

When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a (sort-of) regular teenager.

THE ROBBER BRIDE by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride is inspired by "The Robber Bridegroom," a wonderfully grisly tale from the Brothers Grimm in which an evil groom lures three maidens into his lair and devours them, one by one. But in her version, Atwood brilliantly recasts the monster as Zenia, a villainess of demonic proportions, and sets her loose in the lives of three friends, Tony, Charis, and Roz. All three "have lost men, spirit, money, and time to their old college acquaintance, Zenia. At various times, and in various emotional disguises, Zenia has insinuated her way into their lives and practically demolished them.

To Tony, who almost lost her husband and jeopardized her academic career, Zenia is 'a lurking enemy commando.' To Roz, who did lose her husband and almost her magazine, Zenia is 'a cold and treacherous bitch.' To Charis, who lost a boyfriend, quarts of vegetable juice and some pet chickens, Zenia is a kind of zombie, maybe 'soulless'" (Lorrie Moore, New York Times Book Review). In love and war, illusion and deceit, Zenia's subterranean malevolence takes us deep into her enemies' pasts.

THE EDIBLE WOMAN by Margaret Atwood
Marian is determined to be ordinary. She lays her head gently on the shoulder of her serious fiancee and quietly awaits marriage. But she didn't count on an inner rebellion that would rock her stable routine, and her digestion. Marriage a la mode, Marian discovers, is something she literally can't stomach ... The Edible Woman is a funny, engaging novel about emotional cannibalism, men and women, and the desire to be consumed.

When we first meet the extraordinary young actress Suzanne Vale, she’s feeling like “something on the bottom of someone’s shoe, and not even someone interesting.” Suzanne is in the harrowing and hilarious throes of drug rehabilitation, trying to understand what happened to her life and how she managed to land in a “drug hospital.”

Just as Fisher’s first film role—the precocious teenager in Shampoo—echoed her own Beverly Hills upbringing, her first book is set within the world she knows better than anyone else: Hollywood. This stunning literary debut chronicles Suzanne’s vivid, excruciatingly funny experiences inside the clinic and as she comes to terms with life in the outside world. Postcards from the Edge is more than a book about stardom and drugs. It is a revealing look at the dangers—and delights—of all our addictions, from money and success to sex and insecurity.

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.

Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.

SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn
Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows, a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family's Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

THE GIRLS by Emma Cline
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

THE PRICE OF SALT (Or CAROL) by Patricia Highsmith
Arguably Patricia Highsmith's finest, The Price of Salt is story of Therese Belivet, a stage designer trapped in a department-store day job, whose salvation arrives one day in the form of Carol Aird, an alluring suburban housewife in the throes of a divorce. They fall in love and set out across the United States, pursued by a private investigator who eventually blackmails Carol into a choice between her daughter and her lover. With this reissue, The Price of Salt may finally be recognized as a major twentieth-century American novel.

A Guide to IBS: Everything You Should Try to Ease Symptoms

Thursday, 5 January 2017

If you’ve just been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and/or are experiencing your first major flare-up, you may be feeling scared, lost and helpless. Whilst IBS is a lifelong functional disorder, there are certainly ways to manage and reduce symptoms, but those ways tend to be different for everybody and there are a lot of them.

With IBS, you will have periods where you symptoms flare up and periods where there are little to no symptoms. Sometimes flare ups seem to last forever and that is the most tiresome and frustrating part. Some people find that certain lifestyle changes help them to manage or reduce their symptoms, but remember there is no “cure” and sometimes even eating the safest foods, taking the best medications and doing a decent amount of exercise isn’t enough to prevent flare ups. This is because IBS is still a functional disorder after all and that’s unfortunately just how it operates.

In November 2016, I had my first bad bout of IBS symptoms and honestly I’m still experiencing them. It took me a lot of research to find everything that you should give a try to help with your IBS symptoms. But finding out what works for you is lengthy process which is very frustrating. It’s also much harder going in when you know nothing and have to compile all the research yourself. This is the main reason why I’ve decided to put together this guide/list. The information out there can often be conflicting, confusing and even expensive! It’s a daunting process and I’d like to help in the best ways I can, so here is what I’ve found out over the past few months and am, or will be, trying for myself.

Note that these tips are based on the fact that I live in the UK, so some things may be slightly different, harder to obtain or more expensive if you live elsewhere. I am also not a professional and this is based on my research and my experiences. 

So here’s the very long answer to the question: what is everything I should be trying to ease or manage my symptoms?

