You know that I'm not expert. I'm not a dietitian. I'm just a regular person who suffers from IBS. But I got better. I lived with IBS for years, but now I feel better than I can ever remember! I have gotten quite a few emails from readers asking for advice or any other tips I can share with them on how to get through it, so I decided to write a post summarizing my best tips for dealing with and healing from IBS. Like I said earlier, knowledge is power. I am passing what I have learned on to you.
2. I went through a FODMAP elimination diet. You can take a look at my page What are FODMAPs? for more information on this. It was very helpful in discovering what foods can cause symptoms. I also found that it helped to take a break from all of those foods that are hard on my system. It gave my belly a break, a chance to heal and rest.
3. I considered other food allergies/intolerances. The FODMAP elimination diet has done a lot for me, but it didn't give me all the answers. It turns out I am also sensitive to the proteins in eggs and dairy. It was worth it to consider other food allergies/sensitivities. In fact, a great book I read called Food Allergies & Food Intolerance by Jonathan Brostoff states that up to 70% of IBS cases may actually be food intolerance or allergies. According to the Mayo Clinic website, the top food allergens are: eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. I don't have "true" allergies to eggs and dairy, but I do have sensitivities. I also considered food additives and found that I am sensitive to xanthan gum (see my post Back to the Drawing Board).
4. I keep a food diary. I record what I eat and how I am feeling. This makes it easier find a pattern, pinpointing what my trigger foods are. Sometimes my reactions to certain foods don't show up until 24 hours later, so the diary really helps.
5. I relax. Most people that know me tell that I appear very calm and collected. But let me tell you, I am a big old mess on the inside. My mind is usually going 90 miles an hour. I worry a lot. I stress a lot. My muscles are tense. So reminding myself to relax is crucial. I find it really helps to practice relaxation exercises and deep breathing. I carry a lot of my stress in my gut, and this really helps relax everything. Nice, long, hot baths help too! Sometimes when I feel some cramping coming on, I will lay flat on my back, take deep breaths and relax all of my muscles, especially my abdominal muscles. Many times this will help the cramps subside.
6. I eat on a schedule. This comes naturally to me, since I am a creature of habit. I tend to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time every day. My digestive system likes a schedule. It comes to expect food at certain times. I don't want to confuse my gut any more than it already is! This does take a lot of planning and organization, so here's what I do. On Saturdays I plan my menus for the week and go grocery shopping. On Sundays, I prepare anything that needs to be made ahead of time, like simmering chicken broth, cooking quinoa, baking bread, and chopping veggies. Then I am set for the week. It may seem like a lot of work at first, but then it becomes habit, a part of routine, a breeze!
7. I try (try!) to eat slowly and mindfully. When I'm having a busy day and feeling rushed, I have to remind myself to chew my food! One of the first steps of digestion begins in the mouth with chewing. The more food gets broken down in the mouth, the less work my already overworked stomach and intestines have to do. Not gulping down my food results in less gas too.
8. I drink lots of water. Drinking water always aids in digestion. No matter what symptom I'm having, drinking water helps. It re-hydrates the body after diarrhea and helps get things moving with constipation. Herbal teas and lemon water are great alternatives if I'm feeling like I need a little flavor!
9. I exercise. While I enjoy the physical benefits of exercise, I really have a lot to gain from the mental benefits. Exercise is an anti-depressant for me. It also helps to relieve stress and anxiety. I've found that my mental well-being greatly affects how my gut is doing. The brain and gut are intrinsically linked. If pounding out 30 minutes on the elliptical is going to make me more happy and content, then my belly will be more happy and content.
10. I take probiotics. It's important to look for supplements that do not contain fructo-oligo saccarides (FOS) or chicory root/inulin. I found out the hard way that the FOS cancelled out any good that the probiotics were doing and actually made me feel worse. I talk more about this in my belly update post Trying Probiotics. (Check out the comment section for what brands of probiotics my readers like.) I also tried digestive enzymes, but found they didn't do much for me. However, they might be worth looking into.
11. I try eat a lot of fiber. When I eat natural, whole foods, this isn't too difficult. The important thing is eating the right fiber. When I was first diagnosed with IBS, I was told to "eat lots of fiber." Back then they hadn't figured out what kinds of fiber are best for people with IBS and eating too much fiber had me in pain! I was eating apples, whole wheat bread, raisin bran cereal, you name it. Sure, those foods all had fiber, but they also had tons of FODMAPs! These days I get my fiber from oats, nuts, seeds, a little low-fructose fruit and plenty of leafy greens. The key for me: I try to eat a big leafy green salad at least once a day.
12. I consume foods that are healing and soothing. I like bone broth, which can be very healing to the digestive system and very nourishing. See my recipes for Chicken Broth & Stock and Beef Broth. I like peppermint tea, which is soothing to the digestive system and caffeine-free. Tea is also a great way to get more liquids. The leafy greens mentioned in the tip above are also very healing.
How about you? Do you have any tips that have worked for you? I would love to hear them in the comments below!