Diet and lifestyle changes to treat irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a serious condition that has long-lasting effects on the digestive system. It can cause multiple symptoms, which may vary from person to person, but the most prevalent symptoms are stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea, along with constipation. IBS symptoms can come and go over time and can even last for days, weeks or months in certain cases. Although it is usually a lifelong problem, the symptoms can be managed and treated in order to create comfort in an individual’s life.

Since the exact cause of IBS is unknown – it has been directly linked to factors like food passing through your gut either too quickly or too slowly, oversensitive nerves in your gut, as well as family history of IBS.

Keep in mind that there is no known cure when it comes to IBS; however, experts have suggested diet changes and medicines in order to help control the symptoms.

Diet Changes You Should Make

As the name suggests, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an intestinal disorder categorised by extensive changes occurring in bowel movements. This means that you may experience symptoms like diarrhoea, constipation, or sometimes a combination of the two.

Now, of course, medical intervention is important in the treatment of IBS. That is a given, but it has been proven that adding or removing certain items from your diet may help manage symptoms or avoid triggers in general.

1.      Low FODMAP Diet

FODMAPs are known as carbohydrates that are considered difficult for the intestines to digest. Such carbs direct more water into the bowel while increasing gas. This can lead to symptoms such as bloating, pain, and diarrhoea after eating these foods.

FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.”

Foods you should avoid include:

  • Lactose-based food items (milk, ice cream, cheese, yoghurt)
  • Certain fruits like peaches, watermelons, pears, mangoes, apples, plums, and nectarines.
  • Certain legumes which may include chickpeas, kidney beans, and lentils.
  • High fructose corn syrup or products containing the syrup.
  • Sweeteners, especially artificial ones.
  • Wheat-based products like bread, cereals, and pasta.
  • Certain vegetables, such as artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, onions, and Brussels sprouts.

Low FODMAP foods you can eat:

  • Lactose-free milk.
  • Fruits like oranges, blueberries, strawberries, and grapes.
  • Eggs.
  • Meat.
  • Rice or quinoa.
  • Vegetables like carrots, eggplant, green beans and pumpkins.

2.      Elimination Diet

An elimination diet typically focuses on avoiding specific foods that can act as triggers for an extended period of time. You can think of this diet as a trial period where you check whether your IBS


symptoms improve or worsen. However, you need to remember that an eliminating diet may restrict a wide range of foods compared to a low FODMAP diet or individual foods that are known to be problematic towards those with IBS.

For instance, everyday food items you may have to eliminate from your diet:

  • Coffee
  • Milk
  • Ice cream
  • Certain fruits and vegetables that can be triggers
  • Alcohol
  • Soda with artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup

3.      High Fibre Diet

People who do not consume enough fibre tend to have harder stools or constipation. That is why adding fibre to your diet is necessary. Fibre is known to add bulk to your stool which makes it softer. A softer stool helps aid in movement.

As a matter of fact, an average adult, including those with IBS, is recommended to eat around 25 to 31 grams of fibre every single day – this depends on their sex and age.

There are two types of fibre that a person needs to add to their diet, and they are:

  • Soluble fibre: Generally found in fruits, beans, as well as oats.
  • Insoluble fibre: Generally found in vegetables and grains.

Fibre-rich foods are nutritious and are proven to help prevent constipation. However, some people experience bloating or gas from eating more fibre, and if that happens to you, you should try to increase your intake gradually by around 2 to 3 grams per day.

4.      Low Fibre Diet

While the increase in fibre helps those with constipation and hard stools, it can also worsen IBS for those who frequently experience symptoms like gas and diarrhoea. So, rather than significantly reducing your fibre intake, which is not effective at all, according to research, you should focus on items that are sources of soluble fibre. Such products include:

  • Berries
  • Carrots
  • Oatmeal
  • Peas

Soluble fibre is significantly better than insoluble fibre for people with IBS-D since it dissolves in water instead of adding extra bulk.

5.       Low-fat Diet

It is only human to indulge in high-fat foods. However, it can cause some severe issues for people with IBS. This does not mean you should stop eating such foods altogether, but you can limit the intake in order to counter the frequent worsening of symptoms.

So, instead of eating fried foods and animal fats, you can try eating the following foods:

  • Lean meats
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Grains
  • Low-fat dairy products

Lifestyle Changes to Treat IBS

One of the prevalent factors responsible for causing IBS is stress. In fact, stress and anxiety can worsen symptoms of IBS. So, one of the most crucial lifestyle changes is limiting stress and finding ways to relax while easing tension. The most popular methods used to relieve stress are:

  • Relaxation methods
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Biofeedback
  • Yoga
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Therapy

Having to deal with IBS can be extremely frustrating. It is vital to consider therapy since it may help to improve your outlook on the chronic condition and allow you to have some space to learn coping skills.

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