1. Find A Good Doctor
Having a good support team is really helpful for anything, but especially for IBS as some doctors very well may tell you “it’s not curable, you’ve got to learn to live with it” which is not comforting and is not necessarily true. It also means they won’t be willing to try everything with you. I’ve seen multiple doctors (and even a specialist) regarding my IBS and I noticed that some were more supportive and sympathetic than others. Sometimes it cannot be helped, but it’s much more accommodating to find one doctor you trust to oversee your health and perhaps create a care plan. (I see multiple doctors due to appointment times and urgency, and I have to re-explain my entire history whilst they look through my patient record). You may also find that you will have to be the one to suggest some of the following things in this list to them. This is because they either will not know about them or may have not considered it before. A good doctor should be open to this and may even research certain things with you.

2. Test For Other Causes and Food Allergies/Sensitivities  
If you’ve been diagnosed with IBS, then you may have been tested for these already. However, it’s important that other possible causes or contributors such as SIBO, Celiac Disease, lactose intolerance, wheat/gluten sensitivity, milk allergy and inflammatory bowel disease are ruled out. (There are a few other things that they will also test for.) You can test for these by providing a stool sample and a breath test (for lactose intolerance/SIBO). You don’t need a colonoscopy (a horrible, invasive procedure) to check for inflammatory bowel disease and cancer as they can check for inflammation using stool samples. However, keep in mind that a colonoscopy is the most accurate. Ruling other things out may also help you to relieve some stress if you're worrying over whether or not IBS could be something else. 

3. Try IBS Medications 
There are many medications out there that aid the main IBS symptoms: pain and discomfort, bloating, changes in stools (diarrhoea, constipation). It’s worth trying these and making sure you give them a good go. Medication works for some, and doesn’t for others. There are many different types of medications so be sure to go back and ask for another if you’re experiencing side effects or it’s not really working for you.

Here are some popular ones that you may have already heard of or may have tried already:
  • Antispasmodics such as Buscopan and Colofac: relaxes muscle spasms and provides targeted and gentle relief of abdominal pain.
  • Peppermint oil such as Mintec to help with bloating and wind. May also help with tummy pains, spasms and nausea. (Peppermint tea is also recommended)
  • Laxatives which can help relieve constipation. It’s recommended to start at low doses. You may wish to cut tablets in half. (I’ve been prescribed Lactulose before which I used once. However, it’s recommended to avoid this if you have IBS).
  • Anti-mobility tablets such as Imodium to help stop diarrhoea by slowing down the movement of the gut.
  • Low-dose Antidepressants such as Duloxetine which can help to reduce stomach pain and cramping.
  • Low-dose Tricyclic Antidepressants such as Amitriptyline for pain and even anxiety relief associated with IBS. May also help if diarrhoea is a main symptom.

4. Diet Overhaul & Request to See a Dietitian 
This section is a big one because food may be playing a very important part in your IBS symptoms and there are many things to do about it. (And when I say “diet,” I don’t mean in terms of weight loss – I mean the literal Oxford Dictionary definition of just “the kinds of food that a person habitually eats.”) Here are the top three things I think you need to try.

  1. Firstly, you should keep a food symptom diary. In here record absolutely everything you need and drink and write down what your IBS symptoms, including bowel movements, were like. You may notice some trigger foods yourself and this can also be handy thing to pass to your dietitian who may notice something you didn’t.
  2. Secondly, be sure you get tested for food allergies and sensitivities. It is important to note, however, that even if these tests come back clear it is still possible that you may personally find lactose, milk, wheat or glucose hard to digest. This means it may still be an issue and could be irritating your bowels and therefore triggering symptoms. It may also mean that you’re fine with wheat, but during a flare up your body just CANNOT handle wheat. I know, it’s terribly daunting and confusing.
  3. Thirdly, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian. You can do everything yourself, but I find it will be much easier if you have somebody with the right knowledge who is supportive, can also help you identity food triggers and can ensure that you carry out each diet effectively.

Low FODMAP & Reintroduction Diet

People with IBS typically try going lactose and/or milk free (lactose intolerance and milk allergies are not the same thing) and wheat/gluten free (I’ve seen some people say they’re fine with wheat but not really with gluten and vice versa).

The most efficient way to cover everything and find out what your personal food triggers are is to do the FODMAP reintroduction diet which includes two parts. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. These are types of carbohydrates which are not completely absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and can be easily fermented by gut bacteria. This can lead to bloating due to the gases released during that process. This is a lengthy process that is something that is recommended you do with a trained dietitian and is probably what they will first suggest as is it classed as the only scientifically proven method of treating IBS.

