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A person surrounded by trigger foods about to throw a time bomb in their mouth.

IBS-C, IBS-D and My Take on Their Relation to Diet

My IBS-C diagnosis in 2016 gave the false impression that this form would be the one I’d have to manage indefinitely. For the longest time I was stuck in constipation, no pun intended, and I kept generous supplies on hand of Smooth Move tea and Miralax. But one year after diagnosis, my bowel pulled a switcheroo to diarrhea.

If we truck with the literature, diet is the culprit. Our gastroenterologists point us in the direction of food management as the main treatment strategy. For me, it’s been an exercise in frustration. Although studies have shown that diet is the trigger for IBS symptoms worldwide, there is scant evidence of a direct connection between food and IBS.

Is there a direct connection between food and IBS?

Gastroenterology researchers and I share a common attitude: This is a problem. More studies need to be done to pinpoint cause and effect, which I can safely guess will not be a straight line between two points. The problem with my situation is that the transition from constipation to diarrhea did not involve a change in diet. I was eating exactly the same thing before, during and after. My frustration escalates every time I read a patient’s revelations about the mystery solved in their own case, cementing the theory that if you work hard enough to isolate that one pesky food and eliminate it, your bowel will restore itself to normalcy. This is not my experience. In the beginning, it seemed as if it might be.

Nothing works for my IBS symptoms

Initially I identified high fiber veggies such as cruciferous plants—mainly cabbage and broccoli—as food to avoid. I couldn’t tolerate high fiber and suffered level 10 pain from gas along with uncontrollable flatulence, bloating and abdominal distention. It went against the one-size-fits-all advice we all read that if we suffer from constipation then we must not be getting enough fiber. I stuck to eating low-fiber veg, fish, chicken, turkey, and protein-rich dairy. The painful gas and flatulence subsided, but I was still constipated. I tried fiber supplements with disappointing results. Swallowing peppermint capsules, Bean-o, and other gas-busting supplements did nothing to flatten my abdominal distention and painful bloated feeling.

Another discovery was that eating starch such as a bowl of pasta could plug me up even worse. But no matter how I balanced simple carbs with complex carbs, these adjustments didn’t restore my bowel function. Now, with IBS-D, I can delay diarrhea with pasta or Imodium, but after the first bowel movement, I quickly return to loose stools. As it stands, everything I eat is a trigger, my symptoms don’t come and go. They just follow a circular track. Every approach I’ve explored has turned up a big fat zero.

In the beginning, I followed the directions: eliminate dairy and gluten and see if you feel better. But there was no difference. I took a probiotic for a year and it didn’t do squat—and no, it wasn’t the wrong strains and too few bacteria, it was exactly what was recommended. I did fine with cottage cheese and Locatelli Pecorino Romano and mozzarella. Eating gluten-free pasta felt no better than semolina. I did fine with strong coffee and a scotch on the rocks. Two years later, these things remain unchanged. There is, however, a connection to diet that resonates with me more.

Food avoidance

In the article “Is Diet Related to IBS No Matter Where You Live or What You Eat?” the authors discuss IBS patients’ various diets in Japan, China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, South America, and those who use some form of a Mediterranean diet. The overarching points are that:

  1. As varied as diets are across these cultures, diet is a trigger, and
  2. A common treatment strategy is food avoidance, including fasting.1

It is the second point I embrace. In my own experience, the only way I have reduced my symptoms is by not eating. The less I eat, the better I feel, the less my tummy swells. But this is hardly a solution. I would have to eat so little that I wouldn’t get enough calories to stay healthy, not to mention I’d be hungry all the time.

I am far from finding answers. So many ingredients make up my particular stew that I’m wary of stirring the pot. I have multiple sclerosis, among other things. The approach I’m taking now and pursuing throughout 2019 is exercise. It won’t cure IBS, MS, or any other acronyms, but it will improve my general health. Right now that’s all I can hope for.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. “Is Diet Related to IBS No Matter Where You Live or What You Eat?” M. Schmulson, MD; E. Corrazziari, MD; D. Dumitrascu, MD; C. Francisconi, MD; S. Fukudo, MD, PhD; Ami Sperber, and the Rome Foundation International Liaison Committee. MD. WORLD GASTROENTEROLOGY ORGANIZATION, Global Guardian of Digestive Health. Serving the World.


  • AnnieC
    3 months ago

    Just joined today & already feel like I have a new family! I have had IBS-C where I passed out from the pain…and then it also switched to IBS-D where I have found myself in the most hideously embarrassing situations. Because I also don’t identify with any food triggers, I have resorted to fasting! I was suppose to attend a wedding in Cape Town but I don’t want to be on a flight for 17 hours, not knowing what to expect & when. I also am not going to visit family overseas because I am constantly searching for a bathroom. Even simple walks turn into an urgent quest for a bathroom anywhere!!! (and I mean anywhere!!!) I mostly rely on probiotics and find that switching brands sometimes help. Feeling so much better that I can relate to you & tell my story.

