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Tackling the IBS Diet: Winning Strategies for Relief

photo of a young man holding his stomach in painThe symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and stomach pain. Sufferers are bombarded with advice and alternate diagnoses. People say, “It’s all in your mind,” “You just need to exercise and eat right,” or “Maybe you are lactose intolerant.” The fact is—the mind does affect the symptoms. Stress makes the problem worse. Lactose intolerance is a concern for every person diagnosed with IBS, but avoiding dairy entirely does not end the suffering. Last but not least, exercise and diet are vitally important; but figuring out which foods, specifically, cause the symptoms is the tricky part.

The journey begins with diagnosis

Once the diagnosis of IBS is made, sufferers must experiment with not only food groups and beverages but additives and other eating habits as well. Making changes in the diet can definitely provide relief for the people with IBS. It’s important, however, to make sure the body’s nutritional needs are met.

Start with the basics

There is no specific, one-size-fits-all diet. Most doctors start patients with a list of very general guidelines to help begin the process of change needed to experience relief:

  • Eat meals regularly
  • Eat slowly and in a relaxed atmosphere
  • Don’t skip meals or wait too long between meals
  • Drink plenty of fluid *Limit or avoid caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, milk, the artificial sweeteners sorbitol and xylitol, and fructose
  • Exercise regularly

Potential trouble spots

When IBS symptoms strike after eating, the sufferer must be aware that there is a list of foods known to cause bloating, gas, and other symptoms:

  • Cabbage
  • Onions
  • Peas and beans
  • Hot spices
  • Fried food
  • Chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Smoked food


Managing the diet is crucial to finding relief from IBS symptoms.

Non soluble fiber can be a problem

Fiber is vitally important to help with regularity. The average adult should eat 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day. While this seems simple enough, the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse estimates that most people only eat 5 to 14 grams per day (NDDIC). To the IBS patient a “fiber” is not a “fiber.” Sometimes the non-soluble fiber which adds extra bulk can be a problem. The patient must experiment to see if non-soluble fibers such as whole grain breads, cereal, pastas, nuts, tomatoes, raisins, and rice cause their symptoms to worsen. If this is true, the patient must choose soluble (dissolves in water) fibers to eat such as fruits, vegetables, and oats over non-soluble fibers.

The elimination diet allows you to experiment

The elimination diet is a helpful tool for IBS patients. Using the list of possible irritants, the patient eliminates specific foods for a specific time period to see which foods cause discomfort and worsen symptoms. The food diary allows the IBS sufferer to identify troublesome foods by charting symptoms. Patience is required to work through the list, but it is worth it to reduce suffering. Self-discipline must be exercised to limit or eliminate foods that cause diarrhea, gas, and bloating.

It is important to work with your gastroenterologist and GI North to make sure you get the nourishment your body needs. Patients find it is helpful to keep a daily food diary which includes commentary about flare-ups or other symptoms. Sharing this diary with your doctor will allow him/her to make suggestions for dietary changes based on your body’s chemistry. The doctors at GI North work with their patients to teach them how to manage IBS effectively.

If you are wondering what to eat or how to cook, your doctor will provide suggestions and there are plenty of IBS-friendly recipes on the internet. You can enjoy healthy eating which will minimize your symptoms by checking food labels, eating the right food portions, and planning ahead.

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