woman chopping vegetables

Eating certain foods and using certain treatments may help some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) but not everyone. IBS is a very individualized condition. Foods that one person with IBS can tolerate may trigger a painful series of attacks in another person. Treatments that work for one person with IBS may not work for another person.

Find the Best Approach for You

Here are some ways to manage IBS:

  • Minimize your stress. Take yoga classes, practice deep-breathing exercises, and exercise regularly to promote relaxation.
  • Talk therapy is also helpful for some people with IBS.
  • Eat smaller meals more frequently than the traditional three meals per day to help reduce the strength of contractions in your intestines.
  • Slowly increase your fiber intake by eating fiber-rich foods or even taking supplements.
  • You can also consider taking probiotics.

Keep a Food Diary

Keeping a food diary is an important first step in creating an individualized treatment program for you.

Keeping track of what you eat might seem like a lot of work, but there’s a big payoff in understanding your personal reactions to foods. Take a small notebook everywhere you go or use an app on your smartphone to log what you eat.

Write down the following with every meal or snack:

  • what you eat
  • when you eat it
  • how you’re feeling when you eat it
  • the occurrence of any symptoms and their intensity

Be sure to write down everything you eat.

Interpret Your Diary

Once you’ve kept a diary for a couple of weeks, you should be able to see patterns of foods that trigger your symptoms. Symptoms may occur a few hours or even a few days after you eat a certain food. Foods that commonly create problems in people with IBS include:

  • sorbitol and other artificial sweeteners
  • fried or fatty foods
  • candy
  • caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee, or soda
  • dairy products
  • chocolate
  • food containing high-fructose corn syrup
  • certain kinds of fruit
  • alcohol
  • beans
  • broccoli
  • cabbage

However, different foods may bother you. This is why a food diary is so useful. Ask your doctor for help in figuring out which foods may be affecting you.

Eliminate Trigger Foods

Once you’ve identified a food that creates problems for you, eliminate it from your diet. It may take more than a couple of days to get the residual amounts out of your system, so give it at least two weeks. If you see a reduction in your symptoms, you’ll know the food in question is a culprit.

If you don’t see a reduction in symptoms, try eating the food again and see if there's any change in your symptoms. It may take a while, but this process will pay off in helping you identify which foods are triggering your symptoms.

The FODMAPs Technique

FODMAPs is another system that may be beneficial to you. FODMAPs stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.” These chemicals are small carbohydrates that can be fermented by the normal bacteria living in your gut. This fermentation process can cause:

  • gas
  • bloating
  • cramps
  • diarrhea

Foods that contain these types of sugars include:

  • dairy products containing lactose
  • drinks with fructose
  • veggies such as artichokes, asparagus, and broccoli
  • onions and garlic
  • beans such as black, pinto or garbanzo
  • fruits such as pears, apples, and peaches

Eliminating foods that contain these kinds of fermentable carbohydrates may help reduce your symptoms.

In addition, eliminating high-gas foods and foods with gluten can also reduce your IBS symptoms.


Because causes of irritable bowel syndrome aren’t known, treatment aims to relieve your symptoms.

Your doctor may also prescribe:

  • antidiarrheal and antispasmodic medications to reduce diarrhea
  • antibiotics if you have an overgrowth of bacteria in your intestine
  • probiotics, which are live microorganisms
  • antidepressants if you’re experiencing depression because of your condition

There's a lot you can do on your own to control your symptoms, including:

  • keeping a food diary
  • trying an elimination diet
  • increasing your fiber intake
  • practicing relaxation techniques
  • eating smaller, more frequent meals