Self-care when you have IBS
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects around one in five of us in the UK alone. The digestive condition causes pain, bloating and a change in bowel habits. There are, however, several ways you can look after yourself to reduce symptoms when your IBS flares up. We spoke to nutritional therapist Ruth Tansey to find out more.
"When it comes to IBS, there's so much that can be done, both nutritionally and mindfully, to help support anyone suffering from IBS symptoms. I believe nutritional therapy, which combines both nutrition and lifestyle changes, can help dramatically reduce IBS symptoms.
"Some of the things that I have found most beneficial from experience of having IBS as well as working with clients who have IBS are listed below. If you try your best to stick to these simple guides I'm sure you'll see some awesome improvements. If things don’t resolve, perhaps find yourself a nutrition professional who can act as a detective to help you get to the root cause of your symptoms."
Self-care tips for IBS
- Remember to sit down, ideally at a table when eating.
- Try to relax before and during meal times. Including some simple breathing exercises before you eat will help engage the 'rest and digest' aspect of your nervous system which can really aid digestion. Breathe in for three through the nose and out for six through the mouth. Do this three or four times before each meal.
- Try not to drink too much fluid with meals as this dilutes digestive enzymes. Sip water with meals if you need to, but ideally keep drinks to half an hour before and two hours after meals.
- If you struggle to have a daily bowel movement, see if you can get into a regular routine of going to the toilet at the same time each day, even when there is no urge to go. This will help re-engage the brain-gut connection.
- Aim to chew every mouthful of food at least 20 times. I know it sounds a lot, but some foods actually require more chewing than that. It needs to be like mush before you swallow.
- Put your knife and fork down in between each mouthful, and savour every morsel of food. Applying mindfulness to eating can be very powerful at reducing IBS symptoms as it allows the body to digest food much better.
- Cut out or at least reduce sugar intake as sugar causes inflammation and feeds bad bacteria.
- Enhance good bacteria by eating probiotic foods such as sauerkraut. Homemade is best, and it's incredibly easy to make.
- Bone broth and cabbage water are both really effective at helping to heal the gut. Drink three times a day. You can make soups from the juices.
- Ensure you stay well hydrated, it's so important for gut health to consume adequate water, especially if there's any constipation.
- Wheat can be problematic for some people with IBS. Try cutting it out for three weeks to see if symptoms improve.
- Dairy is another food group that can cause issues. If you still have problems after cutting out wheat you could try to avoid all forms of dairy for two weeks to see if your symptoms improve.
- If you still have problems and suspect food, either an elimination diet or food intolerance test can be used to help identify the offending food.
Digestive conditions can hold you back from everyday tasks and may affect your mental well-being. Dietitian Joe Álvarez offers his advice:
As well as looking at the physical aspects of self-care, it’s important to remember the emotional side too.
“IBS can be a lonely condition, often making you feel isolated or embarrassed. My advice would be to talk about your condition with those around you, you may discover that you’re not alone. If your symptoms are affecting your quality of life, speak to a professional to find out how they could help you.”
Create a support network around you, prioritise self-care and never be afraid to reach out for professional support.
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