The Anxiety of a Restricted IBS Diet

No matter which way you look at it, restrictions alter your freedom, particularly your freedom of choice. They stop you from making rapid decisions, causing you to spend extra time thinking about every choice. You can no longer decide simply based on how you feel about something, but instead need to decide based on whether it’s consistent with your restrictions.

Not all restrictions are bad though

As annoying as some restrictions are, they can be incredibly helpful and make your life better. A good example is restricting a particular food that you know triggers your IBS symptoms. While it may be disappointing that you can’t eat this food that you used to enjoy, the benefit is knowing you’re one step closer to controlling your IBS.

For me, this means avoiding most foods that are high in FODMAPs, because my tolerance of FODMAPs is quite low. While I can enjoy a reasonable amount of fructose (e.g. honey), I still struggle with moderate to high amounts of most of the other FODMAPs. Because of that, I’ve had to stop eating some of my favorite foods, including stone fruits, apples, and mushrooms.

But by avoiding the many foods that I don’t tolerate well, I’ve gained the incredible upside of my symptoms rarely being triggered anymore. And it’s this positive that I try to focus on to stop myself from getting depressed about all of the foods I can no longer eat.

Being overly cautious about food restrictions can make you anxious

The catch though is that if I focus too much on avoiding the foods that I don’t tolerate well, I can become quite anxious and fearful of meals that I haven’t made for myself, since I can’t always tell what’s in them. Yet when I become anxious about food, the stress of it sets off my IBS even if there aren’t any ingredients present that I’m intolerant too.

This vicious cycle is incredibly frustrating. You do your best to restrict the foods that might make you sick, yet being overly vigilant makes you sick because of the stress that it creates. It’s a no-win situation.

But if you do accidentally eat the foods, they won’t damage your gut

Since IBS isn’t associated with pathological changes that are destroying your insides, eating foods that trigger your IBS won’t cause permanent damage. They may make you sick for a while, but they won’t cause lasting damage that will make your gut even worse than it already is.

I know this may sound surprising given how profound IBS symptoms can feel. But IBS is a condition associated with hypersensitivity, meaning that your gut and nervous system react more strongly than is necessary. But that reaction doesn’t damage the cells of your gut.

The best thing you can do is relax a little

Obviously it’s still a good idea to restrict the foods that trigger your IBS when possible, but it’s important not to become so cautious that it creates anxiety that will trigger your IBS anyway. Sometimes that means taking a risk and accepting that a meal might trigger your IBS; sometimes it means choosing to go without a food just in case and not worry about the fact that other people are eating something that you can’t.

Which choice you should make will depend on your own situation at that time, but having a more relaxed approach while restricting when you can will go a long way to making your life more positive, less stressful, and hopefully less prone to IBS events.

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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.

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