Book Review: IBS: 365 Tips for Living Well

Recently, IBS Impact had the opportunity to read one of the latest books on IBS written for affected people and their family members, IBS: 365 Tips for Living Well by Barbara B. Bolen, PhD (Demos Health: 2016).

Dr. Bolen is a psychologist and health coach in private practice in the Long Island region of New York, and a health writer with particular interest and experience in IBS and other GI conditions. For many years, she has been the IBS Guide for About.com. She is also the author of Breaking the Bonds of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Psychological Approach to Regaining Control of Your Life  (New Harbinger Publications: 2000) based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques shown to be effective for many people with IBS. She is co-author, with Jeffrey D. Roberts, of IBS Chat: Real Life Stories and Solutions (iUniverse: 2007), and coauthor, with Kathleen Bradley, CPC, of The Everything Guide to the Low-FODMAP Diet: A Healthy Plan for Managing IBS and Other Digestive  (Adams Media: 2014). The latter book was reviewed on this blog on November 17, 2014.

IBS: 365 Tips for Living Well is 155 pages long, including all addenda and the index, in the print edition.  It also appears to be available as a Kindle e-book. Similar to Dr. Bolen’s About.com blog, it is written in a scientifically accurate but non-technical language that is easily accessible to most readers who may not have a scientific background. All material is organized into 13 short chapters with a clear table of contents and index. The 365 tips are brief, ranging from a few sentences to a single long paragraph. They are numbered sequentially with the numbers in shaded boxes that catch the eye. Each tip has its own heading with the main point. All headings for tips and chapters are in larger, bolder font for easy readability. Dr Bolen states in her introduction that the format was intentionally designed not to overwhelm readers with information so that individuals can read whatever parts are of interest to them at a given time at their own pace. This should be particularly helpful to readers with busy lives, especially those who are relatively new to information about IBS.

The first chapter focuses on what IBS is, what it is not, and few other conditions that may account for symptoms or coexist with IBS. The second chapter addresses building an effective relationship with one’s doctor, a factor that expert IBS professionals have identified as a strong influence in positive, long-term outcomes for people with IBS. The third and fourth chapters’ tips provide a brief overview of diagnosis, available medications and non-medication options including psychological treatments for IBS. The fifth, sixth and seventh chapters cover various aspects of eating with IBS to minimize common symptoms, from lifestyle changes to diets. The eighth chapter is about handling various aspects of certain symptoms, including possible accidents.

The ninth and tenth chapters are a wealth of tips related to daily life, including work, school, legal protections in the U.S., daily getting around in public as well as more distant travel,  disclosure (or not) of one’s IBS to others, social outings, restaurants, dating and sex life. The eleventh chapter is devoted to family life: the person with IBS and his/her relationship with his or her spouse or partner, parenting when the parent has IBS, and parenting when the child has IBS. Curiously, there are no tips in this section directed at the spouse or partner or other relatives of adults with IBS, but this is a minor omission Dr. Bolen has addressed in her other work in the past.

The twelfth chapter focuses on stress management techniques, and interestingly, includes specific mention of finances, which are a common stressor for many people in general and may become complicated by unpredictable chronic conditions like IBS with possibly increased expenses or potential difficulties maintaining employment. The thirteenth chapter has general, self care tips for healthy living not specific to IBS, such as good sleep habits. The back of the book also includes two pages of “Essential Resources” which are books, organizations and websites that Dr. Bolen suggests for further information. IBS Impact thanks her for including our main website on her list, which was an unsolicited surprise. A bibliography of her scientific sources, acknowledgements and the index round out the book. A few of the tips that appear in different chapters appear to be similar repeats, but again, this is a minor issue.

Overall, the information in IBS: 365 Tips for Living Well appears to be scientifically accurate, balanced and up-to-date as of its publication date of 2016. The advice is generally consistent with the multidisciplinary, biopsychosocial approach advocated by functional GI experts, although Dr. Bolen is slightly more open to controversial theories, such as small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and alternative diets than some professionals.

Unsurprisingly, given her background as a psychologist and relative of an individual with IBS, the most compelling parts of the book address how to deal with the wide-ranging emotional and practical daily challenges of an unpredictable chronic condition for which resources in most local communities are few and far between. Although there are many published books on various aspects of IBS written for affected people, most give relatively little attention to the fine details of how people are going to live long-term with IBS once we have run the gamut of diagnosis and currently available interventions. Dr. Bolen’s advice on this complex subject is consistently focused, easily understandable and down to earth. She demonstrates empathy for everyone involved: people with IBS, family members and her fellow professionals, balanced with realism. (“Tip 45: Keep Your Expectations Reasonable.”) There are no extreme promises of quick fix cures to be found here, but plenty of reassurance, guidance and hope. (“Tip 306: Keep It in the Moment.”)

Very devoted readers of Dr. Bolen’s blog and books will find much of this advice already familiar, but pleasantly so. For those relatively new to IBS, this is an excellent, non-intimidating overview of many topics to begin one’s education on IBS.  IBS Impact encourages readers and their families to continue to read and learn widely from reputable, scientifically accurate sources, such as the ones listed in the “Additional Resources” section of the book, Dr. Bolen’s About.com blog, and the many IBS-related links on this blog, the various pages of IBS Impact’s main website, and IBS Impact’s social media. Those who have already lived with IBS for many months, years or decades can still find individual chapters or tips of information they may not have encountered before that may be helpful in managing their lives or in educating those around them. This is a very solid addition to Dr. Bolen’s work and to the reputable resources available to the IBS community.

The copy of the book used for this review was purchased from a major retailer and Dr. Bolen was not aware in advance that this post would be written. IBS Impact receives no funding for this review or for any sales of the book. The observations and phrasing expressed here are original, independent, and not dictated in any way by the book’s author or any publicist. As with all of the information on this blog, our main website and social media, it is provided in the interest of scientifically accurate public awareness and advocacy, and assisting blog readers dealing with IBS to make informed choices for themselves or their families.

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