Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the worst! I went to doctors for years to get help. I took countless medications, had invasive tests done, and never got any better. For a long time, doctors said IBS was one of those mystery diagnoses, where nobody understands the cause. Well, I was finally fortunate enough to have the cause of my IBS symptoms found, and how to fix them. Now I want to tell you how simplifying my eating habits helped my symptoms, using the best diet for IBS.
How I discovered the cause of my IBS symptoms
After years and years of pain and suffering, I finally found a doctor with the experience to diagnose me. If you think (or know) you have IBS, there are a few things you might not know:
More evidence is revealing that IBS is a motility dysfunction. Meaning, your digestive tract either moves food through too slowly (leading to constipation) or too quickly (diarrhea).
If you have digestive motility issues, the best kind of doctor to see is a neurogastroenterologist. These are GI docs that specialize in motility disorders.
I went to see one after nearly ten years of problems when my primary care at the time was savvy enough to give me a referral. The physician evaluated me and told me three types of foods were probably causing my discomfort: dairy, gluten, and fructose.
At the time, I was already on a gluten-free, vegan diet. So I wasn't eating gluten and hadn't for years. I'd only been dairy-free for a few months, but that should have been enough to help. But the fructose thing intrigued me. Wasn't fructose a sugar? What could I possibly be eating that was high in sugar?
Then I learned about FODMAPs
I'm not going to go into all the details here--you can search online for more information about FODMAPs. But in short, FODMAP is an acronym describing carbohydrates found in many foods that disrupt the digestive process in some people. Fructose is one of these carbs (the "F" in FODMAP). There is a lot of data about this diet, and a group of researchers at the University of Monash in Australia even specializes in studying this diet and testing foods for their FODMAP content.
I decided to give it a try, and within a few months I saw the following results:
less frequent cramps and abdominal pain
no bloating and discomfort after meals
improved bowel movements (I don't want to get too graphic here!)
lost stubborn excess weight (nice bonus!)
But I still wasn't cured of IBS
Things were a lot better. But not perfect. If the digestive tract is functioning well, a person should be able to eat a healthy meal and digest it without an adverse reaction. That was not the case for me, or at least not 100% of the time.
My problem would never be cured because I had nerve damage in my intestines. So the only way to feel better was seeing if there was more I could do to improve my diet and lifestyle (or take more medication, which I was against doing).
Here are the steps I took to help my IBS symptoms:
First thing in the morning, I have plain water before anything else.
I wait about 15 minutes, and then I have a hot beverage (herbal tea or golden milk).
After another 15-30 minutes, I eat a minimal breakfast.
1-2 hours later, I eat more food.
I eat 4-6 times per day, in smaller quantities.
I avoid spicy, greasy, and salty foods.
I eat as few packaged/processed goods as possible.
I try to keep my stress levels low with my morning routine, exercise, and taking frequent breaks during the day.
I quit the soul-sucking job that caused me to wake up with an upset stomach every morning.
I limit the number of ingredients in any meal to under ten whenever possible.
I don't wait too long to eat or keep eating when I'm not hungry.
I try to keep my environment as drama-free as possible.
Whether food is low-FODMAP or not, I eat each type of food in moderation.
These days, my digestion is excellent. I even noticed I'm able to add back in some of the high-FODMAP foods I avoided before, without symptoms.
If you're worried about the limitations of a low-FODMAP diet
I've followed this diet for over two years now. I traveled all over the country, usually shopping in grocery stores I've never heard of before. I've eaten at restaurants and parties. On top of that, I'm 100% gluten-free (the FODMAP diet is not a gluten-free diet) and 100% vegan (there are plenty of non-vegan foods that are low-FODMAP). So trust me when I say that if you have some discipline, you can find plenty of nutritious and delicious things to eat that are in line with this dietary plan.
Plus, you don't eliminate all the foods forever. I recommend working with a doctor who is familiar with the diet, or a dietitian, to get more information. After you've discovered which foods you are sensitive to, you can go back to eating all the other FODMAP-containing foods and be mindful of the ones you know are bothersome.
Even if you don't have IBS, a lot of the principles I mentioned above for simplifying your diet could be beneficial to you. Processed foods aren't good for anybody, and neither is a job that makes you physically ill.
But if you do have IBS, I recommend the low-FODMAP diet without reservation. As someone who's tried just about everything, in my opinion, this is the best diet for IBS symptoms.