An IBS diagnosis can leave anyone feeling overwhelmed. It can be difficult to determine where to start, or what can be done. We have compiled a step by step list of 8 lifestyle modifications that can be tried by those who are newly diagnosed or even those living with IBS for a long time.
1. Getting more physical activity
Prolonged periods of sitting down can slowdown gut motility. Therefore even if you can’t get in a workout or exercise, try to get up and move around for 5 minutes every hour. Activities like yoga have been shown to improve symptoms as well as help with stress reduction. On the other hand high intensity activities such as running can over stimulate the gut, possibly worsening diarrhea. As always it’s best to test it out and see how you feel, maybe going for a run first in an area with easy access to toilets.
2. Drinking at least 1.5 to 2 litres of water per day
Drinking enough water can help move things along the gut, and is especially important when increasing fiber intake.
3. Reducing alcohol intake
Drinking alcohol can worsen symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, reflux and bloating in people who have IBS. Sometimes there is a delayed reaction to alcohol, whereby symptoms only appear the next day. The severity and symptoms induced by alcohol intake may vary according to the type of liquor consumed. Keeping track of when symptoms occur and after which drinks, can help determine whether it is best to completely stop or if some drinks can be consumed at reduced quantities without triggering symptoms.
4. Cutting down consumption of foods and drinks such as:
- Highly processed and fatty foods
- Spicy food
- Caffeinated drinks
- Carbonated drinks
- Chewing gum
5. Modify eating frequency
- For those with diarrhea – it is best to eat smaller meals more frequently.
- For constipation predominant IBS – larger, less frequent meals are recommended as a large build up of food at once, can speed up colonic motility.
6. Getting enough sleep, at least 7-8 hours per night
Research has shown that a lack of sleep is associated with worsening IBS symptoms on the following day. Not only is poor sleep bad for the gut but it also impairs mental function and increases stress levels which is another trigger for IBS. Taking steps such as sleeping at the same time each night, avoiding content likely to cause heightened emotions or anxiety before bed and and no screen usage for 1 hour prior to sleeping can lead to better sleep.
7. Preparing ahead
Having a steady routine can be very helpful for the gut. Therefore you may find it beneficial to assess your current day to day habits and identify times when your eating and toilet habits are thrown out of sync. This includes skipping or rushing through meals, grabbing unhealthy foods due to lack of time or options and not having enough time to use the toilet after a meal especially in the mornings. Being aware when this is likely to happen and preparing ahead can be highly effective. For instance doing meal prep every few days to ensure the availability of nutritious, trigger free foods when hungry. Or waking up slightly earlier to give yourself sufficient time in the mornings to eat and go to the toilet.
8. Cut back on high FODMAP foods
Some people find symptom relief simply from adjusting the quantity of FODMAPs in their diet without having to go through the entire process of the highly restrictive FODMAP diet. It is advisable to keep a food diary first for two weeks which can then be used to identify the high FODMAP foods in your diet. If you see an improvement in symptoms after removing or reducing those foods, then you can slowly add those foods back in to determine your tolerance.