Being able to get your IBS under control with a diet specifically crafted for those who suffer with IBS can change your life. Sure, it takes time, effort, and money, but that’s a small price to pay for a completely different quality of life.
Can you imagine having a 30-second warning before you have to be in a bathroom? Or having to depend on laxatives for the rest of your life? Or wishing the bathroom was soundproof so no one could hear you crying from agonizing cramps? Anyone who suffers from IBS knows just how painful and downright inconvenient it can be. From cramps that make you feel like you are in labor to just not being able to poop no matter how many days it’s been since your last bowel movement, from having to plan pit stops on road trips according to where the closest rest rooms are and your stomach acting up whenever it feels like it, from smelly flatulence to always needing to be near a bathroom in case you get the runs, it’s certainly no laughing matter.
Everyone with IBS is an individual, and there is no one IBS diet that works for all patients. It’s about getting to know your body and your particular food triggers and staying away from them.
The first thing to consider is your fiber intake. If you suffer from IBS-C (IBS with constipation), you will want to increase your fiber consumption to the recommended 20-35 grams a day. This is because fiber bulks up your stools, which helps move things along. You can do this by eating more fiber-rich grains. An issue you might face is bloating from increased fiber intake. If that happens, increase your intake of soluble fiber found in fruits and vegetables as opposed to fiber found in grains.
If you suffer from IBS-D (IBS with diarrhea) though, you might experience aggravated symptoms from increasing your fiber. That’s why it’s best to eat soluble fiber, because this doesn’t add bulk. You can get soluble fiber from apples, berries, carrots, and oatmeal.
Gluten is a protein found in grain products such as bread and pasta. A gluten-free diet may reduce symptoms of IBS. However, before you start this diet, you should get tested for celiac disease. This is because people who have IBS are at higher risk for undiagnosed celiac disease. If you do have celiac disease, you will need to permanently and completely eliminate all gluten from your diet.
One could also consider following a low-fat diet. This is because food that has a high fat content is often low in fiber, and this can aggravate IBS-related constipation. Not everyone with IBS is sensitive to fatty foods. But for those with IBS-D, fat will often exacerbate their symptoms.
If you are following an elimination diet, you will be avoiding certain foods for an extended period of time to see if your IBS symptoms improve. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) says that coffee, chocolate, insoluble fiber, and nuts are most likely to cause problems and should therefore be eliminated for a 12-week period, then slowly reintroduced to see whether they are in fact causing your IBS symptoms.
Low FODMAP Diet
Another type of elimination diet, the low FODMAP diet, was developed in Australia and can also reduce IBS symptoms. FODMAPs or “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols” are problematic for people with IBS because they increase the amount of fluid in the bowel and create more gas. This results in bloating and changes in the speed with which food is digested which, in turn, leads to gas, pain, and diarrhea.
The idea behind the low FODMAP diet is to temporarily restrict high FODMAPs and then to add them back, one at a time, and see how your body reacts. Not all high FODMAP foods will trigger your IBS; the trick is figuring out which ones are problematic for you and avoiding those in the future.
It’s important to mention that the low FODMAP diet focuses on reducing FODMAPs, not eliminating them entirely. Because the diet is highly restrictive, especially at the beginning, it is definitely not recommended for anyone with an eating disorder or anyone who has problems maintaining a healthy weight. This is because the severe restriction of foods can lead to weight loss. If you are considering this diet, consult with a registered dietician to ensure your eating plan is safe and healthy.
If you are following the low FODMAP diet, you will be avoiding (or reducing) your intake of the following foods:
- Lactose (milk, ice cream, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products)
- Fruits (apples, pears, peaches, cherries, mangoes, pears, watermelon, plums, and nectarines)
- Sweeteners (sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol, isomal, honey, and agave nectar) and products with high fructose corn syrup
- Grains (wheat and rye)
- Soy products
- Vegetables (artichokes, asparagus, brussels sprouts, broccoli, beetroot, garlic, onions, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, cauliflower, mushrooms, and snow peas)
One study found that 76% of IBS patients following the FODMAP diet reported improvement with their symptoms. Dr Asma Khapra, a Gastroenterologist who treats many with IBS, notes that “the FODMAP diet has revolutionized the diet paradigm for patients with IBS. It is important to attempt this diet under the guidance of a nutritionist for the best and safest results.”
Living with IBS is all kinds of difficult. It’s constant discomfort, embarrassment, and anxiety. Learning what foods to avoid can really be a game changer, though. So, if you are tired of having your stomach boss you around, look into an IBS diet to see if it will provide relief.