Uni-intolerant: Why do hot girls have stomach issues?

Uni-intolerant: Why do hot girls have stomach issues?

For many starting their university careers, it’s with passionate optimism — the kind where you leave your dull hometown and escape into the big exciting world of adulthood (unrestricted alcohol consumption). But barely one week into what was supposed to be my very own coming-of-age story, my body decided to wreak gastrointestinal havoc on my new life. Suddenly there I was at 18 – a time when I was meant to be young, fun, and hot –  bloated, gassy, and terrified of bread.

My stomach issues seeped into every part of my university experience. I spent lectures solely trying to hide the excruciating pain I was in. Nights out were much the same. The dining hall became hell, never knowing whether those bulk-made nachos would be the death of me or not. I couldn’t go to the library for fear of my guts announcing themselves to the entire second floor. Naturally, the relationship between my body and food deteriorated drastically. By the end of the first semester, I had renounced myself to live out the year from the safety of my 3m2 bedroom in the halls.

It was only after years of flare-ups, food elimination, and soul-searching that I realised the root cause of the problem — I had an anxiety disorder (shocker). I started going to therapy and taking antidepressants and, suddenly, I could eat whatever I wanted. Soon, I could venture far beyond the comfort of the Burns Building toilets. Like the coming-of-age films I’d yearned for as a fresher, my world opened up. It was, without a doubt, the best year of my life.
Sometime around late 2022, the ‘hot girls have stomach issues’ trend blew up on TikTok. Millions of young women and girls publicly joked about their crippling gastrointestinal problems. While it's always comforting to know someone else is in the same (quite literally) shitty boat as you, the trend is also troubling. Why do so many of us have irritable bowel syndrome? And why is university such a common catalyst? Critic Te Ārohi investigates.

The Gut and the Brain are Besties

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has, in recent years, been redefined under the category disorders of the gut-brain interaction. Scientists know now that the brain and the gut are like two joined-at-the-hip best friends, sitting together in lectures and gossiping loudly about their previous night out. That’s because the brain and the gut have a two-way form of communication — when one is giving off bad vibes, soon enough, so will the other. When your mind is stressed, so is your gastrointestinal system and vice versa. This makes it pretty easy to get trapped in that “I’m stressed about my stomach getting sore and now my stomach is sore" cycle that sees so many of us experiencing ‘hot girl stomach issues’ on a regular basis.

University is that person they both lowkey hate

University is stressful enough as it is. Not only are you trying to work out how to be a functioning adult (one that doesn’t live on Mi Goreng and the external validation of your peers), you’re also trying to get a degree. The first year of university is a period of radical lifestyle change in particular. Cast your mind back to that first month in your halls of residence. You're sleeping less than ever before, drinking far more than your fresh little liver can keep up with, and your social life is now 24/7 in the halls. Not to mention you are probably eating completely different food than you have for the past 18 years of your life. On top of all this, you want to make your parents proud. No wonder your tummy wants to tap out. Even if you don’t necessarily feel stressed, your body probably is. The result is a much longer list of dietary requirements in the dining hall by semester two. The cook in my hall used to call us ‘her specials’ — which, you know, probably didn’t help the whole situation.

Why hot girls?

The ‘hot girls have stomach issues’ trend clearly focuses on the experiences of young women, which Dr Catherine Wall, of the Gastrointestinal Unit for Translational Study (GUTS) and New Zealand Registered Dietitian, says there is some truth to. Roughly three-quarters of the patients presenting with gastrointestinal symptoms are women. Given what we know about the mind and the gut bestie relationship, and the fact that women are overrepresented in diagnoses of anxiety, the trend checks out. The response Critic received while researching the issue was overwhelming and entirely from female students who had either recovered from, or were still struggling with, chronic gut issues. Dr Wall, however, notes that the men she sees in her clinics are dealing with the same kind of problems. Perhaps cultural norms of masculinity make young men feel less comfortable talking about sore tummies or dietary problems. With that, let's acknowledge that ‘hot boys have stomach issues’ too <3

Don’t give up the glute’

When every meal ends with an awkward shuffle to the communal toilets, it's easy to think that something you’re eating is the culprit. It still might be, but Dr Wall says eliminating foods shouldn’t be your first response. More often than not, restricting and hyper-fixating on your meals can make the whole crappy thing worse. If eating becomes yet another stressor in your already chaotic life, this may add fuel to your IBS fire. Dr Wall urges you to instead keep to regular meals and a good dietary fibre intake. Also, stop having five of those mochas from your hall’s hot drink machine every day. Caffeine will not make it better, and unfortunately, neither will those sixteen standards you attempt to consume on a Friday before they kick you out of the common room at 10 pm.

Stay ‘hot girl calm’

Katie, a fellow hot girl with IBS, said the best thing she ever did was to “take a step back and look at what else was going on in her life.” She suggested it would be a good idea to find your “safe place.” Whether that’s curling up with a peppermint tea when the cramps get bad, or sitting with a hot water bottle on your lap at dinner. Either way, cut yourself some slack and let yourself relax. Get more sleep, put on a podcast, or go for a solitary mental health walk in the mornings. Ya know, all those tips your mum tells you on the phone and you roll your eyes at. As annoying as it is, they actually help. Prioritise your own comfort and health. God knows you deserve that right now.

Everybody shits

It might seem obvious, but when you're crying in the U-bar toilets while your friends wait outside slurring, “Why are you takinggg so longggg” it's harder to accept that everybody shits — even Beyoncé. Don’t isolate yourself in the name of keeping it a secret. It’s difficult to tell your new friends you need to leave Castle to find a secluded toilet with at least 3-ply but trust me, they don’t care. In fact, 9/10 times they will say, “Omg same” and you guys can throw it back to year two of primary school where toilet jokes were the height of comedy (like I’m blatantly doing now). The stress of hiding something that’s so impactful on your life will do anything but help. The same goes for on campus. You pay a ridiculous amount of money for access to university facilities — the least you can do is use the library toilets when you really need to. None of that “wait ‘til I get home” bullshit around here. Go shit, girl.

Get help

Above all, Dr Wall wants us to know that you shouldn’t ignore symptoms that are making your life so shitty. Don’t try to figure it out all on your own, seek help! No matter how complicated you think your stomach issues are, a health professional’s job is to investigate them. It might take a while but it's really important to get qualified advice and not just rely on your own #ibs searches on Instagram at 11pm. There are also a few warning signs to look out for. We all know too well that feeling when you Google your symptoms and find out you have three months left to live. But if you’ve got blood in your stool, you're losing weight rapidly or you wake up in the night for bowel movements, you should see a healthcare professional immediately. If it turns out to be nothing serious, then at least you can stop thinking about it and have one less thing to stress about. Get that shit checked.

You’re not alone

Most importantly, you’re not the only one dealing with this right now. If the ‘hot girls have stomach issues’ trend tells us anything, it’s that many of us are living through some sort of gastrointestinal turmoil in our teens and twenties. You probably feel pretty betrayed by your body right now, but I promise it gets better. Even at the age of twenty-four, if I close my eyes for long enough, I find myself back in that hall bedroom, a hot water bottle at hand and my mascara-tears staining my pillowcase. Looking back, I was doing my best in some tough circumstances. From one hot girl to another (hot boys included), I hope this story brings you and your tummy some comfort, and that one day you, too, can poop in peace. 

This article first appeared in Issue 3, 2024.
Posted 2:55pm Sunday 10th March 2024 by Jodie Evans.