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10 Commandments of Eating for IBS

IBS Diet - Eating for IBS

     YOU ARE NOT ALONE! An estimated 15-20% of all Americans have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, and it's a devastating, incurable condition. There is help.

Get a printable IBS diet cheat sheet. Or, take immediate control of your IBS symptoms with the IBS Diet Kit.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diet

If you need to learn how IBS symptoms (pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating) can be controlled through a diet plan and eating IBS recipes, you're in the right place. Despite the fact that diet plays a direct role in gut function (which is instinctively obvious to IBS sufferers, who are desperate for a reliable IBS diet as they know this will help them), many doctors fail to give their patients any dietary or food guidelines for Irritable Bowel Syndrome treatment at all.

Worse still, much of the dietary information available for Irritable Bowel Syndrome is outdated and useless - or likely to trigger IBS symptoms. Have you been told to eat wheat bran? Lots of raw veggies for fiber? That dairy is fine for IBS if it's lactose free? This is all wrong! (And what's all this about a low FODMAP diet? What on earth is a FODMAP?)


Low FODMAP diet? What's a FODMAP? It's an acronym that stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. FODMAPS occur naturally in foods and include fructans, galactans, polyols, fructose, and lactose.

In plain English? A low FODMAP diet just means a selective exclusion of FODMAPS. FODMAPS are a type of short chain carbohydrates that (for some people only) are poorly digested. FODMAPS are found in certain fruits, vegetables, milk and wheat. Some manufacturing by-products that are pure FODMAPS (inulin, FOS, GOS) are also commonly added to foods, drinks, and supplements. Note that gluten is NOT a FODMAP.

The low FODMAP diet, and IBS dietary advice in general, can seem overwhelming and contradictory. Hang in there, there are a lot of clear, easy steps to take that should get you feeling better quickly.
The proper Irritable Bowel Syndrome diet plan (and yes, there is one - IBS is not so highly individualized that no accurate generalizations can be made) makes a world of difference for almost everyone with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

For many, the IBS diet makes the difference between living a normal, happy, outgoing life versus spending every single day stuck in the bathroom enduring blinding pain, bowel dysfunction, bloating, and other Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.

You likely already know from personal experience that some foods nearly always cause IBS symptoms, while others never seem to bother you. On the other hand, you've also probably noticed that sometimes a specific food will trigger an Irritable Bowel Syndrome attack, while at other times you can eat the exact same thing without difficulty. Odds are it doesn't seem like there's any rhyme or reason to this. Odds are also that you've been wracking your brain to figure out why.

There are, in fact, very clear dietary guidelines to follow for how to eat safely for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, based on the well-established effects certain categories of foods have on the GI tract. The key word here is categories – most people with IBS drive themselves bonkers trying to find that one specific food that is triggering their Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

The dietary plan for IBS is actually the same for IBS diarrhea (or IBS D) as for IBS constipation (or IBS C). This is because both IBS D and IBS C result from the same underlying pathology: a dysfunction of the enteric nervous system of the gut. In other words, whether you have IBS diarrhea or IBS constipation, your bowel motility is dysfunctional. That dysfunction causes colon contractions, or peristalsis, that are too fast, too strong, too slow, too weak, or irregular and mis-timed.

If your bowel motility is too fast and strong, it results in urgency and IBS diarrhea (and often spasms and pain). If your motility is too slow or irregular, it results in IBS constipation (and often bloating and trapped gas). IBS can also manifest as a nasty combination of all these symptoms, with gut motility so wildly dysfunctional that you alternate between IBS D and IBS C.

Regardless of the specific IBS symptoms, the diet plan is the same. Why? Because your goal is always stable, rhythmic, normal bowel contractions, which in turn will result in normal bowel function. The dietary plan for achieving this is based on regulating your bowel function from either extreme, diarrhea and/or constipation, to a stable middle point.

The keys to this stability are: a foundation of soluble fiber foods; the cautious incorporation of insoluble fiber foods; and the avoidance of IBS trigger foods.

IBS Trigger Foods

The problem is, it isn't a single food that triggers Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms. It's ANY food that is high in fat, insoluble fiber, caffeine, coffee (even decaf), carbonation, or alcohol. Why? Because all of these food categories are either GI stimulants or irritants, and can cause violent reactions of your gastrocolic reflex. This directly affects the muscles in your colon and can lead to IBS pain, constipation AND diarrhea, gas, and bloating. These are the IBS diet trigger foods.

In fact, the happy truth is that eating safely for Irritable Bowel Syndrome does not mean deprivation, never going to restaurants, bland food, or an unhealthily limited diet. Nor does it mean living on "rabbit food" available exclusively at health food stores, or following brutal elimination diets, or keeping endless IBS food diaries for the rest of your life.

It does mean learning to eat safely by realizing how different foods physically affect the GI tract, and how the same foods can help or hurt both Irritable Bowel Syndrome diarrhea AND constipation, as well as bloating, gas, nausea, and painful abdominal cramps. Following the Irritable Bowel Syndrome diet simply means learning how foods can prevent or trigger a spastic colon.

It's important to note that the same dietary guidelines that are crucial for managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome can also be very helpful for inflammatory bowel disease symptoms, diverticulosis, and diverticulitis.

Take immediate control of your IBS symptoms with the IBS Diet Kit.

Learn about soluble vs. insoluble fiber and trigger foods for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. If you're currently struggling, here's how to break the cycle of IBS as quickly as possible.
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"I am newly diagnosed with IBS-C. Why is it suggested to eliminate the high-fodmap foods, then reintroduce them later to see which ones gave you trouble. To me the whole point is if it gave you trouble in the first place don't eat it? Also, some of the fodmap cookbooks have recipes in them that have high-fodmap ingredients in them?"

Hi - the whole point of the FODMAPS diet is to work with a registered dietitian to determine your particular sensitivities - if any. About 25-30% of people with IBS have NO FODMAPS intolerances, so this diet is not helpful for them.

You want to find your specific intolerances, and then find to what degree you CAN tolerate those specific FODMAPS. You don't just want to exclude them, in total, forever and ever, because you will be stripping entire categories of foods from your diet that you need for good nutrition. There are some exceptions, like lactose, where you can eliminate dairy and it will all be for the better in terms of IBS.

But you shouldn't wipe out all beans and legumes from your diet, for instance, even if galactans are one of your issues.

You want to find how much you can tolerate with FODMAPS, so that you can include as many fruits, veggies, beans, etc. in your diet as possible, in as wide a range as possible.

FODMAPS cookbooks will take this into account, and vary between low FODMAPS and truly FODMAPS free. You may be able to use a high FODMAP ingredient in a small quantity in a recipe, thus making the finished dish itself low FODMAPS.

I'd urge you to only do this diet with an RD who knows both FODMAPS and IBS, so you don't risk stripping foods out of your diet that you don't need to. The more variety and flexibility you have the easier it will be to eat safely for IBS.


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Who is Heather Van Vorous? Read Heather's IBS story.

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