Looking for IBS relief
Written by Katie Cohen-Olivenstein, RD, MHSc.
At Motive Nutrition, we see clients for a wide variety of reasons, one of which being Irritable Bowel Syndome (IBS). Lately, inside and outside of the Motive Nutrition (virtual) offices, it seems like we’re hearing of more and more clients, friends, co-workers, and more being diagnosed with IBS or complaining of IBS-type symptoms – abdominal pain or cramping, bloating, gas, mucus-y stools, and irregular bowel patterns. It certainly makes sense, as one in seven adults suffers from IBS. And with that, comes a lot of questions about the low FODMAP diet and IBS relief.
What exactly is the low-fodmap diet?
The low FODMAP diet is a dietary approach developed by Dr. Sue Shepard to manage the symptoms of those living with irritable bowel syndrome. It is a temporary therapeutic solution that begins with complete FODMAP restriction for 4-6 weeks, followed by a controlled reintroduction of FODMAPs over 5 weeks to determine your FODMAP tolerance level. This allows you to enjoy a variety of nutritionally adequate foods, restore your healthy gut bacteria, and improve your diet-related quality of life. It really works – providing relief in about 75% of IBS sufferers. That being said, we don’t consider this the first line of defence, until we’ve tried making some other changes first.
Because what if we told you that there may be other ways to manage symptoms before exploring the lengthy (read: approximately 12 week) and strict elimination diet? What if there were some simple lifestyle and behavioural changes to consider first? Would you want to start off there? We thought so, so here goes!
Top behavioural tips for IBS relief
Manage your stress
IBS symptoms can contribute to an increase in stress and/or anxiety, and stress itself can exacerbate IBS symptoms. Science is telling us more and more that there is a strong and complex link between our gut and our brain, so it makes sense that stress is a common trigger of IBS symptoms. Try integrating a daily yoga practice, meditation, relaxing breathing techniques, or other stress-reducing activities that you enjoy.
Incorporate regular exercise
Exercise is not only a natural stress-reliever, but it also promotes regular intestinal transit. Aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week – the type, duration, and intensity of exercise is up to you, though it is recommended to include a form of resistance training twice weekly for overall health and longevity.
Focus on sleep
Our bodies need enough time to rest AND digest. Inadequate and/or poor quality sleep can aggravate IBS symptoms. Get 7-8 hours of restful sleep. Some quick tips: avoid caffeine in the afternoon and electronics within 1 hour of bed for proper rest.
Aerophagia refers to excessive air-swallowing, which greatly contributes to gas and bloating. While some air swallowing is normal, we can reduce the amount of excessive air swallowed by taking small bites, chewing food well, eating slowly, and at 3-4 hour intervals without skipping meals. Avoiding gum, carbonated beverages, and drinking through a straw will also prevent excessive air-swallowing.
Eat probiotic-rich foods daily
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that restore the microbial balance in the gut. Get your probiotics from fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso and yogurt or a from a quality supplement as recommended by your health care professional.
Include chia seeds or ground flax seeds daily – in addition to the rich and varied vitamin and mineral content of these seeds, chia and ground flax seeds contain fibre to alleviate constipation, abdominal discomfort and bloating. Add in 2 tablespoons per day to reap the benefits – in your morning yogurt parfait or smoothie, on top of salads, cooked into soups, or as part of your next baking experiment!
Avoid common irritants
Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and fatty foods are the most common trouble-makers, particularly for those who suffer from diarrhea predominant IBS.
Keep a food diary
It can be hard to identify trigger foods when looking at your diet as a whole. A food diary that records what you eat and your symptoms is an essential tool to help you and your dietitian better identify dietary elements that may trigger symptoms. It is also key in preventing the unnecessary elimination of foods and/or food groups that may appear to the culprits, but in fact, aren’t.
Lots of IBS sufferers experience improvements in their symptoms by incorporating the behavioural and lifestyle changes described above. For some, the extent of symptom improvement is big enough to consider their “diet therapy” as complete. For others, it may be necessary to move onto the low FODMAP diet in full, with the help of a registered dietitian, to achieve the symptom resolution you’re looking for. Regardless of which category you find yourself in – the benefits associated with the changes described above go above and beyond the confines of IBS, so give it a try!
Still need help getting digestive relief? Get in touch with us today.