Your IBS diagnosis probably wasn't easy to hear, but following your doctor's advice has helped. You try to avoid gas-producing foods like beans and broccoli, and get to yoga class a few times a week. Then, just when you think you might have everything under control, you are back in the bathroom, fighting the pain and wondering, "What on Earth caused this attack?"
First, take a deep breath. It will get better. Advice on what foods to eat and other treatments may help some people with IBS, but not everyone. Irritable bowel syndrome is a very individualized disease. Foods that one IBS patient can tolerate may trigger a painful series of attacks in another person.
Find the Best Approach for You
There really are tried and true ways to approach finding the best approach for you. Your doctor has probably introduced you to these three tenets of IBS management:
- Minimize your stress. Take yoga classes, practice deep breathing exercises, and get regular exercise to promote relaxation.
- Eat smaller meals more frequently. Forgoing the traditional three squares a day can help reduce the strength of contractions in your intestines.
- Slowly increase your fiber intake with fiber-rich foods or supplements and consider taking probiotics.
However, one of the most important first steps in an individualized treatment program is keeping a food diary.
Keep a Food Diary
Keeping track of what you eat might seem like a lot of work, but there is a big payoff in getting to really understand your personal reactions to foods. Use a small notebook that you can take everywhere with you or an app on your smartphone that lets you log what you eat.
Write down the following with every meal or snack:
- what you eat
- when you eat it
- how you are feeling when you eat it
- occurrence of any symptoms and their intensity
Be sure to write down everything you eat—there's nobody looking over your shoulder judging you.
Interpret Your Diary
Once you have a couple weeks of your diary filled out, you should be able to see patterns of which foods trigger your symptoms. (Symptoms may occur a few hours after you eat that food, or even a few days.) Foods that commonly create problems in people with IBS include:
- sorbitol (and other artificial sweeteners)
- fried or fatty foods
- caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee or soda
- dairy products
- food containing high-fructose corn syrup
- certain kinds of fruit
- broccoli and cabbage
However, different foods may bother you—that's why a food diary is so useful. Enlist your doctor’s help in figuring out which foods may be affecting you.
Eliminate Trigger Foods
Once you have identified a food that may create problems for you, try eliminating it from your diet. A couple days may not be long enough to get 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 probably 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 awhile, but this process will pay off in helping you identify which foods you are most sensitive to.
The FODMAPs Technique
Another system that may be beneficial is called the FODMAPs method. FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di- and Mono-saccharides and Polyols. These chemicals are all small carbohydrates that can be fermented by the normal bacteria that live in your gut. This fermentation process can cause gas, bloating, cramps and diarrhea.
Foods that contain these types of sugars include:
- dairy products containing lactose
- drinks with fructose
- veggies such as artichokes, asparagus, and broccoli
- fruits such as pears, apples, and peaches
Eliminating foods that contain these kinds of fermentable carbohydrates may help reduce your symptoms, but more studies need to be done.
There's a lot that you can do to begin to achieve control over your symptoms. Keeping a food diary and trying an elimination diet, paired with increased fiber intake, relaxation and smaller, more frequent meals is a great start toward getting your life back on track and out of the line for the restroom.