IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is estimated to affect 10-15% of the global population. Unfortunately, IBS can be challenging to identify and manage, as the symptoms range widely depending on the person.
For some people, IBS symptoms may include constipation, while others struggle with diarrhea. Some may experience frequent gas and bloating, while others might experience pain or nausea. Although occasional constipation, diarrhea, gas or bloating is normal, it’s important to pay attention to the frequency. If you find that you’re consistently struggling with these ailments, it’s time to investigate further!
Diet can play an important role in IBS management. In this article, we will review a few ways to manage IBS symptoms through diet and lifestyle. If you’re unsure whether or not you have IBS, check out our article How do I know if I have IBS? Before making any of the changes below, make sure to check with your doctor to rule out other health conditions!
Identify foods that may trigger symptoms
Before making any dramatic changes, it’s important to understand whether there is one specific food or food group that is upsetting your digestive system. For instance, some people find that avoiding all lactose-containing products (ex. Milk, ice cream, cheese, etc.) is enough to resolve their symptoms.
Keep a food and symptom journal for a couple of weeks. Make sure you are recording 1. What you are eating, 2. The symptoms you experience and 3. The time that you ate and experienced symptoms. It may be challenging to identify trigger foods or trends from this data, so it’s a good idea to meet with a dietitian to help you make sense of it all.
Try avoiding FODMAPs
FODMAP stands for “Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols.” These are fermentable carbohydrates that are found in many different foods. Certain people have a hard time absorbing FODMAPs in the small intestine, which can cause IBS symptoms. A study conducted on IBS patients found that avoiding FODMAPs resulted in improved symptoms for 76% of participants.
However, avoiding FODMAPs is easier said than done. Here are some common FODMAP-containing foods:
- Oligosaccharides: found in bread products, legumes and some fruits and vegetables (ex. Onions and garlic)
- Disaccharides: found in dairy products, like milk, yogurt and soft cheeses
- Monosaccharides: found in certain fruits
- Polyols: found in certain fruits
A true low FODMAP diet requires a period of time where you avoid all FODMAP containing foods before reintroducing the foods back one at a time. This should be done with medical supervision and support to avoid any nutritional deficiencies that may result from eliminating a wide variety of foods. It can also be helpful to have support when finding low-FODMAP swaps for your favourite food items!
Identify lifestyle triggers
When it comes to IBS, lifestyle factors play a role as well. Make sure that you’re consistently drinking enough water and keeping your stress levels in check. Our digestive system is often referred to as our “second brain” because it is highly susceptible to stress, anxiety and emotions. Take care of your mental wellness by incorporating more self-care into your routine.
- (n.d.). Statistics. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Retrieved August 6, 2020b, from https://www.aboutibs.org/facts-about-ibs/statistics.html
Health, H. (2019, September 25). Try A FODMAPs Diet To Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome - Harvard Health. Harvard Health. Retrieved August 6, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/a-new-diet-to-manage-irritable-bowel-syndrome