10 Steps to Take Once You've Been Diagnosed with IBS
So you've been diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). You've been suffering with digestive issues for months maybe even years and the only answer you got was that you have an irritable bowel. What do you do from here? If you are anything like me, you've experienced some major frustration trying to figure out what to eat and how to eat to keep symptoms at bay. You probably got little help from doctors on how to eat (I was told just to not eat lettuce...mmm yea not very helpful). I've had IBS for years and I can tell you that each step below has made a profound difference. I hope you can learn from my own experiences in order to help your digestive system heal and help you feel better from the inside out!
Here are the first ten steps any one should take when having digestive issues or given a diagnosis of IBS:
- Don't blame yourself. While we are still unsure of the exact cause of IBS, there is emerging researching indicating there is usually a triggered event like a bout of food poisoning or stomach virus that can do damage to the intestinal wall, or slow the migrating motor complex (MMC) which acts as a broom in your small intestine to clean it and/or also cause damage to the balance of bacteria (or other organisms like yeast) in your digestive system. It's super important to not let negativity creep in to your mind. Every day is a learning opportunity to improve your digestion and health, and not everyday will be perfect. Personally, shifting my mindset to looking at things as an opportunity for growth rather than being upset that I was having yet another day of pain has made a big difference. I truly believe positive thinking creates positive results and vice versa. This is where things like yoga, meditating and journaling can be extremely helpful.
- Eliminate possible irritants like sugar substitutes, chewing gum, carbonated water and possibly caffeine. Sugar substitutes destroy the balance of bacteria in your digestive system (among many other negative side effects), chewing gum can increase bloating especially when made with sugar alcohols as many are (it can also make you hungrier as it activates your digestive system to begin) and carbonated drinks like carbonated water and soda can cause MAJOR gas and bloating. For some with IBS, caffeine in drinks like coffee can be too stimulating. While for others, especially those with constipation dominant IBS, it can help move things along. Find what works for you. I have found personally and for many of my clients, adding fats to the caffeine helps to avoid the jittery, over stimulated effect of coffee. You can simply add a splash of half and half or heavy cream to your coffee, or drink your coffee blended with fats (here's my recipe for bulletproof coffee). Bonus, it's incredibly delicious :)
- Drink warm fluids and drink fluids in between meals. Cold foods (including ice cold water and smoothies) can be a lot harder of your digestive system. Chugging water (or any drink for that matter) with a meal encourages you to chew your food less and dilutes the hydrochloric acid in your stomach that begins digestion. An exception can be the occasional glass of red wine with a meal, as the acidity can actually help you digest it. I personally start the day off with warm water with lemon (more on my morning routine here) and drink my water warm throughout the day, in between meals. I strive to not drink too much fluid 30 minutes before and 30 minutes following a meal.
- Chew your foods. Taking your time to eat will encourage you to chew your foods properly so that your digestive system doesn't have to do the mechanical breakdown of food that your mouth should be doing. I also find when people chew their foods longer they slow down when eating, which allows your body to process if you are full or not. Overeating doesn't allow space for your digestive system to do the work in needs to do. Eating until comfortable or 80% full will more easily allow for this to occur. Bonus, when you properly chew your foods you really don't need a drink while eating which helps with #3!
- Space meals properly apart. This has been a game changer for me. I used to eat every 2-3 hours and was constantly hungry yet always in stomach pain. Your migrating motor complex's job is to sweep everything out of the small intestine and can only do this in a fasted state. Eating more at mealtime (especially more fats) can help keep you fuller, longer so that you can go 3-6 hours in between meals and snacks.
- Utilize spices when cooking. Turmeric is wonderful for reducing inflammation in your body (try my turmeric milk here). Cumin is amazing for constipation. Ginger is incredibly soothing to your digestive tract. Other spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are great for you and your digestion, too. Not only do spices add flavor to foods but they can provide your body nourishment and help it heal, too!
- Use peppermint oil and tea. When my stomach is in pain, nothing is more soothing to it than peppermint oil. IBGard is a brand of peppermint oil capsules that you can find at any pharmacy. I personally make my own capsules with peppermint oil and coconut oil (as I am cheap AF and making it myself saves a ton of money!) You can also sip on peppermint (or ginger) tea when having stomach pain as well.
- Include bone broth, gelatin and collagen in your diet. These three items are uber important. Why? They contain crucial amino acids that help to repair your gut lining and intestinal wall. I personally put collagen in my coffee and drink a glass of bone broth everyday with breakfast. Would it help if I made a video to show you how to make bone broth? I promise its incredibly easy to make!
- Probiotics and fiber daily. There are a few circumstances/diagnoses where we don't want probiotics in the diet. But for the vast majority of people, especially those experiencing digestive issues, probiotics in the diet are a must! I prefer to eat my probiotics in the form of foods and drinks like kombucha, yogurt and kefir (can choose dairy free versions of these if needed or make with raw dairy), kimchi and sauerkraut as well as other fermented vegetables. Fiber, especially prebiotics (including resistant starch) is the food for bacteria. Including plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet will help you to consume enough fiber and prebiotics on a daily basis*.
- Seek out help from a RD or a medical professional for help with a FODMAP elimination diet (only to be used short term though) or determining the root cause of your IBS. Especially if the 9 steps above did not make a difference in your symptoms or you have other health issues (such as bacterial or yeast overgrowth which will require a more specific healing plan). I personally work with my clients to LIBERATE their diet, heal their disordered eating without severe food restrictions, get to the root cause of their IBS (SIBO is the most common functional digestive disorder I work with) and use herbal antibiotics and other botanicals for digestive healing. Especially if you come from a background of restricting, eliminating more food groups is not necessarily going to be more helpful. You can hear more about this on the Nourishing Women Podcast (many episodes dedicated to gut healing) if you want to learn more!
*This would not be recommended if you have SIBO. SIBO can be exascerbated by probiotics, so if they make your symptoms worse it could be a sign of a bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine.