If you struggle with digestive issues — especially the severe symptoms often associated with IBS — sometimes food can feel like the enemy.
You know how it goes:
You wake up feeling okay, but you’re nervous about how IBS will affect the day.↴
→You get hungry, but you’re afraid to eat.↴
→So you wait until you’re starving and hangry.↴
→You either eat too much, too fast, or convenience foods that don’t sit well.↴
→You feel the gurgle.↴
→Your day is disrupted by your symptoms — pain, bloating, diarrhea…↴
→So you’re afraid to eat again.↴
→You go to bed hungry, concerned about tomorrow.↺
When you have IBS, food feels like the enemy. So you avoid it. But that doesn’t really solve the problem. In fact, eating erratically or not often enough can exacerbate IBS symptoms.
Some of my IBS patients come to me eating a VERY limited diet because they are so scared about how they’ll react to foods. They get frustrated and discouraged and start avoiding food altogether.
I often use therapeutic diets with my clients. Avoiding the most troublesome foods can go a long way toward improving IBS symptoms. But while a therapeutic diet (like the low FODMAP diet) can be beneficial for reducing symptoms, many people get carried away. They continue to restrict more and more.
That’s why I recommend working with a practitioner. When you try to navigate a therapeutic diet on your own, you can run into problems. Therapeutic diets are not meant to last forever. These protocols are designed to be used temporarily to reduce symptoms while you work with your practitioner to get to the root cause of your stomach issues.
But therapeutic diets aren’t the only thing you can do to help with your IBS symptoms.
Last month we went over the IBS / stress connection and how dealing with stress can help you with your symptoms. You can read more about that here.
This month we’re focusing on another technique I often recommend to my IBS patients: intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is about focusing on the experience of eating and how your body is responding. This can be incredibly helpful for IBS patients — especially if you have reached the point of being afraid to eat.
Intuitive eating helps you slow down and pay attention. Following the intuitive eating principles can make a big difference with IBS symptoms. But there are a number of additional benefits associated with intuitive eating:
? Improved psychological health, including decreased depression and anxiety
? Improved self-esteem and body image
? Lower rates of emotional eating and disordered eating patterns
? Improved blood pressure and cholesterol
? Increased satisfaction and quality of life
A therapeutic diet does limit the foods that are available to you. So, no, you can’t just eat whatever you want even if you are utilizing the principles of intuitive eating. But there are still principles that apply, even with limited food options.
If you’re at the beginning of your intuitive eating journey and you’re on a therapeutic diet, I recommend that you start with just a couple of the 10 intuitive eating principles.
These two intuitive eating principles are a good starting point if you are on a therapeutic diet for IBS:
Even with a more restrictive, therapeutic diet, you can let go of the “diet mentality”. The point of dieting is to manipulate the shape of your body or the number on the scale. When you are wrapped-up in diet culture, food becomes a moral issue. You feel like a better person when you make “better” food choices — limiting calories, avoiding certain food groups, turning down dessert, etc.
The truth is… what you eat has absolutely nothing to do with your value as a person. Neither does the number on the scale or on the tag in the back of your jeans.
Intuitive eating encourages you to think of food in terms of how it makes you feel — physically and emotionally, rather than how it affects the shape of your body. When you’re trying to live by the food rules you learned from diet culture, it’s almost impossible to be in touch with your body and how each type of food makes you feel.
It may take some time and effort to identify and reject the moral values diet culture has added to foods. But letting go of the diet mentality will also reduce your stress. And lowering stress is extremely beneficial for IBS.
If you’re afraid to eat, you have probably lost touch with what it feels like to experience satisfaction at meal times.
But food is meant to be pleasurable. The tastes, the smells, taking time to relax, spending time with people — these are all part of the eating experience as well.
If feeling satisfied and enjoying the experience of eating feels foreign to you, there are things you can do.
If you’re worried about food, the thought of eating probably brings on stress. This makes eating unpleasant, and also makes it much harder to digest your food properly. A few deep breaths before you eat can go a long way toward increasing your satisfaction and improving your digestion.
Many of us don’t experience our food at all because we’re focused on other things. But taking the time to focus on your food can make eating more pleasurable — along with reducing your stress, helping you notice when you’re full, and helping your digestion.
Eating does more than just provide your body with calories and nutrients. It’s also the chance to stop the rush of the day, experience the smell of the food, take a moment for yourself, etc… At your next meal, take note of all the sensory experiences that go along with eating.
Part of intuitive eating is getting in touch with the experience. So try not to just wolf down your food in an effort to get to the next thing. Be mindful of what the food tastes like, feels like, and smells like.
I know… I probably sound like your grandmother. But chewing your food is really important. It will help you:
- Experience your food on a sensory level
- Slow you down so you don’t eat too fast
- Take advantage of the mechanical and chemical digestion that happens in your mouth.
When you rediscover satisfaction with your food, it will make it easier to choose the foods that help you feel good. Plus, these tips will not only help you enjoy your food, they’ll also help your digestion. And that’s definitely good for IBS!
That’s what I’m here for! Tackling your IBS symptoms on your own can be daunting and discouraging. Working with an experienced practitioner can remove the guesswork and give you the support you need.
If you’re ready to get to the root cause of your IBS symptoms and find support with techniques like therapeutic diets and intuitive eating, click the button below. I’m here to help!