What to do if you have IBS

Hi I’m Rachel –

Here is a very attractive image of me with a distended, bloated belly. And no, I’m not pregnant!

I have a very complex case IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) IBS-C. I’ve suffered with this since i was about 10 or 11 to varying degrees but it because more severe when I turned 16. When I have a flare up, the effect is pretty shocking – as you can see from that photo.
Not just the visual effect of a massive tummy and bad water retention, but the pain, anxiety and discomfort is debilitating.

A flare up can last 24hrs to 8-12 weeks depending on many factors.

IBS is a huge topic which isn’t spoken about enough.

So to all you ladies out there with IBS, or IBS symptoms, or maybe if you have a friend or sister who has IBS, this blog post is for you.
Please note, I am not an expert or a doctor. I speak only from experience on what has helped me MANAGE not CURE my condition.

What is IBS?

IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome – is a condition of the digestive system. It’s pretty common and tends to be a long-term condition with flare-ups. Symptoms can include bloating, distended belly, stomach cramps, gas, diarrhoea and/or constipation. You can have IBS quite mildly or pretty severely.

What causes IBS?

There can be a few different causes and triggers. It’s these triggers which we can all learn to manage (I’ll talk about that in a bit). IBS is thought to be caused by physical problems with digestion and increased sensitivity of the gut. Triggers tend to be inflammatory foods, stress and emotions.

Here are some foods, emotions and situations which can trigger my IBS:

  • stress and state management (which is what we teach here in Chase Life)
  • certain alcoholic drinks
  • processed foods like cookies and crisps
  • processed fatty or fried food (but not oily fish, eggs)
  • garlic and onions (probably the worst)
  • fibre and dietary fibre supplements
  • chemicals and colouring in foods
  • Antibiotics

Here are some other common triggers which do not affect me but they may do you:

  • fizzy drinks
  • drinks that contain caffeine
  • emotions (high state of emotion – good or bad!)
  • Gluten products

There are MANY others and this is is not exhaustive.

What Can You Do To Manage Symptoms?

If you think – or know – you’ve got IBS, there’s lots you can do.

First of all: you are not alone! IBS can be frustrating, upsetting, embarrassing and downright horrible. However, most cases are very easy to manage.

I would recommend you keep a food and stress diary for at least 3 weeks. Look at weekdays and weekend days too, as they may differ. This is great way to identify trigger foods and situations.

Here’s what you should note:

– what you ate/drank, what time
– how you felt immediately afterwards and an hour afterwards or a few hours after
– how much sleep you got, what time you went to bed and how you felt on waking
– your mood during the day
– negative emotions, what caused them, how did you cope

What Foods Are On An IBS-Friendly Diet?

Learning what foods help your IBS is a massive part of managing it. For me it was partly trial and error, and partly moving to a low FODMAP diet, with very little fibre and very little dairy.
Again – what works for me will probably not work for you. So build your own diet and become your own detective.

FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols” (you can see why they abbreviate it!) Basically these are types of foods which aren’t easily digested so tend to sit in the gut and ferment, causing us IBS girls plenty of problems.
Try cutting them out of your diet and see how you feel (use your food and mood diary to help keep track).

Please note this is an overview of the FODMAP diet and is aimed as a starting place for you to go and do your own research.

High FODMAP food (things to avoid)

Vegetables and Legumes
• Garlic
• Onions
• Artichoke
• Asparagus
• Baked beans
• Beetroot
• Black eyed peas
• Broad beans
• Butter beans
• Cauliflower
• Celery
• Kidney beans
• Leeks
• Mange Tout
• Mushrooms
• Peas
• Savoy Cabbage
• Soy beans
• Split peas
• Scallions and spring onions
• Shallots

High-fructose fruit
• Apples
• Apricots
• Avocado
• Blackberries
• Cherries
• Currants
• Dates
• Grapefruit
• Lychee
• Mango
• Nectarines
• Peaches
• Pears
• Persimmon
• Plums and prunes
• Pomegranate
• Raisins
• Tinned fruit in apple / pear juice
• Watermelon

Cereals, Grains, Breads, Biscuits, Pasta, Nuts and Cakes
• Products containing wheat (read the label) including pasta, breads, cereal, rolls
• Biscuits
• Breadcrumbs
• Cashews
• Cakes
• Egg or udon noodles
• Regular noodles
• Pastries
• Barley
• Bran cereals
• Couscous
• Pistachios
• Rye
• Semolina

Sauces, Sweets, Sweeteners and Spreads
• Agave
• Fructose
• High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
• Honey
• Ketchup / Tomato sauce
• Milk chocolate
• Sugar free sweets containing polyols (check the label – anything ending in -ol or isomalt)
• Inulin
• Isomalt
• Maltitol
• Mannitol
• Sorbitol
• Xylitol

Prebiotic Foods (these can be ingredients in yoghurts, snacks, bars etc)
• FOS – fructooligosaccharides
• Inulin
• Oligofructose

• Beer
• Dandelion tea
• Orange juice
• Rum
• Sodas/fizzy drinks with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
• Soy milk made with soy beans
• Sports drinks (very sugary)
• Wine (sad but true! A glass here and there is fine, however if I do decide to do out on a good thrash on the vino or vodka I am paying the price the day after!)

Dairy Foods
• Buttermilk
• Cream cheese
• Cream
• Custard
• Ice cream
• Margarine
• Milk (cow, goat and sheep)
• Sour cream
• Yoghurt and Greek yogurt

You may also want to moderate the amount of fibre in your diet. Don’t cut it out completely, but see how much your tummy can tolerate.

Recommended intake is 25-30g. Start slowly when increasing intake.

One point I will make – DO NOT complain about your IBS if you are not prepared to make changes to your diet. The FODMAP plan is a lifesaver for those who are really struggling. It is very easy to follow as you can eat plenty of meat, fats, rice, potato and veggies. As with everything, if you want results, it takes work and constant commitment.

Rachel’s Approach: How I Personally Manage My IBS

As well as eating a FODMAP-free diet (see the list above), here’s what’s really helped me manage my IBS over the years.

I eat 4 meals a day, and I take my time eating them. I try not to eat on the go or bolt my food down.
Lots of water and non-caffeinated teas (at least 4 litres a day).
No more than two coffees or caffeine-drinks per day.

Being brave enough to ask about the menu/ingredients at at restaurants, cafes and dinner parties.
Exercise! This really helps my IBS, from a physical point of view (keeps my guts healthy) and state management too. I am a big fan of walking daily and listening to audiobooks.

If i am in a flare up I don’t lift heavy weights. I cannot brace my abs and that is dangerous for my back. Also quite frankly I often feel so shit all I can do is haul myself out for a short walk.
Getting enough sleep and getting to bed at a consistent time. – CRITICAL!

But ultimately what has helped me is coming to terms with it and learning to manage my state. IBS is something I have, and getting too upset and stressed about flare-ups will only make it worse (trust me).

So I try to look after myself, manage stress, stay happy and treat my body well. And when IBS does strike, I chill out and let my body get itself better.

I am under the care of a Prof in Gastroenterology. I recommend his book if you are struggling with IBS. You can find it here on Amazon.

Hope this helps!

Rachel xx



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