What to Do During an IBS Flare-Up
Having an IBS flare-up can be incredibly frustrating, especially when you have already worked so hard to decrease your symptoms.
IBS can’t be cured, but it can be managed. Because our bodies are constantly changing, flare-ups can happen when we least expect it.
To help prevent these issues, it is important to have a long-term plan in place for optimal gut health and symptom-free life. We’ve listed our top tips for managing flare-ups. Keep in mind - if they happen regularly, talking with your doctor or dietitian for improved symptom management strategies may be appropriate.
Flare-up tip 1: Eliminate FODMAPs (again)
In order to reduce symptoms first time around, it is important to eliminate high FODMAP foods for a short period of time before systematically re-introducing foods to identify IBS triggers.
Once the re-introduction phase is complete, you will have a better idea of which FODMAP foods you tolerate and more specifically, how much you can have without causing symptoms. It is recommended to work with a dietitian for both the elimination and reintroduction of these foods.
However, we can accidentally stack too many moderate FODMAP foods, or have a change in stress or lifestyle that impacts our FODMAP tolerance short term.
The first step in dealing with an IBS flare-up is to simply get back to basics and return to a FODMAP-free diet for a few days to a week. It can take a few days for FODMAPs to fully exit the body, so be sure to give yourself enough time to fully recover before adding these foods back in.
Flare-up tip 2: Journaling
If symptoms return, take some time each day to keep track of what you have been eating, and how your symptoms are. Although this may seem time-consuming, it can provide you with some much-needed answers and ultimately reduce health-related stress. A food and symptom journal is also a useful tool to show your dietitian if you decide to check-in for some extra help. We recommend tracking for 1 week to gain insight.
It is important you track:
- Foods you eat - note the quantity you consumed and what time you ate
- Symptoms - what were the specific symptoms and what time did they start?
- Environment - For many people, eating in a stressful or distracting setting such as at work or on-the-go can trigger symptoms.
- Any other lifestyle factors - is it your menstrual cycle? Are you under more stress? Did you stop exercising? Are you getting enough sleep? Your flare up may not be food related at all - so keep this in mind.
Flare-up tip 3: Practice self-compassion & mindfulness
Living with IBS can be frustrating and bring up a lot of psychological stress. Not to mention, we live in such a fast-paced and stressful world as it is. The key is to be understanding and patient. Things happen and we don’t always know why!
Unfortunately, when it comes to the effects of stress, the gut is one of the most susceptible areas, which can worsen symptoms. The brain and the gut communicate constantly, so it is important to make that message a positive one - we basically want our brain to be telling our gut “it’s all good”!
It is recommended to have strategies for reducing stress as part of our day-to-day routine. Try to make this a regular habit by including one or more of these things each day:
Try using a meditation app on your phone or computer. These are great to listen to before bed or after getting home from a stressful work day!
Deep belly breaths
Sometimes we need to be reminded to slow down. One great way to do this is to take a few deep breaths. Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Feel how your lungs and stomach fill with air as you inhale and exhale.
Many of us spend our days taking care of others and forget to show ourselves some love. Try doing one thing each day that is just for you - go for a walk, listen to a podcast, take a 5-minute break at work… you get the picture. As long as it fulfills you, it is considered self-care.
Writing down thoughts and feelings is a great outlet for built-up stress, but try not to focus on the negatives. Write down some positive things from your day or a couple things you are grateful for.
Flare-up tip 4: Plan ahead
Certain high-risk scenarios are more likely to upset our GI tract and cause flare-ups. The best thing we can do is prepare ourselves for potential triggers.
In particular, taking antibiotic drugs may cause a setback. If you have been prescribed antibiotics, it is a good idea to take a probiotic proven to help reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
Traveling is also a risky endeavor for those with IBS - but don’t worry, you can still see the world! Just be sure to take precautionary measures when traveling to places with higher risk of foodborne illness. Remember to pack things like probiotics, anti-diarrheal medications, or fibre supplements for extra bulk when eating a new cuisine. It is also a good idea to schedule time for relaxation and down-time, as traveling can be stressful!
Flare-up tip 5: Check-in with your provider
Working with a dietitian or doctor who specializes in gut health is the best way to identify your specific triggers. If your symptoms flare up on a regular basis, there may be medication strategies or other avenues of management to consider. A dietitian or doctor can help to make an “emergency IBS plan” to manage flare-ups and keep you feeling better more regularly.
Do you have a good understanding of what triggers your flares?