Sharples-related IBS: A Hidden Epidemic

We’ve all been there: rushing to a morning class, a pit stop at the bathroom becomes a ten minute ordeal as the contents of last night’s Sharples bar are forcibly expelled from your bowels. You don’t get used to it; it never gets easier. It’ll catch you at home, in class, at work, in Hobbs, or at McCabe. You may not think you have it, but you do.

As Louisa Grenham ’19 eloquently puts it: “It’s a feeling … it’s a state of being … it’s the feeling that rocks have formed in the pit of your stomach and that the shit you’re about to take might rip your asshole in two.”

It’s Sharples Related Irritable Bowel Syndrome* and it has us by the balls.

*Not to be confused with actual Irritable Bowel Syndrome which is in fact a medical condition, unlike Sharples Related Irritable Bowel Syndrome which is better described as a campus-wide pandemic.  

A conversation between Grenham and the author

“For me it’s always worse when I come back from break or something where I’m eating elsewhere,” Grenham says. “I don’t think that Sharples food is particularly bad, just that any mass produced food is its own beast. But that said … I think that my body is just not as equipped for it as it used to be.”

Few students were brave enough to share their stories of poop gone wrong. When asked for a quote, one anonymous sophomore said, “On the record: nothing. Off the record: I shit weird.”

But despite the stigma and silence, no one I spoke to seemed surprised, or in doubt of the existence of such a problem. “It’s a pervasive issue in our community,” Emma Dulski ’22 says.

“Oh, I believe it,” Morgin Goldberg ’19 confirmed. “I’m nauseous all the time. I feel like shit every day here.”

It’s near impossible to avoid the curse entirely, but pasta bar is a particularly bad offender.

Grenham says, “Caribbean bar is usually fine. Breakfast is fine; Sharples brunch is probably the best Sharples meal, because you have options. Countless options.”

Matt Koucky ’22 suggests that vegetarian and vegan options may limit the effects of Sharples IBS.

Then there’s the pot roast conundrum — one of the best Sharples dinners, but one of the worst aggravators of Sharples IBS. As an outspoken fish taco bar fan, it’s been relatively safe, but never certain. Each return to Sharples for a good bar is a cruel reawakening that dooms me to start my morning stuck in the Willets second south bathroom, arguably the worst bathroom on campus. The combination of Sharples IBS and one-ply toilet paper is a dangerous one.

Grenham also urges students to “eat slowly. Whenever I go to Sharples I feel like I’m so overwhelmed with options that I want to eat all of it. Eat slowly, drink ginger ale — a glass with a fourth of ginger ale, soda water, squeeze lemon into it, and drink that between every bite. It helps you digest. Know your limits — know your strengths, know your limits, and move off campus.”

This semester, between my Penn class twice a week, Kohlberg chicken tikka, and my unhealthy obsession with Bamboo Bistro’s pork soup dumplings, I’ve been eating at Sharples much less than I did in the fall. My OneCard account tells me I’ve only used twenty meal swipes at Sharples since January 21. With that being said, Sharples IBS has still been in full force, making me wonder whether Sharples is to blame in the first place or if it’s simply a combination of not having home-cooked meals from dad, constantly being on the run, and eating way too much to overcompensate for everything else at Swarthmore.

Hence, this is not an anti-Sharples article. I love Oreo cheesecake. I’m so obsessed with fish taco bar that three separate people texted me today to inform me it was happening. On the rare occasion that butter brickle appears in the ice cream flavors, my day is made. Once, in a rush between rugby practice and class, I ate Sharples pho out of a to-go cup while showering, and I enjoyed it.

I have an on-and-off love for Sharples, but sometimes it doesn’t love me back. Still, I check the menu a few times a week and make sure I’m there for my favorite meals. A girl’s gotta eat — and nutty goat salad is worth the consequences.

There’s something humbling and unifying in the shared experience of Sharples IBS. In the journey I’ve been on between realizing the cause of my recent IBS and writing this article, I’ve found that I’m not alone. And neither are you. Reader, if this resonates with you, I hope you can break free of the shame and embarrassment and own your IBS. We all live through this, and you have nothing to hide.

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