Although she’d been dealing with stomach issues off and on for years, Lauren Council remembers the exact moment her pain changed everything.
She recalls waking up one night in agony, feeling a horrible stabbing pain in her abdomen. When she went to urgent care, they suggested it was a virus, but that diagnosis seemed off to her. After seeing a gastroenterologist for a second opinion, she got a better idea of what she was facing: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). As soon as Council heard that, it felt like a wake-up call.
“That was two years ago, so I was only 25, and it felt like I was facing a whole lifetime of being sick,” says the Ripon, California, native. “I thought, I could go down that path, or I could finally do something about it.”
At that point, she was at her heaviest weight of 270 and had struggled with binge eating since she was a child. Constant bullying while she was growing up made the problem worse, and then, heartbreakingly, she lost her mother to breast cancer just a week before her high school graduation.
“I’m definitely an emotional eater, and I was good at hiding my binge eating so no one would know,” she says. “I got to the point where I expected this would be my life; it would be how I coped with everything.”
A few years later, in college, she decided to start eating healthier after a mortifying experience at an amusement park, where she was asked to get off a roller coaster due to her weight. But the effort was short-lived, and Council soon returned to her more destructive eating habits.
“It really took me getting very sick to see that I needed a change,” she says. “I just didn’t want to feel like this forever. And I didn’t want to have to structure my life around my IBS.”
Council experimented with giving up dairy and gluten, which seemed to aggravate her symptoms, and she lost 20 pounds. She began integrating more fruits and vegetables into her meals and using MyFitnessPal to track her food — not just for weight loss, but also as a way to understand which foods might trigger IBS symptoms more than others.
Her consistency paid off in reduced IBS problems and no more ER visits. After a month and a half of food tracking, her improved energy levels inspired Council to take the next step, one she’d always found incredibly terrifying: going to the gym.
“I hated working out, I even hated the idea of working out,” she says. “But I signed up right away for personal training sessions so I wouldn’t give up immediately. And it’s funny now to even think about that mindset, because now it’s a passion of mine.”
Today, Council is down 103 pounds and has been honest about her struggles, both in therapy and on social media. She says admitting that binge eating will always be a challenge has helped her deal with the mental battle that comes with food addiction.
“It’s been hard sometimes, I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” she notes. “I’ve had a few relapse binge episodes and it’s the worst feeling, but as soon as it stops, I get my mind back to where it needs to be. We are truly capable of so much more than we think.”
MyFitnessPal has also helped her stay accountable, she adds. Seeing the numbers involved with her food and activity helps Council make decisions about what she’s eating on a daily basis. And now her IBS symptoms are minimal to non-existent, which has been a huge relief.
“What continues to motivate me is my mom,” she says. “She pushed me to work hard and stay motivated, and she will always be a huge inspiration for everything I do. And I hope to be that for others, too. I wasn’t someone who was once athletic and gained weight — I’ve struggled most of my life with this. But I started from zero, and I did it … and I truly believe that if I can do it, anybody can.”