With the Eating for IBS Diet, Size Matters

If a food is safe for IBS, could it still cause an attack? Yep, if you eat a huge portion of anything in one sitting that can set off symptoms.

This is because your gastrocolic reflex reacts in direct proportion to both the volume of food and number of calories you consume in a meal.

Remember, it's the overreacion of this reflex that sets off the dysfunctional bowel motility of IBS.

So it's easy to see why high fat foods causes IBS problems. Fats are more than twice as calorie-dense as carbohydrates and proteins. Fats have nine calories per gram, carbs and proteins have four calories per gram.

But this also means that bingeing on anything carries serious risks for those of us with IBS.

Don't kid yourself that when your friends break out a whole pint of ice cream with a spoon for that movie you're watching, you can do the same with fat-free sorbet. It's not just ingredients when it comes to the IBS diet, but quantity too. Size really does matter.

Keep your portions small for fringe benefits as well. It makes it easier to eat more frequently, and keep soluble fiber in your gut 24/7, which in turn keeps motility stable.

Unfortunately, Americans often supersize everything they eat. This can be a hard habit to break, I know.

One easy trick I use at home is serving myself on salad plates and soup bowls. Visually, I don't feel faced with a skimpy meal. I know if I'm still hungry I can have a second helping. But more often than not once I'm done with a relaxed and leisurely meal those portions were enough to fill me up without overfilling my gut.

This is also a great way to keep from over-serving yourself initially and then feeling obligated to eat everything on your plate - even if you're no longer hungry. The don't waste food lesson ingrained in most of us as children can be in conflict with eating safely for IBS.

Snack on small amounts of food throughout the day to keep from getting so hungry you overeat.

At restaurants, divide your plate in half the moment you're served and take that portion home with you for a later meal. If you make this a habit you'll be shocked to realize how oversized most restaurant meals are. It's obvious why you'd suffer an IBS attack if you eat all that food in one sitting.

I have a few favorite restaurants, especially Ethiopian and Middle Eastern, whose dinner portions are so generous I actually get three complete meals out of them. Even someone without IBS is likely to feel pretty lousy after downing that much food at one dinner.

Portion control leads to other happy options with the IBS diet. The risk of IBS trigger foods can be really minimized if they're eaten in tiny quantities after soluble fiber.

In so many ways, it's how you eat for IBS as well as what you eat that will let you take control of your symptoms.

This is most critical as a strategy to incorporate all your healthy insoluble fiber foods as often as possible. But it's also a way to treat yourself to a mini-splurge every once in a while.

Let's say you're well-stabilized and just dying for a candy bar. Eating a king size Snickers as a snack on an empty stomach when you're in a rush will likely wreak havoc. Your gut will hyperreact and send you into an immediate downward spiral. Why? Because you've given your gastrocolic reflx nothing but a huge glut of fat and dairy, and no stabilizing soluble fiber.

But if your IBS is under control, and you're feeling calm and happy, you can likely treat yourself to a snack-size individual Snickers bar for dessert. That tiny portion equals a tiny quantity of fat/dairy triggers. Having it for dessert, after a meal based on motility regulating soluble fiber foods, will keep your gastrocolic reflex from overreacting. Then you'll likely do just fine.

I eat solid chocolate almost every day in this manner. Of course, this may just be sheer willpower because as God is my witness I will not go through life without chocolate. But I think this is probably the less likely explanation.

Whatever your favorite IBS trigger food, this diet strategy gives you good odds of having the occasional small indulgence. IBS food intolerances are, fortunately, not like food allergies, where the quantity of a trigger may not matter.

For instance, if you're allergic to peanuts, you may have zero tolerance, and no wiggle room. If you have an allergy, just a little peanut dust could land you in the emergency room.

But with IBS, there are many shades of gray, degrees of tolerance, and a lot of wiggle room. If you have IBS, you'll get very different digestive results from a big bowl of peanuts eaten on an empty stomach versus a little peanut sauce on some soluble fiber noodles.

For this I thank my lucky stars. It means that few things are truly forbidden on the IBS diet as long as we follow some common sense rules. Now, where's that mini Snickers I've been saving?

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