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Managing IBS: 4 Things to Try Before You Go Low-FODMAP

NOTE: Information in this post is based on my personal experience negotiating IBS, which is a very individual thing and different for everyone. For professional advice, try some of sites listed on my resources page.

I guess I’m an advocate for the low-FODMAP diet. At least, I’m an advocate in the sense that it’s helped me manage severe IBS, which, in turn, helped me to recover from anorexia.

But I don’t necessarily recommend doing low-FODMAP for everyone–or honestly, for most people.

Going low-FODMAP is a pretty extreme option. You have to cut a lot out of your diet. And although, yes, it’s been found to be a pretty effective way to manage IBS, it’s not by any means the only way to manage IBS.

I’ve said this in the past, but one advantage of writing a blog as a hobby, rather than as a source of income, is that I can say what I think–even if what I think is not necessarily conducive to marketing myself. So yes, even though I want to help people manage IBS, including figuring out the confusing the low-FODMAP diet and providing some low-FODMAP recipes that actually taste good and don’t make you feel like you’re missing out on life…if you can manage your IBS without cutting out a bunch of random, ubiquitous stuff like onions and garlic and apples and artichokes and cashews and beans and watermelon and and and…heck yeah you should.

I decided to go low-FODMAP for two main reasons:

  • My IBS was severe. It was so severe that cutting out all of these things, even though it’s a huge hassle, has honestly increased my quality of life significantly.
  • I felt like I’d tried all the things you were “supposed” to do to manage IBS, and I didn’t feel any friggin better.

That said, if you’re experiencing GI issues on the regular (bloating, cramping, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, etc.), here are a few things I’d recommend trying before you take the pretty extreme step of going through the extensive low-FODMAP elimination and re-introduction phases.

Take probiotics

Above I said that I tried all the things that I was “supposed” to to manage IBS, and that they didn’t help. That’s true–I tried probiotics, and they didn’t seem to help. However, that was almost two years ago, and I now realize that the probiotic I was taking was not that strong. This summer, I started taking a very high daily dosage (three capsules per day) of one of the refrigerated brands (Garden of Life). I’m not necessarily an advocate for this particular brand, but I do think that choosing a high-quality brand and taking a high daily dosage has made an enormous difference.

I like how there’s a 6-pack of Blue Moon in the background on this shot. Lol. Alcohol does not help with the IBS much, I’m afraid.

Get tested for celiac

I think these days, doctors pretty well know to test someone who’s having GI issues for celiac, but if you haven’t had this done yet, do it. If you have celiac, you want to know, not only because it’s causing you GI issues, but also because celiac causes much more serious long-term health problems.

Make healthy choices

This one’s basic, but generally, living healthfully makes a big difference for IBS. Things that might help a lot include:

  • Eating regularly
  • Following the 80-20 rule of eating mostly healthy foods
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Managing stress
  • Exercising

Although it’s tempting to fast when I have an IBS flare-up, eating regularly helps keep my symptoms more manageable in the long run. Exercising also makes an especially big difference for me, and even though it feels crummy to exercise while my tummy is crampy or I’m…uh…backed up…I feel a lot better afterward.

Manage fiber

A lot of dietitians and physicians recommend adding fiber in if you’re experiencing IBS. However, books I’ve read by experts on IBS more often recommend cutting back on fiber, especially insoluble fiber. Big sources of insoluble fiber in our diets are potato peels, the skins and fruits and veggies, and beans. (This is why beans bother me so much–not the GOS so much as the fiber!) Depending on how much fiber you regularly eat, either gradually adding more in or cutting some out could help with IBS flare-ups.

If you’ve tried all these things and still you feel crummy…yeah, at that point, I’d advocate giving the low-FODMAP diet a whirl.

Wanna learn more about the low-FODMAP diet? FAQs here.

Linking up with Amanda for Thinking Out Loud Thursday.

Do you ever have GI issues? How do you manage them?

Ever tried taking a probiotic supplement?

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9 comments

  1. Diane Wahto says:

    You’re right about fiber. Too much fiber just tears me apart. I know it’s supposed to be healthful, but those of us with IBS have to watch our intake.

  2. I have IBD with bouts of IBS, and I have many family members with IBS (and other digestive issues), and a husband who is going to do a Gastroenterology fellowship (to ultimately do liver disease, but regardless), so I guess you could say I know about GI issues!
    One of the most effective treatments for IBS? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. No lie. It is become a first line treatment. Our digestive systems are so tied to our hormones–in particular, our stress hormones–that seeking counseling can actually have a huge effect on your IBS! Of course, I am a believer in a comprehensive lifestyle approach (food, exercise, etc), but ithe mental component is often overlooked.

    1. Joyce says:

      Wonderful! I’m so glad CBT has been so helpful for you. I’m afraid counseling or mental health-related things really never impacted my IBS at all, but definitely, it’s worth a try!

  3. Kate says:

    Fiber was a BIG one for me. It was so hard to reduce the amount of fiber in my diet because all the foods I love had fiber. If I eat beans I feel like it effects me for 2+ weeks after.
    I found an herbal supplement that has been helping me recently. But I tend to have to cycle through medications because nothing works for too long unfortunately.

  4. I LOVE Garden of Life probiotics. My digestion got all out of whack after having the twins and this has been a life saver. I don’t have IBS but my dad has Crohn’s so I’ve always been hyper aware of what can/could cause issues.

    1. Joyce says:

      Glad probiotics have been a help for you too!

  5. Oh man…. do I have G.I. issues or what? It runs in my family; my grandma has IBS, and I think I have a less severe version of it. But I often have bloating and tons of struggles with … um… well we won’t get into that. But it hasn’t been really severe. It’s just slightly uncomfortable mostly at night. I did try probiotics for a while, and I think they might have helped but I’m not sure. And I totally totally agree with Kate that I can’t do too much fiber. When I go to Chipotle, even though I like beans, I’ve found that it’s so much better to say ‘no thank you.’

    1. Joyce says:

      Yeah, fiber’s a big one for me, too. Even if the G.I. issues aren’t too severe, they can still be an irritation, so I definitely empathize.

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