Learning that you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), can bring on a whole host of emotions. You’ll probably feel some relief in finally getting a diagnosis. There might be some confusion as you think “what does this mean.” There may be some anger because it took so long to be heard and to start getting the answers that you need and want. There’s also likely a sense of the unknown as you wonder “I’ve been diagnosed with IBS, now what?”
Let’s take a look at that “now what” part with a deeper dive into what IBS is, what the symptoms are, and what you can start to do to live a full life with IBS.
What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal condition that includes symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and cramping. IBS is one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions seen by gastroenterologists and physicians. It is thought to affect up to 20% of Americans at some point in their lifetime.
IBS is considered a functional bowel disorder. There are no chemical markers or physical findings that doctors can use to pinpoint an IBS diagnosis. Instead, IBS is diagnosed based on the symptoms that an individual is experiencing and it is diagnosed after other gastrointestinal disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease, have been ruled out.
What causes IBS?
We don’t know exactly what causes IBS but we have many thoughts about what could be the cause. Here are some of the common theories behind what causes IBS…
- Abnormalities in gut motility
- Improper immune system functioning
- Abnormal amounts of gut bacteria
- How the brain interprets painful signals from the gut
It’s highly likely that there is more than one cause behind IBS. If there’s more than one cause, there’s more than one treatment. An individual’s IBS cause can be as unique as the individual and this can be wildly frustrating. You want relief for your IBS and here I am letting you know that your IBS may have many underlying causes, which means that there may be many treatments needed to get symptom relief.
Treatment for IBS
As mentioned prior, there are a variety of treatments that can be utilized for IBS. These treatments include…
- Nutrition and diet therapy
- Lifestyle changes
- Psychological therapies
Intuitive Eating & IBS
The treatments that I want to focus on are nutrition and lifestyle. Nutrition and lifestyle changes are part of the intuitive eating framework. Intuitive eating can be quite beneficial as part of IBS treatment strategy.
Intuitive eating can help you figure out what foods may trigger your IBS symptoms. One of the ways that I work with clients on finding their trigger foods is by implementing the FODMAP diet. This diet is an elimination style diet but the goal is not to eliminate a whole bunch of foods and be symptom free. The goal is to figure out what category of foods trigger your symptoms and then figure out your tolerance level for those foods. Since a large part of intuitive eating is paying attention to how your body feels before, during, and after eating, it works perfectly to utilize intuitive eating to find your food triggers.
Intuitive eating can also help you learn to nourish your body consistently and adequately. Extreme hunger can trigger IBS symptoms as can the overeating and stuffed feeling that often follows eating when you have reached the extreme hunger level. Intuitive eating helps you learn the nuances of your hunger and with IBS, intuitive eating can help you figure out what a good eating pattern is for you, based on your hunger, so that you don’t reach extreme hunger.
Intuitive eating will help you figure out how to optimize nutrition to feel your best. With intuitive eating, you will learn to pay attention to subtle cues from your body that are communicating what your body needs. Honoring these subtle cues will allow you to figure out how to optimize your nutrition to best manage your IBS.
Intuitive eating is individualized. IBS symptoms and triggers are unique to each individual. Combining the two, allows for an individualized approach to your health and wellness.
Tips to get you started
Here are a few things you can start today to utilize intuitive eating in managing your IBS.
- Keep an intuitive eating journal. There are a couple of options here but the bottom line is that you are NOT keeping a journal to track how much you are eating; you are keeping a journal to track how you feel. You can record what you eat for each meal and what GI symptoms you have throughout the day. You can also record your GI symptoms as they occur and the foods that you ate prior to those symptoms. If you decide to work with a dietitian, this journal will be a major help to your dietitian. You can also use the food journal yourself to see if there are any patterns.
- Begin tuning into your hunger cues. Before you sit down for a meal, ask yourself how hungry you feel. Think about how empty or full your stomach is. Begin paying attention to what your body does when it’s hungry.
- Aim to eat regularly. Proper nourishment is key for a variety of reasons. Set a goal to eat roughly every 3 – 4 hours to ensure that you are providing your body with adequate nutrition.
If you feel like you are struggling with IBS or uncomfortable GI issues and want some additional support in finding relief, let chat!