When to Follow a Low-FODMAP Diet for IBS

You may have noticed that there has been some buzz regarding the low-FODMAP diet. This attention is well-earned as the diet has strong research support in terms of its effectiveness in easing the symptoms of IBS. Has the buzz left you wondering if you should try the diet yourself?

Articles and books have been written as to how to follow the diet, but not much has been said as to when to try the diet. Research hasn't really addressed the "when", so in the following slides, we will look at some of my thoughts on the subject. Perhaps, what you see will inspire you to finally give this dietary-based treatment a try.


When Nothing Else Has Helped Your IBS

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For some lucky people, their trip to their doctor is all that they need to find relief from their IBS. They get a diagnosis, reassurance that they don't have cancer, and find that the medications their doctor prescribes do the trick. If that is not the case for you, you might want to think about giving the diet a try.


When You Are Having an IBS Flare

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Perhaps you are one of those people whose IBS comes and goes. Maybe you go for months or even years without your system acting up. Ah, but then it hits! You find yourself in an acute flare-up and desperately want to find your way out of it. This might be a good time to give the diet a try. Avoiding foods that are high in FODMAPs and instead choosing low-FODMAP foods might be just what it takes to get your system to settle back down.


When You Are Under Stress

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You don't need me to tell you that your IBS tends to get worse when you are under stress. Mind-body exercises are always a great way to off-set that stress, but maybe tweaking your diet temporarily will be beneficial as well.

If you are dealing with an extremely stressful life event, it may not be the time to take on the full elimination phase of the diet or to carve out time to work with a dietitian, but your belly may enjoy being given less fermentable carbohydrates to deal with temporarily until the life crisis has passed.


When You Are Traveling

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Ask anyone who has IBS and they will tell you that their symptoms tend to be worse when they are traveling. This may be due to the stresses of travel, consumption of unfamiliar foods or water, changes in the body's circadian rhythms, or changes in air pressure. Who knows? All you know is that having your digestive system give you trouble can put a real damper on your travel plans.

Although it can be challenging to find low-FODMAP options when you travel, you might find that sticking to FODMAP-friendly foods might serve as an ounce of prevention. At the very least, it is one factor that you can at least have some control over. You may not need to stick to the diet when you return home if your IBS symptoms are not generally too disruptive.


When You Have the Time

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The low-FODMAP diet might be effective for most IBS patients, but that doesn't mean that it is easy. We live in a high-FODMAP world. FODMAPs can be found in things like, wheat, garlic, onions, and milk products—all foods that make up a large part of the Standard Western diet.

Therefore, in order to benefit most from following the diet you need to be well-prepared for its restrictions. This means taking the time to shop, to prepare meals and snacks at home, and to do research as to the FODMAP content of commercially-prepared foods.

In addition, the diet is most effective when it is followed under the supervision of a qualified dietary professional. Therefore, part of your planning to be on the diet should involve dealing with the logistics of setting up and paying for consultations.


For a Limited Time Only

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It is extremely important to remember that the low-FODMAP diet is not intended to be used for the long-term. Many high-FODMAP foods can be quite healthy and nutritious and may play an important role in the health of your gut flora.

Ideally, the diet consists of an elimination phase, lasting approximately four to eight weeks, in which you strictly restrict all high-FODMAP foods from your diet. The next phase is the re-introduction phase in which you systematically introduce each of the FODMAP types, one by one, back into your diet to find out your level of tolerance for each specific type. This testing should also be repeated periodically, as tolerance can improve over time. This ongoing challenging process will help to ensure that you are eating a wide variety of nutritious foods and not restricting foods unnecessarily.


When You Have Your Period

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Many women report that their IBS symptoms are affected by the time of the month. Although there is no research on the subject, it might be worth your while to see if such symptoms are eased if you eat low-FODMAP during the time of your menstrual cycle that your symptoms are at their worst.

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  • Shepherd S, Lomer M, Gibson P. Short-Chain Carbohydrates and Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. American Journal of Gastroenterology 2013:108:707-717.