Dietary Treatment for IBS

CoachMel Current Health Articles 22 Comments

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a pretty common problem which can develop at any age, however people generally experience their first symptoms between the ages of 15 and 40.

Women are actually more likely to get IBS than men, and to have more severe symptoms.

Although the symptoms can often be quite severe, thankfully a healthy diet and simple lifestyle changes can make a huge difference to help minimize the pain.

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So, what are the main symptoms of IBS?

  • Pain in the abdomen – ranging from dull ache or cramps to stabbing pains
  • Changes in bowel habits – alternating between constipation, diarrhoea, and mucus
  • A sense of urgency to visit the toilet
  • Incomplete emptying of the bowels
  • Increased gurgling sounds in the abdomen
  • Bloated abdomen
  • Excess wind
  • Feeling sick
  • Indigestion

What are the causes of IBS?
Unfortunately, we don’t know the exact cause of IBS, but it’s more than likely to be a combination of different factors. These include stronger contractions of the muscular walls of the bowel, increased sensitivity to the amount of gas in the bowel, and simply your genetic make-up.

It’s thought there may also be a psychological factor involved as well, such as increased stress levels.

How can you improve the symptoms of IBS?
In truth, there is no one-size-fits-all diet which will bring relief to all IBS sufferers.

However, there are some fairly simple lifestyle and dietary changes which may help relieve some of your symptoms:

#1 Eat at regular intervals
If you have an erratic eating patterns you should find your symptoms improve when you start to eat more regularly.

Try to eat small meals spaced evenly throughout the day – this is much better than skipping meals, and may help to relieve your IBS symptoms. Here is a simple eating plan you could rework to fit your own schedule:

  • 8am breakfast
  • 10.30am light snack
  • 1pm light lunch
  • 3.30pm light snack
  • 6pm dinner
  • 8.30pm light snack or hot drink (if needed)

#2 Keep a food diary
Most people with IBS become pretty tuned in to what causes their symptoms.

But, to help you out in the beginning it’s a good idea to keep a food and symptoms diary, as this will give you a better understanding of any foods, drinks or other activities which trigger your symptoms.

#3 Avoid rich foods
Many people with IBS find that rich, greasy, or spicy meals make their symptoms worse. Try to reduce these types of foods in your diet if you’ve noticed they affect you in this way.

#4 Drink lots of fluids
You should be drinking at least eight to ten glasses of fluid per day, such as water, herb or fruit teas, and dilute fruit juices.

Caffeine is thought to be a bowel stimulant, so if you drink regular tea, coffee, or cola try to reduce your intake, or go for decaffeinated instead.

Fizzy drinks in general should also be avoided because of their potential to cause wind and bloating.

#5 Experiment with fibre
Although fibre can help reduce constipation, it can also make gas and cramping worse.

There are two types of fibre – soluble fibre found in oats, beans, peas, lentils, fruits and vegetables; and insoluble fibre found in wholemeal/wholegrain bread, breakfast cereals, crackers, pasta, and also brown rice, wheat and bran.

Which foods are high in fibre?

  • Carbs: wholemeal/wholegrain – bread, breakfast cereals (such as All Bran), pasta, crackers, brown rice, also muesli and oats.
  • Fruits and vegetables: jacket potatoes, raw vegetables, salad vegetables, and vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, also fruit skins, seeds, pith, and dried fruits.
  • Pulses: peas, beans and lentils.

Which foods are lower in fibre?

  • Carbs: refined/white – rice, pasta, bread, cereals (such as Cornflakes and Rice Crispies), noodles, crackers, biscuits, and cakes.
  • Fruits and vegetables: mashed potatoes, vegetables such as turnip, carrots and beetroot, tinned tomatoes, peeled stewed fruit and tinned fruit.

If you suffer from constipation, particularly if you are not experiencing wind or bloating a diet including plenty of soluble and insoluble fibre may be helpful.

For some people however, eating too much fibre can make their symptoms worse. So, if you suffer from diarrhoea, try to reduce the fibre content of your diet (to 2 servings per day) for a two to four week period.

If you notice no improvement after this time try gradually reintroducing your normal level of fibre again.

However, if your symptoms seem to settle with a lower fibre diet, you should begin re-introducing some higher fibre foods slowly, making a record of any symptoms which return.

Doing this will help you to identify your fibre tolerance level.

Bloating or wind
If bloating or wind is a problem for you, try cutting some of the following gas-forming foods from your diet and note if you experience any change. Here are some of the common culprits:

  • Apples
  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carbonated drinks – especially beer and sodas
  • Cauliflower
  • Chewing gum – causes more air to be swallow than normal
  • Hard candy – causes more air to be swallow than normal
  • Leeks
  • Lentils
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Pears
  • Peas

You should try to eat your meals slowly, because taking your time will decrease the amount of air swallowed, and also avoid drinking through a straw, smoking, and chewing gum, since these practises encourage inhaling and swallowing air.

#6 Manage your stress levels
Many people find that stress triggers their IBS symptoms. Try stress management or relaxation techniques to help overcome this.

