I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) the summer after my freshman year in college. At that time, I was not pursuing education in nutrition and didn’t know much about how food impacted my health. I was 18 years old and certainly was not a good example of someone eating a nourishing diet. After testing to rule out a more severe medical condition, the doctor suggested I add a fiber supplement to my diet and manage the symptoms with over the counter medications. Even at that time, I knew this was a vague diagnosis with no attempt at understanding the cause. I felt simply dismissed with no answers.
I didn’t know what else to do. The following years I continued to have symptoms and managed with medication. When I was in my early 20’s I got fed up with the continued struggle and started changing my diet. I found that when I ate less sugar and processed foods I felt better. It was at least a step in the right direction. I continued to do research and try different things to feel better. It helped but never completely eliminated my symptoms.
Because of my desire to heal myself and my growing passion around food for good health, I pursued my Master’s degree in Nutrition. And the many years since I completed my degree I have continued to learn about IBS. I have gained a more complete understanding of why an imbalance in the body occurs and creates symptoms. I know now that my symptoms were just that, symptoms. They were trying to tell me that my body wasn’t functioning fully. And by covering those up with medications I was never going to learn the why.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Today IBS is diagnosed based on the following criterion:
Recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort at least 3 days per month over the last 3 months associated with 2 or more of the following:
- Improvement with defecation.
- Onset associated with a change in frequency of stool.
- Onset associated with a change in form (appearance) of stool.
First – evaluate for a serious condition
Seeing your doctor is a good place to start when you have symptoms that you can’t explain. It is, of course, important to rule out any condition that could be more serious. According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders there are a number of signs that would be considered “alarm” symptoms and should be looked at further.
- New symptom onset at age 50 or older
- Blood in stools
- Nighttime symptoms that wake you up
- Unintentional weight loss
- Changes in your typical IBS symptoms (like new and different pain)
- Recent use of antibiotics
- Family history of other GI diseases such as cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease.
An IBS diagnosis with no alarm symptoms
So you have been diagnosed with IBS and a more serious condition has been ruled out. Now what? A life of management of symptoms with no hope for improvement? Are you OK with that? I wasn’t and the men and women I work with every day to get to the root of their problem aren’t either.
Next steps to get your health back
I understand you can feel like a detective trying to figure out what foods are causing your symptoms. I hear every day, “I think apples upset my stomach,” or “I didn’t feel good after I ate cheese, so that must be a trigger for my symptoms.” Both of those statements may be correct, but consider the number of different foods you have eaten in a day and in several days that may still be causing symptoms. In addition, consider the other factors that may impact the status of your gut, for example the stressors in your day.
#1 – Find the foods that create symptoms – elimination diet vs. testing
You may know that a food definitely causes you symptoms. In that case it may be simple to take out that food and see if your symptoms improve. There are several foods including wheat, dairy, soy, corn and eggs that are known to cause symptoms for many individuals. Creating an elimination diet to take out those foods for a period of time and then reintroduce them to “test” your reaction is an option. I have found that to be effective for many individuals to eliminate their symptoms. Unfortunately, it can be stabbing in the dark as there are many more foods in your diet. Food sensitivity testing is another option that can get you to answers more quickly. Foods that I found I was reactive to included chicken, apples and oranges – foods I would have never considered taking out of my diet.
Consider, however, that simply eliminating the foods that today are causing you symptoms doesn’t get to the deeper why. Why did these symptoms start occurring in the first place? What happened to your gut so that you became sensitive to foods that should be harmless. The purpose of eliminating specific foods is to give your body an opportunity to calm down – to stop overreacting to something that is not harmful to you. Trying a standard elimination diet or getting testing is a good place to start. I recommend mediator release testing (MRT). It is a great tool to get answers more quickly and thousands of individuals have had success using this tool.
#2 – Create a diet that nourishes the body
Once you have determined foods that are causing constant irritation and you have removed those you can begin to create a diet that will nourish your body well. If you have eliminated certain foods, you will need to ensure that you are replacing the nutrients lost from those in other foods. You must focus on real food and eliminate the highly processed foods that create gut damage.
#3 – Heal the gut
Much of what has created your symptoms is likely a result of damage that occurred in your gut sometime throughout your life. This may require supplementation with gut healing nutrients, probiotics and in some situations, medication.
#4 – Manage your stress
Stress has a significant impact on the health of your gut and the symptoms you may be experiencing. I know for me – stress has always gone to my gut. With stress management techniques such as relaxation breathing and meditation in addition to good quality sleep and regular exercise, the impact stress in your life has on your body can be decreased substantially.
I understand the frustration of IBS. I lived with it for years. A real solution does exist. Take the next steps to get your health back – you are worth it!
If you are struggling to solve your IBS I am here to help. Click here for more information and to find out if nutrition coaching may be right for you.
If you are ready to make changes to your life to end the cycle of feeling sick, bloated and being overweight – click here to contact Lynda to learn how to create healthy eating and healthy living that will work for you.
There is no one size fits all approach to nutrition and healthy living. Recommendations given are not intended to replace the personalized guidance of a health professional.