A woman strides confidently across a turning page which shows some foods crossed out on the left and some of the same foods and others only slightly crossed out on the right, as if the x's had been somewhat erased.

This Year, Say No to Excessive Restrictions

Perhaps you’ve heard about a low FODMAP diet plan, which was designed to reduce symptoms of IBS and has been shown to improve symptom management in research studies of people with IBS.1 Or maybe you’ve learned that a lot of running can be a trigger for IBS, or that taking peppermint pills is helpful for flare-ups. Yet are you aware that none of these modifications need to be hard-and-fast rules for you?

With all of the growing resources and science out there for IBS management, it is easy to follow a specific diet or lifestyle plan religiously, if it feels promising for you. However, it is crucial to see these plans and recommendations as individualistic and flexible. For example, if you take peppermint pills, you may learn that just taking them at lunch is enough, and you don’t need to worry if you forgot to pack them one day for work. Or maybe you learn that running 3 miles plus weight training, instead of 5 miles, feels fine, or that 5 miles with a low-fiber lunch are perfect…and bingo, you can still run!

In this way, there are no universal rules that work for every single person. If you don’t customize them for your body and lifestyle, you may be unnecessarily restricting yourself. So if you find something that works or that doesn’t work, remember this information is not a rule set in stone for you, but a tool you might lean on to improve symptom management.

Remember to nourish your body

Unnecessary restrictions could leave you skipping out on extra nutrients and enjoyment, or social activities that would bring you pleasure and ease in your life. If you are looking to avoid certain foods, consider ways of still incorporating them in different forms. For example, if nuts bother you, try nut butter. Perhaps cooked kale feels great, but raw kale isn’t agreeable. Or wouldn’t it be cool to learn that instead of avoiding an entire cuisine, you can just order dishes that don’t contain onion and garlic? Or learn that you can tolerate a teaspoon of garlic, just not a tablespoon?

Whatever it is you might be avoiding or scared to try, now is a great time to work with a professional to get to the bottom of it. Through food logs, apps, and detailed discussion, a registered dietitian can help narrow in on what triggers you the most. Doing thorough testing can relieve yourself of the mental exhaustion of not knowing what causes flare-ups, so just keep an open mind. The results can be liberating and flexible – if raw almonds didn’t work for you, don’t think you’re done with all nuts forever. If ice-cream sent you to the toilet, it doesn’t automatically mean you must be dairy-free!

Keep FODMAPs flexible

If you’re following or considering the low FODMAP diet, here is another area to remember to not be overly restrictive! The low FODMAP diet was not meant to be a lifelong diet for everyone with IBS. It was designed as a tool to help people recognize dietary triggers and manage their symptoms better.2

There are many foods that are high in FODMAPs, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that every single one will give you trouble. It could be cashews are okay for you, but cabbage is not. Or maybe you’re someone that finds a dose-response relationship with FODMAP foods, such that a little of most of the high-FODMAP foods are okay, but a lot at once is not. This doesn’t mean you need to restrict them all, all of the time! Maybe you follow the diet 40 percent of the time in your life, and that’s enough to keep you comfortable. Maybe you can handle a cup of butternut squash soup, but not a bowl. Maybe a 1/2 cup of Brussels sprouts are great, but not a full serving. It’s an IBS tool, not a rule because everyone is different!

It’s a good time to have IBS

If you ever had any doubt that you were the only one with hypersensitivity, surprise! You are most definitely not! Clinicians see patients like you all day long, researchers study symptoms like yours all day long, and tons of people are living with special guts. And guess who else knows this? The food industry! The current food market is full of IBS-friendly products and recipes, and increasingly so. Most restaurants know how to cater to specific requests and hear them constantly. Furthermore, the internet is a plethora of tasty workarounds and substitutions for any kind of sensitivity. So rest assured, this year’s food industry will have even more to offer you than last year’s. With 11 percent of the population with IBS symptoms, there’s salsa, ice cream, energy bars and much more just for you.

Everyone is different

With all of these resources available, try leaning on them for knowledge and empowerment, instead of rules and constraints. If you read or are told something that might help your symptoms, remember that what works for one person with IBS may not work exactly the same for another. For example, if you’ve heard onions are triggering for people with IBS-D, or dairy contributes to symptoms of IBS-C, be sure that this is true for you before you eliminate them from your diet. The low FODMAP diet might be highly effective for one person, and not at all for another. High-fat meals might send one IBS-D person to the bathroom, and be perfectly fine for someone else.

The bottom line is: Do some exploring to get to know your IBS and your preferences, not someone else’s. You may learn that you have some unnecessary restrictions in your life and that you don’t have to give up so easily on delicious and nourishing foods or activities you love!

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