#7 Make time for exercise
Take some regular exercise as this will help to encourage regular bowel movements, and can be very effective in reducing stress levels.

#8 Try probiotics
There’s some evidence to suggest that taking a probiotic yoghurt may help to cultivate a healthy level of “good” bacteria within the gut.

Probiotics containing lactobacillus strains seem to be the most effective, and a daily dose of 5-10 million organisms seems to be adequate.

This is definitely something worth trying, however do bear in mind that some people find these products effective, while other people don’t notice any change.

#9 Avoid potential irritants
There are a number of common culprits which tend to make some people feel worse. These include:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Certain medications
  • Chocolate
  • Dairy products
  • Fizzy soft drinks
  • High fatty foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Sugar free sweeteners such as sorbitol or mannitol

#10 Visit a registered dietitian
Please remember, it is very important not to cut whole food groups from your diet since there is a serious risk of nutritional deficiencies.

If you’re not sure how to go about changing your diet safely, ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian for further help and guidance.

Do you suffer from IBS? Perhaps you would like to share your own tips and advice to benefit the other readers, we’d love to hear from you!

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Comments 22

  1. Kelly

    I find eating 6 mini meals that are vegan and high in soluble fiber , 30min.moderate exercise everyday, drinking at least 7 cups of really strong chamomile fennel, mint, tea each day, drinking a liquid dairy-free probiotic in the morning after breakfast, eating candied ginger and fennel seeds after meals, and taking a magnesium supplement, helps me.

  2. Monique Avelar

    Hi Kelly, I suffer from ibs and not sure what to eat anymore. Around breakfast I don’t know what to eat and what to eat healthy, but too much fiber can also cause diarrhea along with other meals you eat throughout the day, what should I do or eat?

  3. Jenne

    Hi, I found out in FEb that I have IBS and not sure what to cut out and also want to lose some weight as well. I have cut off dairy products all together and dont know what to do

  4. Chris

    I have had IBS for ten years (diagnosed anyway!) since I was 16, I have good and bad days sometimes I go ages without a flare up. I work very unsociable hours and struggle to have regular meal times or eat healthy all the time. This week has been the worst ever and I’m not sure why! It seems anything I eat or drink is upsetting me 🙁 I have noticed that I have put on a bit of weight and seem more bloated than I used to get. Not sure why I am finding my IBS harder to control now, any advice on how to find trigger foods. Lose weight and quicker ways to stop flare ups and just generally get it back under control and to a normal life as it is quite embarrassing 🙁

    1. Melanie

      Hi Chris,
      Have you been experiencing more stress in your life of late? It could be related to that, more so than your diet. The side-effect of stress, when you have IBS, can be that the bowel is more bloated and upset than normal. Have you tried keeping a food and symptoms diary to discover more clearly exact triggers in your diet?

  5. jen

    Atm I am trying to lose weight and also have ibs. Do you know a good source to help with trigger foods?

    I find bread and dairy products kill my tummy.

    1. Melanie

      Hi Jen,
      The wheat in bread, and the lactose in dairy foods can certainly be triggers. It’s really different for each person, though, so difficult to say exactly what the trigger is. Have you tried cutting these foods completely from your diet? That is the only way you can know for sure if avoiding them will help. You also need to carefully scrutinize food labels, as these ingredients will be in a lot of other foods.

  6. alex

    I suffer IBS constipation and i’m now manageing my IBS ok.
    For breakfast:
    one of tea
    shredded weat bites with probitoic yogart, blue berries and apricots
    1 pot of probitotic yogart
    1 brown breadroll with salad and ham or salad and chicken
    I also have a pot of almonds which i put my yogart on
    1 pear
    i cup of tea
    i pretty much have whatever i want but make sure i avoid foods that affect my ibs. For example: brown pasta with ham and a nice cheeese sauce.

    I really had to cut down on the amouth of tea i drank. i drank up to 8 or 9 cups a day. Now i drink at least 1 letre of water a day.
    I would eat many small meals a day but because of my job, i really don’t have time. i’m a nurse believe it or not
    i also exercise about five times a week, three times at my local gym, one night a week i do zumba, and one night week a do boxing.

    1. Melanie

      Hi Alex, thanks for sharing what has worked for you. That is really helpful. It’s interesting that you had to cut down on the amount of tea you were drinking, too. Thanks for your comment.

  7. melanie

    Hi i have been suffering with ibs for a while now i have food triggers mainly bread and more recently gluten ive cut out dairy spicy foods and veg makes me worse getting to a point where there isnt much i can eat ive gained 6lb in the last 2 weeks and im trying to lose weight im keeping a eye what i eat but daily bloating being constipated is taking its toll have you any advice my gp gave me peppermint oil told me to come back in a month ,any advice would help

  8. Sohan Singh

    Hi i have been suffering with ibs at least one and half year please advice to me
    Stomach Bloating and Gas – How Can I Stop Stomach Bloating?

  9. sakshi

    I am suffering from IBS, loosing my weight about 15kg in 7 months. my weight is now 44kg, age 30, female, mother of one year baby gorl. kindly suggest some diet plan. I also feel very week some times.

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