4 Non-Diet IBS Relief Tips
By Samina Qureshi
Gut Health Registered Dietitian
Did you know that there are a variety of things that can irritate your gut when you struggle with IBS? Your lifestyle, the food you consume, stress, activity levels, and the medications or supplements you take can trigger your IBS flares. It’s not all about the low FODMAP diet or restricting your favorite foods long-term! Find out how to gain relief from IBS without rigid diets, food guilt, or shame).
Have you tried the low FODMAP diet but still experience IBS flares?
You’re not alone!
While the low FODMAP diet is one of the primary nutrition interventions, it’s not one I recommend right off the bat, especially for those who struggle with their relationship with food.
If you struggle with disordered eating or are on your healing journey from an eating disorder, you can talk to your dietitian about using a FODMAP gentle approach to manage your IBS symptoms without triggering your disordered eating behaviors.
What many people struggling with IBS don’t know is that the low FODAMP diet is only ONE tool that can help with the management of IBS.
So what can you do to find relief from IBS without going on another restrictive elimination style diet?
Before even diving into a restrictive elimination style diet, like the low FODMAP diet, I assess your diet and lifestyle for a few shocking non-diet gut irritants.
IBS is a multifactorial disorder of the gut-brain interaction. This means that your symptoms can be triggered by not only what you eat, but other factors including stress, poor sleep hygiene, your relationship with food and body, caffeine and alcohol use, medications & supplements, hydration status, meal timing and patterns, or triggering ingredients (spicy, fried, sugar-free foods, & FODMAPs).
As a dietitian who specializes in disorders of gut-brain interactions (DGBIs), I often hear my clients say that they eat a low FODMAP diet but still suffer from IBS flares.
Here are 4 Non-Diet Gut Irritants & Tips to help you find relief from IBS without a side of diet culture!
- When we are stressed, our brain activates our flight-or-fight response. It prepares the body to protect itself against danger by stopping body functions that are not immediately needed for survival, which includes digestion of foods. The flight-or-fight response can heighten IBS symptoms due to the miscommunication between the brain and the gut
- Some ways to decrease your stress levels and support better digestion include:
- Gut directed hypnotherapy
- Mental health counselling
- Diffusing essential oils
- Chatting with a friend
- Meditation or prayer
- Going for a walk
2. POOR SLEEP
- Poor sleep quality can be an indicator of next day abdominal pain, anxiety and fatigue which can impact IBS symptoms. And interestingly, IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping, excessive gas, bloating, and diarrhea/constipation can cause poor sleep quality. We don’t know the exact link between sleep and IBS, however if you struggle with poor sleep quality (trouble falling asleep/staying asleep/getting back to sleep after waking), it can add more stress to your day which directly impacts IBS
- Some ways to improve sleep hygiene include:
- Working with your dietitian to better identify food triggers and expand your diet so you feel satisfied during meals without the uncomfortable GI symptoms. It’s hard to sleep when your stomach is growling and in pain!
- Exposing your bare skin to sunlight during the day and darkness at night to recalibrate your circadian rhythm.
- Keeping a consistent sleep schedule. Waking and sleeping at the same times most days
- Implementing a wind down routine (gentle stretching, deep breathing, meditation)
- Turning off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime
- Create a cool, dark, and comfortable sleeping environment
- Avoid vigorous activity a few hours before bedtime
- Seek medical attention for sleep apnea or snoring
- Sleep hygiene can lower stress hormones and help you feel more confident making decisions to support your digestive health during the day
3. CAFFEINE & ALCOHOL
- Caffeine is known to have a laxative effect on some people with IBS. Sources of caffeine that may irritate your gut include coffee, tea, cola drinks, and chocolate. When choosing to consume coffee or other caffeinated drinks, opt for lower acidity coffees or decaf varieties. Also, be sure to have your caffeinated beverage with a meal or snack to reduce stomach discomfort
- Alcohol is not helpful for people who have digestive health concerns. Consuming alcohol can play a role in IBS symptom occurrence. You may notice alcohol irritates your gut and results in bloating, gas, cramping, diarrhea, or constipation even if you consume a small amount. Overtime, alcohol use can change the gut microbiome. These changes to the microbiome may play a role in your IBS flares. When consuming alcohol, moderation is key! This means 1-2 drinks per day maximum
- If you want to enjoy a drink without upsetting your stomach:
- Opt for lower FODMAP choices like beer, red or white wine, gin, vodka, or whiskey
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach
- Stay hydrated with water
4. MEDICATIONS & SUPPLEMENTS
- Some medications can irritate your digestive system after prolonged use. A few common medications that may get overlooked include opioids, antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs). If you experience digestive discomfort with these medications, it’s important to speak with your health care practitioner
- In addition to medications, supplements can also irritate your gut. Many people choose to include supplements in their routine to support their health, but it’s important to know whether or not they are necessary for your unique needs. The FDA does not regulate supplements at all in the U.S. so it’s important to speak with your health care practitioner about choosing quality products. Supplements may also include sneaky ingredients or have drug-nutrient interactions that can be contributing to your digestive discomfort. Consuming high doses of micronutrients on an empty stomach can cause stomach pain, nausea, and sometimes diarrhea
- Common supplements that may irritate your gut include Inulin or chicory root fiber, Protein powder/bars, Green powder/pills, Magnesium, Garlic pills and Iron
- To avoid gut irritations and drug-nutrient interactions, discuss your medication and supplement routine with your doctor or dietitian
BOTTOM LINE: IBS management should include a multifactorial approach.
If you need more support with gaining relief from IBS without another restrictive diet, stress, or shame, schedule your free 15-minute Discovery call to see if we’re a good fit to work together.
Samina Qureshi is a registered dietitian that specializes in helping people who struggle with disordered eating and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) find relief and nourish their bodies without rigid diets, stress, guilt, or food shame. She encourages her clients to care for their health in a way that best honors their lifestyle, unique needs, and cultural traditions and provides weight-inclusive care.