• Lara Schreiber

High pressure sports and IBS: how Kamila tackles the balance

Updated: May 6, 2021

You may be oh-too-familiar with the way IBS impacts your lifestyle and activity levels. It may be hard to find exercise or activity types that help, or at least, do not interfere with your symptoms. But what do you do if high-intensity exercise is an integral part of your life?

We had a conversation with Kamila Tan, a pro beach volleyball player from San Diego, California. She’s played collegiate indoor and beach volleyball at the highest level and now competes on the AVP, the American Pro beach volleyball Tour. Having had IBS symptoms her whole life, she knows the struggle so many of us deal with every day. After all, IBS didn’t stop her from pursuing her dreams.

Fast-forward to today, Kamila is a mental health advocate, aspiring professional beach volleyball athlete, a health coach, and a university researcher.

When did you start having IBS symptoms?

I’ve had IBS symptoms for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve experienced consistent (and sometimes painful) bloating almost every time I ate something. I’ve experienced inconsistencies in my bowel movements, and I’ve gradually learned that my symptoms worsen when I feel anxious or highly stressed. However, as many times as I’ve told my doctors about these symptoms, I was never officially diagnosed with IBS.

What did you do when you first started to notice something is wrong with your gut?

I thought I could “fix” my gut by changing my diet. I started to eat more fruits and vegetables when I was in college, and began to research what I could do to improve my digestion. However, everything I tried (on my own) didn’t seem to work, and I continued to experience discomfort daily. Unfortunately, these symptoms contributed to an onset of eating disorders, and I struggled with anorexia for almost 5 years of my life - in college and the few years following my graduation. I was convinced that if I ate less and restricted certain foods, my gut would feel better.

Do you notice a connection between having IBS and being an elite athlete?

I can’t confidently say that my IBS symptoms are directly connected to my experience as an elite athlete; however, I can confidently say that being an elite athlete made me far more aware of my symptoms than if I wasn’t one. As athletes, we are trained to be far more in-tune with our bodies than the average person. Additionally, wearing tight uniforms made me acutely aware of whenever I felt bloated or uncomfortable in my stomach.

Does IBS affect your athlete life in any way?

Absolutely. Being a beach volleyball player, not only can I feel when my stomach is bloated, but often I think that others can see the bloating in my stomach, too. On top of feeling so uncomfortable, my body is on display for everyone watching because beach volleyball players compete in bikinis or very tight clothing. Whenever I had an IBS flare-up and had to compete at the same time, it would no doubt affect my play (usually not in a positive way). I often wish that I could compete without worrying about being bloated. I try to accept it and move on, or just put it out of my mind entirely, but someday I hope I’ll know what that truly feels like to compete without feeling bloated or inflamed.

How do you handle IBS flare-ups?

I’ve been fortunate to learn a lot of tools to take care of myself. I try to distract myself with work, TV, reading, or some form of art to take my mind off the uncomfortable symptoms I’m feeling. I practise deep breathing, and remind myself that these feelings and sensations are temporary and will eventually go away.

If you could change one thing about having IBS, what would it be?

I would change how chronic it is… I’m often frustrated that I have to deal with it almost every day. I also get frustrated that I’ve tried SO many things to help it, but nothing seems to fix IBS permanently. I’ve learned how to manage and accept it, but I do wish there was some sort of “cure”.

Have you tried the Zemedy app yourself?

Yes, and it’s been a great experience so far! It seems like a fantastic guide for helping those who experience IBS develop many tools for managing it effectively. When you’re dealing with a chronic condition, it’s important to know you’re not alone in that. It’s really nice that someone has developed an app specifically for this condition. Because IBS is so chronic, it’s nice to have a guide and a list of resources on-hand daily.

Are you inspired to be active and move your body now? Then start small, you don’t have to become a pro athlete. Go for a walk, take a yoga class or ride your bike to work tomorrow.

If you need some inspiration, check out this article about the 4 best exercises for IBS.

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