The first step is to remove all foods containing high FODMAPs from your diet, which leaves you eating clean foods for about a month. This allows your body to adjust so you can see what your IBS symptoms are like without the risk of any problem foods. The second step is the reintroduction phase. There are 10 FODMAP groups which will need to be reintroduced one at a time, and each one will be tested over a course of 3 days followed by a 3 day gap. In total, the process takes around 9 to 10 weeks to complete. Reintroducing one group at a time allows you to easily identity what the culprit was if you have a reaction as it doesn’t get confused with other foods.

You can find more information about this, with examples, by visiting this link:

Also, here is a good and clear resource that lists both low and high FODMAP foods:

General Food & Eating Tips for IBS
  • You may find it helpful to cut down on insoluble fibre if your main symptom is diarrhoea. This includes: wholegrain bread, bran, cereals, nuts and seeds. It may help to also avoid the skin, pith and pips from fruit and veg.
  • If constipation is your main symptom, you may find it helps to increase the amount of soluble fibre in your diet (as well as the amount of water you drink). This includes: oats, barely, rye, fruit and root vegetables (such as carrots and potatoes).
  • Have three small regular meals in the day and take time when eating. It’s recommended to eat every 3 to 4 hours.
  • Don’t miss meals or leave long gaps between eating as your bowels will work more effectively if you’re not skipping meals and/or then overwhelming your stomach with huge dinner in the evening as this can cause bloating, cramps etc.
  • Drinking a lot (8 cups) of water (or at least non-caffeinated drinks) throughout the day is a good way to prevent constipation and keep your digestive system in flow.
  • Limit fresh fruit to 3 portions a day (approx 80g).
  • If you have diarrhoea, avoid sorbitol. It is an artificial sweetener found in sugar-free sweets, including gum and some drinks.
  • Eating oats (oat-based breakfast cereal or porridge) and linseeds (up to one tablespoon a day) may help to reduce wind and bloating.
  • Reduce or cut out alcohol and fizzy drinks.
  • Limit tea and coffee to 3 cups per day or cut out.
  • Reduce intake of resistant starch which is often found in processed or re-cooked foods.

5. SIBO and Probiotics
Whilst there is no real cause for IBS, a number of studies have suggested that IBS symptoms may be worsened by an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut which is known as SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). They have the same sort of symptoms too: bloating, gas, abdominal pain and cramps, diarrhoea and (less likely) constipation. This is why probiotics are often suggested to help with IBS, as they promote health bacteria in the gut. (In addition, if you are tested positive for SIBO, then an IBS friendly diet can be beneficial but is not the only way to treat SIBO as it needs a different approach). You can try asking a doctor for the lactulose breath test, though if this is problematic you should go ahead and try a probiotic regardless just to see! 

Choosing a probiotic may seem intimidating at first and the most successful one is said to be Symprove which I recommend you try if you can afford it as many professionals and bloggers have said it works wonders. However, if it's too expensive then there are others you can try. When asking my doctor if it mattered which probiotic I trial, he said it didn’t matter and that any is fine (so I'm trying this one). However, I’ve found four things online that you may want to consider in your choice:

  1. The recommended amount of friendly bacteria per tablet for those with bad digestive health is 10 to 15 billion (although mine only has 1 billion and I think it's helping)
  2. It should contain Bifidobacterium
  3. The bacteria also needs to be alive, of course, and there is a test you can perform to do this (I read a review of a product where someone said they tested it and the bacteria was dead)
  4. NICE recommends taking a probiotic as advised by the manufacturer for at least 4 weeks whilst monitoring the effects

Overall, you should choose a probiotic which is suitable for your symptoms and/or price range. For example, here are some probiotics that are targeted at specific IBS symptoms:

Helpful reading on SIBO and its relationship with IBS:

6. Stress & Exercise 
Many people with IBS find that exercise helps to relieve their symptoms. The NHS website says it’s recommended to do a minimum of 150 minutes (30 mins per day for 5 days) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking per week. The exercise should be strenuous enough to increase your heart and breathing rates. Don't worry if this seems too scary or your experiencing too much pain or discomfort. because you can start small, work your way up and do what you can on the days when you're feeling okay. 
Exercise helps the gastrointestinal system: If your body is sluggish, your stomach will follow suit; if your body is fit and active, your stomach will be healthier and better regulated. For example, in a 2011 study, IBS sufferers who were counselled to exercise for 20 to 30 minutes, three to five days a week, saw a dramatic improvement in abdominal pain, stool problems, and other symptoms.
Stress is also a major trigger of IBS, so you should aim to reduce it where possible by finding different ways to relax your body and mind. This can be very hard and so you may find exercise such as yoga, pilates or walking, running and swimming beneficial. You may also find a talking therapy such as stress counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) very useful. I definitely recommend these are I too find relaxing and not stressing out quite difficult. It can also be troublesome to try and de-stress when IBS itself adds to your stress or has become the main contributor. 

