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5 Strategies for Managing an IBS Flare-Up

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Our Epicurator, Andrea Hardy, RD, shares 5 tips for handling IBS flare-ups: times when IBS symptoms get significantly worse than usual. As Andrea explains, IBS flare-ups can be incredibly frustrating; one moment you feel you have it all together and the next, your symptoms are back. Even with a good plan in place for diet, movement, sleep, and stress management, it’s normal to have highs and lows in symptom control. Having a plan in place to get back on track can feel empowering and keep IBS from overwhelming us. When symptoms strike, check out Andrea’s strategies for managing an IBS flare-up.

1.  Add more fiber!

Did you know that most people only consume about half their recommended fiber intake? When following the low FODMAP diet, it can feel hard to get your daily intake of fiber (25g for women, 38g for men). You’ve probably been told to up your fiber intake, so let’s talk about why fiber is so important, especially during an IBS flare-up. Fiber:

  • absorbs excess water, which can decrease diarrhea and soften stool to decrease constipation
  • creates bulk, which can help with both diarrhea and constipation
  • maintains gut motility, which can help with constipation
  • reduce sensations of urgency, which can help with diarrhea 

Fiber is found in plant-based foods – think vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. 

Some great examples of low FODMAP fiber sources include:

  • bananas with no brown spots
  • kiwi fruit
  • blueberries
  • strawberries
  • chia seeds
  • oats
  • leafy green vegetables

Getting back to basics and choosing low FODMAP fiber can help to get your gut out of a flare-up.

 

2.  Grab your water bottle and drink up!

Been skimping on the fluid lately? This may contribute to some of those flares, especially with constipation. If diarrhea is the main symptom of your flare-up, getting enough fluid is crucial  for preventing dehydration. If constipation is the main symptom of your flare-up, getting enough fluid helps keep stool soft and pass through your digestive tract more easily. 

Aiming for 2-3L (8-12 cups) a day of fluid is a good target. Carry your water bottle around with you, use an app to track your water intake, set reminders on your phone to drink up, or have a glass of water with each meal to keep fluid on the brain all day!

 

3.  Meal timing and spacing

When you’re living with IBS, you likely spend a lot of time thinking about what to eat. But did you know that when we eat can also affect IBS symptoms? 

Skipping meals during the day can lead to eating large portions at dinner or grazing in the evening. Eating a larger portion of food at one time can lead to bloating and indigestion and worsen your IBS symptoms. 

If you find that your symptoms are worse in the evening, try including three balanced meals with light snacks in between each meal to help balance food intake throughout your day.

 

4.  Slow down before meals

Stress management is an important but often overlooked part of IBS management. Just as the gut talks to the brain, the brain also talks to the gut. If the message being sent from the brain to the gut is negative (for example, if you’re stressed or anxious), it can worsen digestive symptoms. Unfortunately, it’s common for people with IBS to experience anxiety around food, especially during a flare-up. This stress can lead to an increase in perceived pain in the gut and can even change how fast or slow the gut moves.

One of the best ways to manage anxiety around food is to slow down before meals. Try taking 5 deep belly breaths before your meal and work on single-tasking during mealtimes. This will help put your body into “rest and digest” mode so that you’re better able to digest the food you’re eating. 

It’s important to find stress management and mindfulness techniques that work for you. These strategies can help make the interaction between the brain and the gut more positive and improve symptoms during a flare. 

Some other strategies to help manage stress include:

  • Guided meditation
  • Journaling
  • Gratitude practice
  • Yoga or other joyful movement

 

5.  Get back to basics with prepared low FODMAP meals 

During a flare-up, it’s  important to nourish your body while taking it easy on your gut. By focusing on foods that are low in FODMAPs, you can decrease gastrointestinal sensitivity and find relief from your symptoms.

Though getting back to a low FODMAP diet for a few weeks can help get your symptoms back under control, it’s important to reintroduce FODMAPs and broaden your food universe again after. Foods that are higher in FODMAPs can contain fibre and help feed our good gut bacteria. In addition, tolerance to FODMAPs can change over time, so it’s important to re-do FODMAP reintroductions occasionally to see if your tolerance has changed. Working with a dietitian and GI care team is important to ensure that your diet is keeping you happy and healthy. Together, you can work together to find management strategies that are individualized and work for you.

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The Facts on Lactose Intolerance and the Low FODMAP Diet 

About Author

Andrea Hardy, RD
Andrea Hardy, RD

Andrea Hardy, RD, is a registered dietitian from Calgary, Canada, where she runs a multi-disciplinary digestive health practice called Ignite Nutrition. She specializes in gut health & gastrointestinal diseases, and is recognized in the media as 'Canada’s Gut Health Expert’. Using her skills in evidence-based knowledge translation, she empowers Canadians to make lifestyle changes to support a healthy gut. She has spoken on the TEDx stage, as well as internationally about digestive health, and teaches a variety of continuing education courses on Nutrition and GI at Nutrition Academy. Follow her on Instagram at @andreahardyrd or tune into her gut health podcast ‘Let’s Gut Real’ which is all about making nutrition science easy to digest!

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