Some of the most frequent questions we get here at The IBS Network are “What should I eat?”, “Can you send me a list of foods?”.
Though they might seem like easy questions, unfortunately there’s not a simple answer. IBS varies so much from person to person that what might be a trigger for you, might be a safe food for someone else.
To show just how much triggers can vary, we asked our social media followers to share with us their nightmare foods.
We had hundreds of responses and the answers varied from nuts to onions, sweeteners to salad and everything in between.
It can take months to figure out your personal triggers, particularly in the middle of a bad flare up where everything seems to be causing problems. Desperate to speed up the process, some sufferers turn to the internet looking for a quick fix — a list of yes and no foods.
But finding a trustworthy source online can be tricky. Always be wary of copying what other patients say work for them as you may be different; also keep in mind that Nutritionists or Nutritional Therapists are not licensed to give dietary advice to people with IBS. Only Registered Dietitians are able to treat and advise those with an illness.
Others find out about or get given an information sheet about the FODMAP diet. Whilst this programme can be effective for some people, there are a few important factors to bear in mind.
The FODMAP diet should not be the initial treatment for IBS. Only when other dietary and lifestyle modifications and treatment options have failed should the FODMAP diet be attempted. It’s what doctors and the NHS refer to as a ‘second line’ treatment.
The strict exclusion programme should also not be followed without the support and guidance of a Registered Dietitian who has been trained in IBS and the FODMAP diet.
Additionally, the FODMAP diet is only a short-term programme, not a long-term treatment for IBS. The exclusion part of the FODMAP diet lasts for around eight weeks; after that comes the reintroduction phase where you start eating small quantities of higher FODMAP foods again in small quantities.
One thing we recommend to many of our members is keeping a food and mood diary. IBS is much more than just the food you eat. It’s the time of day, the environment where you have your meals, and how you’re feeling when you pick up that knife and fork. For some, it might not be food at all, but stress.
If you’re making your own food and mood diary, be sure to make space to note down what was going on in your life at that moment and how you felt about it. We’ve also produced our own Wellness Diary that walks you through a 12-week food and mood programme to help uncover triggers — it’s available from our shop for £7.25 including delivery and all proceeds support the work of The IBS Network.
Looking at what you eat and avoiding certain foods will only work in conjunction with managing stress. When you’re feeling stressed, the brain stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. This directly increases the sensitivity of the gut, allowing more messages from the gut to reach the brain.
Another guest blogger and patient will be talking about her tips for managing stress in Friday’s post; we’ll also look at different treatments and the importance of balancing self-care and support tomorrow.