How to Improve Quality of Life With IBS

Like many people with IBS, one may feel quite betrayed by their body. IBS may also cause anger that their body is preventing them from doing what they want to be doing; and bewildered about feeling frequently sick. Although these feelings are quite normal, it is important to learn to forgive the body for being so symptomatic. It is just reacting to the various sets of circumstances that it has found itself in after all.

Start to treat the body as if it were a sick friend, a friend who would do anything it could to help a loved one if they were sick. Do the same with your own body. Stop fighting with your body and stop trying to control it. Listen to what it needs and do what you need to do to take care of it. Work toward overcoming shame about IBS symptoms and try to take a more matter-of-fact approach.

If a 4-year-old needed to “get to a bathroom, now!” you might be a bit hassled, but you would just do what needs to be done. If a friend canceled an engagement at the last minute due to feeling sick, you would express concern and good wishes. You are every bit as deserving of that kind of care and compassion. Give it to yourself.

Weekends are all about family catch ups
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Learn to Put Yourself First

Yes, we all have busy lives and lots of responsibilities. Too often, taking care of ourselves becomes a low priority. You must rearrange your life so that taking care of your health and your body moves to the top of the list. Learning to do this without guilt is the hard part.

Our bodies are the toolkit that we were given to deal with the demands of this world. Like any job, the quality of our tools is going to reflect the quality of the final product. By taking care of ourselves first, we enhance our ability to take care of everybody else. Yes, IBS is a bummer, but you can turn this challenge around by using your illness as a motivator for improving your overall health.

Work With A Healthcare Provider

With a chronic condition like IBS, it is essential to have a qualified, trustworthy healthcare provider to serve as a guide and resource. As a patient, you can do things to ensure that one gets the maximum benefit from appointments with a healthcare provider.

  • Write down questions and concerns ahead of time: Healthcare appointments can be anxiety provoking, so do your part to minimize this by having a written list of the issues you want to address. This way you won’t have to worry that you might be forgetting something important. Due to their busy schedules, healthcare providers generally welcome a neat list as it allows them to get directly to the heart of the things that are important.
  • Remember that healthcare providers are only human: A practitioner cannot cure IBS. Healthcare providers are just an important part of your treatment team. You are the boss: It is mainly up to you to coordinate the various aspects of your own health. It is also your job to speak up if you do not agree with something that a healthcare provider has said or recommended, or if you feel that they are overlooking something that is of significant concern. Research shows racial bias, along with many other biases, persist in healthcare in ways that negatively impact patient-provider communication and care. It is possible not tolerate discrimination in any form, respect the healthcare provider’s expertise, and still never forget you are the expert of your own body.

IBS Healthcare Provider Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman

Establish Healthy Eating Habits

Due to the complicated relationship between IBS and food, this might be a bumpy road, but one well worth traveling on. Symptoms can be so traumatic that it is easy for certain foods (or just the simple act of eating) to quickly become something to fear. It can, therefore, be quite a challenge to learn to eat in a way that is nutritionally sound. Remember that this is a lifelong process. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Avoid large, heavy meals or foods with a high fat content. Heavy meals and fatty foods can stimulate the hormones involved in the gastrocolic reflex, a reflex that triggers colon contractions, and thus may cause you to experience stronger, and perhaps more painful, abdominal cramps.
  • Eat meals on a regular basis. People with IBS are often tempted to skip meals, believing that this will reduce symptoms. However, remember the goal is regularity. Do your part in helping your system to learn to operate in a steady fashion by eating smaller, more frequent meals on a predictable schedule.
  • Slowly increase fiber. Although the research on the effects of fiber as a treatment for IBS is mixed, slowly experimenting with different types of fiber will allow you to experience the many health benefits of fiber. As a general guideline, aim to increase soluble fiber if your predominant symptom is diarrhea and insoluble fiber if your predominant symptom is constipation.
  • Introduce new foods when your symptoms are quieter. Many people with IBS eat a narrow range of so-called "safe" foods. It is important to eat a variety of foods in order to gain maximum nutritional value, so introduce new foods when symptoms have lessened or when stress levels are lower.
  • Look into the low-FODMAP Diet: The low-FODMAP diet is the first dietary approach with research support for its effectiveness.

Develop a Strong Support Network

Due to the nature of its symptoms, IBS can be quite isolating. Like any other health condition, social support is a key component to a favorable treatment outcome. It is, therefore, important to talk to others about the challenges of IBS.

Letting others in opens the door for you to receive understanding, support, and nurturing. Due to the high incidence of IBS in the general population, you might be surprised to find out who else has IBS.

Granted, some people will be insensitive. Spend more time with people who are positive and helpful, and reduce your time spent around those who just don’t get it. Look for an IBS support group in your area.

Through online discussion forums, the Internet has also been a blessing for uniting individuals who share a common disorder. Just be wary of the validity of information posted and be careful to not be caught up in others whose symptoms are more severe than your own.

Get Out There and Live

Do not let your IBS run your life. Make your plans! Remember, going out of the house does not trigger IBS symptoms. It is the anxiety about going out that may trigger symptoms. Learn and use relaxation strategies to lessen this anxiety and free yourself up to begin to live a more "normal" life.

Although you no longer have the luxury of taking your body for granted, careful planning can help you better manage your life with IBS. For example, if you know that you experience diarrhea episodes in the morning, then try to schedule appointments in the afternoon.

Let others know about your needs, whether it be in terms of what you can eat or extra time for bathroom stops. Have a plan as to where to find available bathrooms and how you will stay calm until you are able to reach one.

Remember that accidents are extremely rare. Your body was trained at an early age to hold onto stool until you reach a bathroom, and most likely it will do so, even if it often seems like you made it “just in time.” If accidents concern you, then be prepared. Wear a sanitary pad if necessary, and carry baby wipes, a change of clothes, and anything else you might need to help you to feel an improved sense of safety and comfort.

Keep in mind that IBS tends to wax and wane. Just because you are feeling awful right now does not mean that you will always feel this way. So, take good care of yourself until your symptoms start to ease. Reassure yourself that with practice and a bit of trial and error, you will get better at helping yourself feel better.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.