What can I do to help with IBS symptoms?
What is IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)?
IBS stands for irritable bowel syndrome. It causes a range of symptoms including stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. IBS can also cause abdominal 'stomach' pain but this can be in any part of your digestive system.
These symptoms and abdominal pain tend to come and go over time, and can last for days, weeks or months.
There's no cure for IBS, but the symptoms can often be eased with practical steps like lifestyle changes and self-help strategies.
Diet is one way of controlling your symptoms. So how do you know if what you're eating is making your IBS worse?
What foods should I avoid?
For people with IBS, some foods can make symptoms worse, while others may help ease them. The best way to find out how certain foods affect you is to keep a food diary for two weeks.
Write down everything you eat and how it makes you feel - this will give you an idea of how your symptoms are affected by different types of food.
This way you might be able to quickly identify foods that don't make you feel at your best. There are a range of diaries available on Amazon here.
What you eat when you've had an IBS 'flare up'
As IBS can present in many ways, including
- stomach pain or cramps – usually worse after eating and better after doing a poo
- bloating – your tummy may feel uncomfortably full and swollen
- diarrhoea – you may have watery poo and sometimes need to poo suddenly
- constipation – you may strain when pooing and feel like you cannot empty your bowels fully
So how do you get things back on track what you've had a flare up?
- Drink water for your IBS symptoms
The best advice is to make sure you are well hydrated. Your gut system needs water to work properly so you need to drink enough fluid to avoid constipation.
Try to have six glasses of water a day, but don't worry if you can only manage three or four - just keep trying. Set reminders in your phone if you're prone to forgetting or label times on your water bottle to make sure you're drinking throughout the day.
- Give your digestion some help - chew, chew, chew
Chew. chew, chew some more. Whatever you're planning to eat after you've had IBS symptoms, you want to give your digestive system as much help as you can and chewing is the main way you can control your gut.
Get yourself a great set of metal chopsticks and you can avoid how your stomach feels when you eat a whole lot of food at once.
- Deep breaths, relaxation and self care
Stress. Keeping stress levels down is important in IBS management. We know how hard it can be to take a break from work or relax, but try going for a walk at lunchtime , signing up for something you enjoy, or watching your favourite TV show or film. The key is to try everything you can to make time for relaxation and self care.
- Great for gut health: a restful night sleep
Give your gut the best chance to self-heal, and sleep. Avoid caffeine and avoid stress before bed. Sleep is key to your gut having the energy to heal itself. Where you are sleeping is also important.
- What about IBS specific diets?
The low FODMAP diet (fermentable oligosaccharides di-saccharide mono-saccharides and polyols) has been found to be a helpful dietary intervention in IBS. It is a diet that helps reduce certain poorly absorbed carbohydrates / sugars, including fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS).
- What supplements might help for your IBS symptoms?
The evidence base for using dietary supplements in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms are varied, and you should only ever try products which are made in approved facilities and have clinical studies.
Adding a bacterial food supplement can be shown to improve digestive issues and help get your gut back on track and reduce IBS symptoms. You should choose a supplement that has been designed to support the specific symptoms you manage - anything that's a 'one size fits all' is unlikely to have long term benefits.
Healing your gut and IBS can take time
There are lots of different ways to manage your symptoms. Don't feel like you need to make all the changes at once - try out a few and stick with them for about two weeks before adding in new ones. This gives your body time to get used to each change so it's easier to tell what's working.
IBS can be very tiring and frustrating, but there are lots of things you can do to make it easier. The first thing is to talk to your GP or other healthcare professional who can help you come up with a plan for how best to manage your symptoms.
If you're finding it hard to get support from your healthcare provider, you can empower yourself to take control of elements of your digestive health by listening to the signs your body is giving you, afterall,
- everyone knows their own body best, and know when things aren’t quite right
- you can take control by understanding how your gut works, and what works for you
- daily consistent choices will have the longest and best effect
- small changes lead to greater levels of consistency