How to Eat When You Have IBS

If you have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), then paying attention to how you eat can be just as important as what you eat. That's because IBS is a complicated disorder, with symptoms that can vary from person to person, or even from day to day in the same person.

While IBS can be tricky to manage, you can take measures to control the condition as best as you can. The easy guidelines that follow highlight helpful ways to approach diet and lifestyle based on your symptoms.

Young woman with IBS eating a salad
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How to Eat for IBS When You Have...

Diarrhea: One of the top questions experts field about IBS from patients is, “What should I eat when I have diarrhea?” Although there are some specific foods that may help diarrhea, it is essential that you also consider eating in a way that does not intensify the strength of intestinal contractions. To do so, eat small, low-fat meals frequently throughout your day. This may require you to bring snacks to work or school to keep you on a routine. If you feel comfortable, explain to a supervisor or a teacher, that you have IBS, and eating at regular intervals helps you manage your condition. You don't have to get into specifics.

Constipation: The main thing to keep in mind when approaching how to eat for constipation is that you want to do the opposite of what is recommended for diarrhea. Thus, you want to eat in a way that encourages intestinal contractions. The simplest way to accomplish this is to eat a large breakfast in the morning, therefore working with your body’s natural rhythms to encourage movement in your bowels. You may also try herbal teas designed to relieve constipation.

Gas and BloatingTo reduce the symptoms of gas and bloating, you want to make sure that how you eat minimizes the amount of gas in your system. The easiest way to do this is to consider how likely a particular food is to produce gas. The science behind this is not all that complicated. Gas-producing foods are those that contain certain sugars and/or soluble fiber. The interaction between the non-digested parts of these foods and intestinal bacteria results in the production of gas. On days where it is especially important to be symptom-free, you can minimize your intake of these foods. 

As with constipation, some herbal teas are also designed to reduce gas and bloating. And be sure to avoid chewing gum or sucking on hard candies, both of which can cause you to swallow air and create more gas in your body.

Abdominal Pain: The guidelines for how to eat when you have abdominal pain overlap with those for diarrhea and gas/bloating. You don’t want to do anything that encourages stronger intestinal contractions, so that means smaller, lighter meals. Since there can be a relationship between abdominal pain and bloat, try to avoid notoriously gassy foods on days when your pain is more intense. 

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  4. Brigham and Women's Hospital. Gas: Beat the bloat.