If you suffer from IBS symptoms, you probably have a complicated relationship with food. In fact, some of my patients have come to view food as the enemy. It’s perfectly understandable.
IBS symptoms are at best uncomfortable, and at worst they can be painful and embarrassing. Some of my patients find themselves planning their lives around their IBS symptoms. So, it’s not surprising that eating stops being the pleasurable act that it once was.
In my practice I focus on getting to the root cause of the symptoms. I incorporate lab testing, symptom analysis, lifestyle factors, and more. But feeling better goes beyond lab results. And one of the tools I often incorporate into my patients’ treatment plan is intuitive eating.
When you incorporate intuitive eating principles into your IBS treatment plan, you get the chance to reclaim the joy of eating. And you may even be able to start negotiating a treaty with food.
This is not a quick fix of course. Changing your relationship with food takes time and patience. And it may not be the smoothest ride. But many of my patients have found the principles of intuitive eating to be an important step on their journey to heal their IBS symptoms.
Not convinced? I totally get it. Let’s spend a minute looking at some of the ways intuitive eating can make a difference with IBS symptoms.
#1 Intuitive eating can help you listen to your body
If food feels like the enemy, you probably approach eating with anxiety. Or maybe you just avoid food as much as you can. But with intuitive eating, you can learn to listen to your body’s signals and make friends with food.
What to eat
When you pay attention to which foods make you feel good, and which foods don’t, you can add some nuance to your diet. And you can start to eat with more confidence.
You may already know some of your main trigger foods. In fact, you’re probably laser focused on avoiding the foods that guarantee a bad reaction.
But I encourage my patients to start paying attention to the foods that make them feel good too. This can help you not only get in better touch with your body, but you may also start changing a negative mindset around food.
You can do this by paying attention during and after your meals. Some people also find it helpful to keep a food journal.
When to eat
Intuitive eating encourages you to pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues. When you have a complicated relationship with food, it’s easy to lose touch with what your body is telling you.
And if you’re scared to eat, you may wait until you are too hungry. Waiting too long to eat, overeating because you’re starving, or eating the wrong foods because you’re too hungry to make good choices can all trigger IBS symptoms.
Start paying attention to your hunger cues. You don’t have to wait until you’re starving to eat. In fact for many people, it’s better to get ahead of your hunger and eat when you are just starting to feel hungry.
There is an exception here. If your illness keeps you from feeling hungry, you still need to eat. Eating consistently can help reduce IBS symptoms.
#2 Intuitive eating can help reduce food anxiety
Stress and anxiety can increase IBS symptoms. We did a deep dive into this topic last month. You can read more about how stress impacts IBS here.
If you’re anxious about eating — as many IBS patients are — you can end up in a vicious cycle.
Eating a trigger food causes painful or embarrassing IBS symptoms.
So the next time you eat, you feel anxious that it will happen again.
Your anxiety triggers IBS symptoms.
Then your symptoms flare up whether you eat or not.
After this repeats a few times, you can get stuck in this loop of stress and IBS symptoms.
So you make food rules. And you listen to other people’s food rules. And you read articles with more food rules. Then eating becomes all about following rules, and you lose touch with listening to your own body.
Intuitive eating encourages you to make peace with food. I’m not saying that you can declare a truce and stop being triggered by specific foods. But if you apply the intuitive eating principles that encourage you to reject the food police, it can help you relax a bit around food. And yes, it is possible to incorporate some of the intuitive eating principles even if you’re on a therapeutic diet. You can read more about how to do that here.
#3 Intuitive eating can help you adopt a new attitude towards exercise
The diet culture that is so prevalent in society encourages us to use exercise as a means of reshaping our bodies to fit the cultural ideals of beauty. So for many people, the idea of exercise is loaded with the emotional baggage of guilt and shame.
Even if you aren’t trying to lose weight, you may be influenced by this mentality. If you find yourself pushing your body too hard when you exercise, this can cause problems.
We’ve already touched on the connection between IBS and stress. And this includes physical stress. It’s generally not recommended to push too hard or engage in extremely strenuous exercise when you have IBS.
But, moving your body is a good thing. Regular exercise can help decrease stress. A recent study demonstrates that moderate exercise can help with IBS symptoms in women.1
Intuitive eating encourages you to try moving your body in a way that feels good. You don’t have to go to the gym or go running. You can try more gentle movement:
✔ Go for a walk
✔ Try yoga or Tai Chi
✔ Do gentle strength training
✔ Play at the park with your kids
Moving your body in a way that feels good is helpful for both your mental health and your IBS symptoms!
#4 Intuitive eating can help you take a gentle approach to nutrition
Intuitive eating encourages you to relax your food rules and listen to your body. But this doesn’t mean eating whatever sounds good.
Eating is meant to be pleasurable, but the primary purpose of eating is to fuel and nourish the body.
In my practice, I’ve seen many patients who tend to go to extremes when it comes to nutrition. They either impose tight restrictions and try to be perfect, or they completely abandon the idea of food as nourishment and eat whatever seems palatable.
It is possible to land somewhere in the middle. And it can be good for your IBS symptoms too. Releasing your grip on eating perfectly can help your attitude towards food and lower your stress. But you can also choose foods that will genuinely make you feel better.
Talk with your practitioner about which foods and supplements might be right for you!
If you’re looking for a practitioner who treats IBS with both science and empathy, click the button below. I’d be happy to talk to you about how we can get you feeling better!