Sometimes the road to the bathroom is paved with good intentions. You’re going into the holidays with good intentions and a solid plan to stay on your specialized or low FODMAP diet. And that’s a good thing.
But sometimes life happens. Halfway through the meal Aunt Martha says, “oh wait… I think I did put onions and garlic powder in that dish.” Or maybe when faced with one of your childhood favorites, you toss up your hands, jump off the wagon, and dive in.
First of all, let me be clear. I’m not judging. That’s not my job. And I have no desire to devote any of my time to being the food police. You’re an adult and I will never tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. It’s not my style. I’m here to support you, not shame you.
But, if you go off your eating plan and overdo the FODMAPs or eat a food you’re sensitive to, you will have to deal with the consequences. Hopefully they will be mild. But if you end up with full-blown symptoms — the kind that send you running down the hallway to the bathroom — I want you to have some resources and a plan to get yourself feeling better… FAST.
IBS Flare Up Tip #1: Don’t Panic
For many people, stress is a major trigger for IBS symptoms. So if you eat something that doesn’t agree with you (whether on accident or on purpose), stay calm. The last thing you want to do is make your symptoms worse because you’re stressing out about them.
And just because you ate a high FODMAP food on the low FODMAP diet, doesn’t mean you’ve undone the work you’ve been doing. You didn’t do any additional damage to your digestive system. And you don’t have to start over at the beginning of the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet. You may develop symptoms, but those symptoms will pass.
If you’re feeling stressed during the holidays — especially when you’re eating — you need to get out of fight or flight mode, and back into rest and digest. When you activate the parasympathetic nervous system response, your body is better able to focus on your digestive process. Optimizing your digestion is the first step in holding off any symptoms that may develop.
Try these stress-reducing techniques:
Get out in nature
Go for a walk or even just sit outside for a while. Help yourself get present in the moment by noticing the details you are experiencing. What do you see? Are the leaves changing colors? Is it cloudy?
And notice other details — the temperature, any smells or sounds. Getting present in nature can help ground you in the moment and get you out of a stressed state.
Going for a walk can both calm your nervous system and get your digestion working. It’s a win-win!
If you haven’t meditated before, trying it for the first time while you’re freaked out may not be the best fit. But if you have some experience with meditation, even just spending two or three minutes can calm you down.
It seems so basic. But taking some good, deep breaths is one of the quickest ways to calm your nervous system. The key is breathing from your belly. Most people breathe very shallow most of the time. So it takes conscious effort to belly breathe. As you’re taking your breaths, pay attention to your stomach. Allow it to expand as you inhale.
IBS Flare Up Tip #2: Use Your Remedy Toolkit
If you’ve been dealing with IBS for any length of time, you may have already figured out what you can do to mitigate a symptom flare-up. But if you’re not sure, I have some suggestions of things you can try. But let me be clear. This is a blog article. I am not offering personalized medical recommendations. I can do that for you if you’re my patient. But without knowing anything about you, I cannot offer you specific advice.
These remedies are things that have worked for some of my patients. We are all unique so I can’t predict whether or not they’ll work for you. But these are all relatively safe, readily available remedies that don’t require a prescription.
Peppermint oil is widely known to help calm some of the troublesome symptoms of IBS. In fact, one study found that peppermint oil had a 58% success rate at relieving IBS symptoms. But if you’re going to use peppermint oil, you need to get it to the small intestine where it’s needed. Many peppermint oil supplements won’t make it past the stomach before they are broken down. So they don’t end up making much of a difference with your symptoms.
IBGard has an enteric coating that protects it as it moves through the digestive process and releases when it reaches the small intestine where the peppermint oil can make a difference.
There are things I don’t love about this product, including preservatives and dyes that some people are sensitive to. So before you take this product, make sure to read the label and see if any of the ingredients are issues for you.
Full disclosure on this one — I don’t have studies to back up the use of ginger to mitigate IBS symptoms. But many people swear by it. And ginger has been a long-accepted folk remedy for all sorts of stomach discomfort. So while the evidence may be entirely anecdotal, it may be something that works for you.
A soothing cup of tea can calm your stomach and your nerves. But, I recommend staying away from caffeinated varieties because caffeine can be an IBS trigger for some. Consider trying teas like peppermint or other herbal teas.
Made with seeds like fennel, caraway, and anise, this tea helps expel gas by improving motility. It decreases the pain and discomfort caused by bloating. Have a cup 10 minutes after your meal, or even a bit later.
The inner bark of the slippery elm tree is often used for stomach discomfort, including the diarrhea and constipation that are common to IBS and is available both as a tea and in capsule form.
IBS Flare Up Tip #3: Talk to Your Practitioner BEFORE the Holidays
As I mentioned above, I can’t offer you advice specific to your unique physiology. But your practitioner can. Even if you have the best of intentions and a totally foolproof plan to stay on your therapeutic diet during the holidays, I think it’s a good idea to check in with your practitioner beforehand… just in case.
If you don’t have a practitioner who has both the knowledge of your unique health concerns AND an expertise in addressing IBS from the root cause, it may be time to find one.
If you’d like to chat, click the link below. We can talk through your symptoms and concerns and get you on the road to feeling your best.