It might not be ‘cool’ to talk about bloating and gut health – but Limahl is determined to spread the word about IBS
It’s not cool to talk about your stomach problems when you’re a pop star. But when you’re a pop star in your sixties, what’s the point of pretending that things worked their way back in the heyday of the ’80s?
You have to be honest about the realities of life, insists a disarmingly honest Limahl – the spiky-haired frontman of 1980s hits Kajagoogoo, who is promoting his new Christmas single, One Wish for Christmas.
“As you get older your joints, eyesight, hips and knees wear out, and I think the belly and gut, etc., which are constantly working, is just another thing that happens,” explains Limahl, who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and lactose intolerance. “And I’m 63, you can’t ignore that. People mainly remember me from 40 years ago, when I was 23, so I feel the responsibility of not looking too old and decrepit. It takes effort! I haven’t kissed my gray – it looks great on George Clooney, but I don’t want it on me!
The singer held up well and really doesn’t look much different from the ’80s idol he once was (although the hair is softer than spiky now, and no longer in two-tone black and white, but certainly not gray or sparse). But his life isn’t limited to singing and pictures – health is of course vitally important too, and he has had issues with his digestive system for years. However, he says he found the root of the problem earlier this year.
“I think the IBS has been preparing for a few years and has reached its peak this year,” he reveals. “It seemed like everything I ate was causing bloating which is very uncomfortable and looks awful. If I was performing that day I had gotten to the point where I didn’t want to eat anymore because I was afraid to go on stage and burst out of my clothes and look like I put five stones in. I look pregnant if I eat the wrong things it’s awful.
“With IBS there are different symptoms for different people. Some people have diarrhea, but in me it’s the opposite, I can be constipated, but it makes the problem worse. And of course, it’s not very cool to talk about constipation as a pop star! But I have to face the realities of life, like everyone else. There is mental and physical pain involved.
Limahl was finally diagnosed with IBS after undergoing blood tests, an endoscopy and a CT scan, and admits, “When it started, oh my God, I was worried! I thought of the worst.
He went to see a trained nutritionist, who told him his problem was with FODMAP foods – an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols – simple sugars that are sometimes poorly absorbed and quickly fermented by the gut.
“Researchers have found that people with IBS cannot tolerate certain sugars in food,” says Limahl. “They don’t get digested, and once they reach the colon all the bad bacteria go away, ‘Woo-hoo, it’s party time!’ and create gas by consuming undigested sugars. I think I explained it well!
With advice from her nutritionist, Limahl went on an elimination diet for three months to find out exactly which foods were causing her problems. Her diet is now more restricted – but probably not in the way most people would expect a stomach-friendly diet to be.
“There are so many foods that affect me,” he says. “I have an app that I use to check foods and have become an expert at reading food labels. The two biggest surprises for me were the honey, which is high in fructose, and the dried fruits. It’s weird – I can have an orange, but I can’t have orange juice because it’s high in fructose. I can’t eat garlic, and I can have red peppers, but not yellow or green. He can also eat green beans – but only 15 of them.
“There are a lot of things that end in ‘ol’ that are often found in manufactured cakes and cookies that I can’t have. I just have to find what I can eat. You have to dig in and make it work for you and then you’re good to go. I thank my lucky stars – at least I can eat some stuff. I suddenly got my life back!
He explains that some FODMAPS are suitable for certain people, and emphasizes: “It’s very individual. IBS is such a massive, broad spectrum umbrella. It really restricts my eating, but I’d rather be in control than be stressed out about it all the time. If you decide to blow yourself up for a special occasion, you know you are going to be in pain for two days, but that’s okay, the choice is yours.
Around the same time that his IBS was becoming increasingly problematic, Limahl also discovered that he was lactose intolerant. However, he says he now carries a supplement containing an enzyme to help him tolerate lactose. “It’s about taking back some control. I also carry a supplement to help me tolerate oligosaccharide foods like beans, peas, lentils, and even oats.
This smart little supplement means he can have porridge for his breakfast every day. “I can have bananas in it, but only a third of a firm banana, otherwise it’s a problem for me,” he says.
In addition to being physically affected when he eats the wrong foods, Limahl, who lives with his partner Steve in Hertfordshire, admits that IBS also affects his mental health. “You feel mentally ill when you eat something that is not right for you. I look down, my stomach is swollen, I feel uncomfortable. It keeps you from focusing on whatever you’re doing, and it lasts for hours – it’s pretty awful. I think there are millions of people around the world who suffer from this type of symptoms.
“My nutritionist says that in the near future, she believes foods low in FODMAP will be as common in restaurants as vegan foods are today. It’s a new science that people are discovering, and I’m happy to be able to talk about it and hopefully get the word out.
Limahl’s new single One Wish For Christmas is out now.
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