Useful Beginner Yoga Videos

Useful Apps For Reducing Stress/Anxiety
  • Headspace (I currently use this one)
  • Calm 
  • Sattva
  • The Mindfulness App
  • More

Meditation Videos

7. Anxiety & Depression and the use of psychological therapies with IBS
Anxiety and depression are very commonly linked to IBS, but these things don’t cause IBS. One of the reasons so many people who have IBS also suffer from anxiety disorders and depression is because the nervous system and digestive system are so closely linked. In fact, around 95% of Serotonin – the happy chemical – is actually produced in the gut. According to Edward Blanchard, PhD, a professor or psychology, around 60% of IBS patients will also meet the criteria for one of more psychiatric disorder with the most common one being generalised anxiety disorder.

IBS can be troublesome in people with anxiety disorders already as the symptoms and worry of IBS may be hard to deal with and become troublesome. Anxiety disorders also share common symptoms with IBS, such as palpitations, sweating, dizziness, an upset stomach and diarrhoea. With IBS, this means that the symptoms become more prominent and may be confused with anxiety or trigger anxiety.

IBS may also cause anxiety due to its unpleasant digestive symptoms happening during unpredictable and inconvenient times. It's best to try and treat IBS in order to eliminate the overall anxiety. However, IBS can persist and may take a while before symptoms are successful eased. With this in mind, it is sometimes better to treat the anxiety with medication and/or therapies to give you better control and better coping strategies until your anxiety dies down, and you become more comfortable and accepting with your constant symptoms and potential flare ups. 

Antidepressants are often given to treat anxiety and depression – as mentioned previously under the medications section – and there are some which have also shown to improve IBS symptoms as well.

Also, keep in mind that IBS is referred to as a brain-gut functional disorder, which is why exercise and talking therapies including CBT can also help with IBS as you target your anxiety and/or depression. Targeting IBS with these therapies will also help treat the anxiety you may have along with it. 

Even without anxiety and/or depression, a talking therapy may be helpful and suggested for IBS if your symptoms are still causing problems after 12 months of treatment. Talking about your problems and worries can be very effective in relieving your stress associated with the ongoing pain, discomfort and frustration. It can also help to try and “retrain” the brain. Hypnotherapy is often recommended as a good IBS treatment.

8. Other IBS Symptoms You Should Be Aware Of
There are so many symptoms that are part of IBS, including ones that are not commonly mentioned. I was/am experiencing a lot of these and it worried me because I didn’t understand why, when in reality it was just because of my IBS. These include:
  • Dizziness 
  • Hot flashes
  • Backache 
  • Feeling sick/nausea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Heartburn 
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle pains
  • Bladder issues (irritable bladder)

9. Investigate Other Health Issues
I’ve had so much health anxiety worrying that my IBS is something else due to all the symptoms I was experiencing. It also didn't help that my symptoms didn't seem to be settling no matter what I tried. Having loads of tests done and finding out what could be causing other physical symptoms has definitely calmed me down a little in believing that yes this is just IBS. I also recently had my blood tested for pretty much everything from bone issues and thyroid problems to vitamin and blood glucose levels. I basically had a full MOT and I was told I have a Vitamin D Deficiency and given some tablets! I’m hoping this can explain some of the shittiness I feel and hopefully the tablets will help me feel better overall. There’s nothing worse than having other health issues alongside your IBS which can easily be detected and treated. Plus, if you check everything out then it may help to ease some stress if you're a worrier/have an anxiety disorder like me. Even the anxiety itself can cause horrible ongoing symptoms such as temperature changes, palpitations and dizziness. 

10. Read About Other People's Experiences
Since my IBS got dramatically worse, I’ve come across and read so many blogs about other people’s experiences with their IBS. It’s really helped seeing that other people have or are struggling as much as I am. It sucks that they’re also experiencing it, but it’s great to know that you’re not alone. It may also give you some ideas of things to try and it may encourage you to really put the effort into doing things like exercising if you can really see the change in someone else’s life. A lot of these health and lifestyle bloggers are also open to talking to you about your IBS struggles too as they know how hard it can be. There is also a Facebook group called The Gut Empire which is a great way to meet and talk to people experiencing the exact same thing you are. It’s a great network for guidance and support!

Helpful blogs:
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