  • Marci Kallick moderator
    2 months ago

    Hi @anniec !
    I am so sorry to hear how difficult things have been for you. I’m glad you found us here…and, as you can see, you are certainly not alone! I, myself, have just experienced the worst IBS/SIBO year of my life…however I am thrilled when I see small improvements, and I’m always researching healing protocols. I saw you mentioned probiotics, and I wanted to share this article on prebiotics, as they go hand in hand with taking probiotics. In addition, please keep in mind that taking probiotics is not always recommended for patients with IBS and/or SIBO, as it can actually cause symptoms to worsen in some people. I am not able to provide you medical advice (for your own safety), however it may be a good topic for discussion with your physician. I, personally, am very careful when/if I take probiotics since they have caused me issue this past year.
    Similar to you and many others here in the community…fasting seems to help me the most! Have you tried intermittent fasting? This can help give the body time for proper and full digestion and healing. Please check back in and let us know how you are doing! ~Marci ( team)

  • Becca
    3 months ago

    I enjoy reading your stories! They make me feel better mentally, because I can relate to your pain & misery. I’ve got IBS-C & IBS-D. I feel like my family & friends don’t believe or better said…they don’t understand…what I go through. This particular article, that I just read, is my problem. I’ve got gas, bloating, & extreme stomach pain, regardless what I eat or don’t eat. And its just a vicious cycle of constipation…diarrhea…then constipation….diarrhea…..all over again & again. I don’t want to eat cause it’s just so painful!! Thanks so much for your stories!!! I look forward to your emails. Makes me realize I’m Not alone. I’ve been subscribed to your emails for a while now, & I can relate to just about every story I’ve read!!

  • debigirl53
    3 months ago

    I very much applaud you for your courage in dealing with all of this. You are a very strong person. My situation (minus the MS) is very similar. I started off with constipation. Now, I am usually unable to eat because of the pain or because eating immediately triggers diarrhea. Since late July I have lost 40 lb which is close to 30%of my body weight. Food sensitivity testing showed that I react to whey which is a primary ingredient in protein drinks so those are out. I went through the process of eliminating foods and then slowly adding them back with no real insights. I guess I’m lucky that I’m retired so I don’t have to drag myself to work, but it is so frustrating not to be able to find something that will help me to feel better so that I can resume my normal activities. I am very interested in the connection between IBS and back pain, as that is a real issue for me. I would like to see a study done on that and would volunteer to be part of it! Dgirl

  • Marci Kallick moderator
    2 months ago

    Hi @debigirl53,

    I am sorry you’re going through this. As you can see by all of these wonderful comments from the community…you are not alone here! Similar to you, I cannot tolerate whey protein and tend to have symptoms worsen immediately. Although I find that anything I have first thing in the day causes an immediate bathroom visit (even water), I have found that collagen protein (Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides) has not caused an increase in symptoms or flare ups. I also have had good luck with vegan protein from Sun Warrior natural protein. I’m sharing those brands since I’ve used them personally, however please check with your doctor before using any new products. In addition to smoothies, you may have interest in reading about these additional liquids that may be easier on your tummy 🙂
    Good luck, and check back in to let us know how you’re doing! ~Marci ( team)

  • Emily
    3 months ago

    I can’t agree with you more! I’ve gone from IBS-D to IBS-C with no change in my diet. I can NOT pinpoint any good that is worse that another. I go day to day wondering what will happen today. I have also found the best way to avoid an issue is to not eat. If traveling or if I have an appointment I won’t eat. It’s an awful way to live. More needs done than to just tell people it’s all food connected. FODMAP diet didn’t do anything for me. Stress? I get stressed BECAUSE my stomach acts up. I can’t say being stressed caused it. Thank you for pointing out the frustration of IBS.

  • Saccharomyces
    3 months ago

    Thank you for your thoughtful article. I’m slowly concluding that while some foods may be triggers, it may be that they are not at all. I’ve been most successful at holding off IBS-D by taking large doses of the probiotic combo I came up with as both a sufferer and a professional (veterinarian) and by taking both H1 and H2 antagonists. The immune system is an ever-changing scene. Symptoms in most infectious disease processes come from the actions of the immune system. I do believe that for most people, IBS has an infectious-agent/s basis, with gut microbiome (and perhaps macrobiome) the main moderators. I don’t care what probiotics you were recommended and didn’t work. Those recommendations are based on what? A collection of inconclusive data! The fact that I can only incompletely stave off symptoms with my probiotic combo says at least this: maybe we all need FMT, at least as a shot at this. I don’t know if the insurance companies limit coverage to those with Cdiff (limited thinking) or don’t cover it at all (backward thinking). In one study, kids with chronic diarrhea were found to have a couple of spirochete species in their intestines, presumably causing symptoms. How to eradicate without doing more harm than good? I’m looking into the possibility that I have a persistent Borrelia infection after antibiotic regimen for Lyme last year failed due to my many gut meltdowns. My last observation, here, is that maybe we all need a good dose of intestinal helminths. I don’t treat my dogs for parasites any more after adopting a dog with a autoimmune disease that has a high mortality rate. She spent 9 years in remission and died of other causes. Correlation without proven causation but something to think about. Helminths have been used successfully in some MS patients. You probably know that. I hope you stay as well as possible. I’m very sorry we have to endure what we don’t understand.

  • Kim Dolce author
    3 months ago

    Hello saccharomyces (sugar fungus? I’d love to hear the back story on that identifier), thank you for sharing your thoughts. I became aware of helminth therapy years ago and even had a short email conversation with Jasper Lawrence. That was before he fled to Mexico to avoid being arrested. Sad, really; the Hygiene Hypothesis has solid science behind it and Lawrence’s own testimony on hookworm therapy is, to my mind, completely convincing. I hope we can legally pursue it one day. –Kim

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