This month I’ve been answering the most common questions I get about IBS. Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects up to 20% of the American population. It’s characterized by symptoms like bloating, gas, belly pain, constipation, and diarrhea.
And while everyone experiences these symptoms from time to time, if you have IBS they are impacting the quality of your life on a regular basis.
In IBS FAQs Part 1, I answer these questions:
What is IBS? ✔
What are the symptoms of IBS? ✔
What causes IBS? ✔
How common is IBS? ✔
Is IBS curable? ✔
Do stress and anxiety play a part? ✔
Does what I eat make a difference? ✔
In IBS FAQs Part 2, I answered these questions:
Who’s at risk for IBS? ✔
How do they test for IBS? ✔
Are there different types of IBS? ✔
What are the treatment options for IBS? ✔
This week, we’ve got IBS FAQs Part 4. Let’s dive in!
Your IBS symptoms probably don’t look the same day-to-day. You’ll have your good days and bad days. And figuring out what makes the difference can be frustrating. Every IBS patient is unique. What triggers another person may not affect you at all. But there are some common IBS symptom triggers you can control.
Stress is a common IBS trigger that affects as many as 75% of IBS patients. Most people think of stress as a mental and emotional condition. Our minds race and we feel anxious or worried. But stress profoundly impacts the body as well — including digestion.
And while it’s impossible to totally avoid stress, you can take steps to reduce it and to mitigate its effects:
Reflect on the people and events in your life that cause your stress.
Sometimes these are big things that are hard to change — family relationships, a job, a medical condition. But there are also sources of stress that you can change like leaving earlier for work to avoid worrying about being late.
Practice stress-relieving activities.
There are apps and YouTube videos that can help. Consider trying some guided meditation or EFT (tapping). You can also practice deep breathing and grounding exercises that can reduce your stress overall, or even help you calm down in a rough moment.
Remember to have fun.
As adults we can get so busy “adulting” that we forget to do things that bring us joy. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Listen to some music that makes you happy, go for a long walk, read a good book, or color in an adult coloring book. The idea is to find a calming activity you enjoy and do it regularly.
Our brain and our gut are deeply interconnected. So mental health challenges can certainly impact your IBS. Anxiety and depression are common in our culture. Mental health has lived under the shadow of stigma for a long time. But things are changing.
If you’re struggling with mental health, you deserve to get help just like you would if you had a physical health concern. And improving your mental health may also improve your IBS.
It probably won’t surprise you that food affects your IBS. It is a digestive disorder after all. And if you’ve spent any time trying to control your symptoms, you’ve probably figured out that some foods work better for you than others. In fact, it’s not uncommon for new clients to tell me that their diet consists of very few foods because they’re afraid to eat anything else.
While there are a variety of foods that can cause digestive upset, most IBS patients are triggered by FODMAPs.
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. FODMAPs are a family of short-chain carbohydrates that are found in a variety of foods. FODMAPs are normally digestible. But in people with IBS (for various reasons), FODMAPs ferment in the gut before they are fully digested, resulting in symptoms. FODMAPs are also osmotically active — meaning they bring water into your digestive tract.
For people without digestive issues, FODMAPs can nourish both the body and gut bacteria. But if you have IBS, FODMAPs can cause problems. When the gut bacteria go to work on FODMAPs in your digestive tract, it results in increased gas. And this can trigger common IBS symptoms like bloating, gas, pain, diarrhea, and/or constipation.
And if you’ve got IBS, those symptoms probably sound pretty familiar. If you have questions about the low FODMAP diet and how to use it to improve your IBS symptoms, tune in next week. We’ll wrap up our last IBS FAQ by answering all your questions about the low FODMAP diet.
I’ll answer your question with a question. What do you mean by “eating healthy”? That’s a very subjective term that means different things depending on who you’re listening to or what school of thought you subscribe to.
But if you’re talking about things like eliminating processed foods, eating less sugar, and eating more fruits and vegetables, the answer is NO. Eating healthy will not improve your IBS.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of taking the steps listed above. Eating less crap and adding in more whole foods rich in vitamins and minerals is a really good idea in general. And there are loads of health benefits associated with eating well. But changing your diet in those ways won’t necessarily improve your IBS symptoms.
That’s because many of the foods that trigger IBS are considered “healthy”. Eating foods like dairy, whole grains, and many fruits and vegetables can actually make your IBS symptoms WORSE. It goes back to FODMAPs. These carbohydrates are not “unhealthy”, but they do tend to exacerbate IBS symptoms.
This doesn’t mean that dietary changes won’t help your IBS. They will! In fact, dietary changes are one of the absolute best ways to improve your IBS symptoms. Next week, I’ll tackle questions about my favorite therapeutic diet for IBS: the low FODMAP diet.
IBS can take over your life. Whether you’re dealing with debilitating pain or bloating, or you feel like you’re spending half your life in the bathroom, IBS keeps you from living life on your terms. I get it. And I’m here to help. If you’re ready for an individualized approach to your IBS that addresses not only your symptoms, but gets to the root cause, click the button below.