How to treat IBS

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is so unique in its symptoms with each individual, that it's really hard to pinpoint to a general treatment that will work for everyone. Which is why it's so important to know yourself first.

1 - Log your food and symptoms

The first step that you must absolutely take, towards treating your symptoms, is to keep a food journal. And I'm not talking about calories and macros. I'm talking about writing down what you ate, how much of it and how did it make you feel afterwards. 

You need to first observe how your body reacts to certain foods, and whether they can be eliminated or better yet, change the way you eat them. 

For instance, I noticed that I get IBS flare ups when a certain food gives an insulin spike. For instance, if I eat fruits on an empty stomach (and a lot of them), then I get an insulin spike AND bloating with gas. But if I limit my fruit intake and take it right after a main meal which should always include protein at least, then I feel fine. 

Let me give you an example. If I eat 5 apricots on an empty stomach, I get the bloating, the gas, the insulin spike, the whole deal. If I eat 1 apricot as a dessert right after my main meal, then there's no insulin spike, and no IBS symptoms. This could be due to the glycemic index having a lower effect if you take your carbs with your protein and fat, I don't know. Whether it's the fructose that bothers me, or the fiber, I don't know. All I know is that I don't want to stop eating fruit, because it's healthy and delicious, so I just have to make sure I limit my intake and take it with a meal, and I'm good.

Another problem for me is legumes. I've tried all kinds, I've tried different cooking methods, different portions, for the life of me I can't handle them at all. Whether it's half a portion of a lentil soup, or chickpeas curry, or even a small spoon of hummus, has me in severe bloating and pain for 2 days! So for me it's either eat and deal with the consequences, or avoid them entirely and get the nutrition from elsewhere. From all the foods, legumes give me the worst IBS flare ups, so I can't really keep on eating them often. Maybe once a month or so.

So as you self-diagnose which foods bother you, you may have to adjust when, how or how much you should eat them, so they don't bother you. Sometimes you may even have to take the hard decision and avoid those foods entirely. But I would first suggest to find a workaround like I have with the fruits.

2 - Do not automatically assume intolerances

While you're trying to figure out the foods that bother you, do NOT confuse other intolerances or disorders with IBS. If you can't handle bread, that does NOT mean you have gluten intolerance. I can't handle the regular sliced bread, nor burger buns, nor baguettes, BUT I can handle a tortilla wrap and the Mestermacher protein bread (that tastes like cardboard by the way) just fine. I can even handle (in moderation) the traditional village Cypriot bread. So what is it about the other types of bread? Is it the added sugar? Maybe, I don't know, because the others I mentioned don't have any. Or it could be a different ingredient, or the way it's baked. I don't know. All I know is I can handle gluten just fine. 

So don't cut out all gluten products just because you can't handle certain types of bread. The same goes for dairy. I can handle cow's milk and any type of unsweetened yogurt just fine. But I can't handle certain types of cheese nor buffalo's milk. Why? I don't know! I mean buffalo's milk is heavier than cow's milk, that could be the reason for that, the yogurt I usually eat is greek or kvarg, you know the fermented kind with all the probiotic goodness in them, so that could be why I can handle them with ease. Cheese, I don't know. Mozzarella cheese in moderation is fine, halloumi cheese in small portions is fine, anything else though cause gas, bloating and even high blood pressure.

So even though I suffer from IBS, I'm not lactose nor gluten intolerant. Don't cut out entire food groups. Cut out only what bothers you and you can't find a way to eat them without getting a flare up.

3 - Cut out junk food

I know for a fact that processed sugar and ANY type of artificial sweetener bother my stomach. Even the so called Zero protein bars, which are supposed to have zero sugar, or the skinny syrups or dressings, which they claim it's zero of everything lol, they bother me, big time. Because they STILL add some form of sweetener. You may not recognize the name, or sometimes they even add things which they can get away with not adding them to the ingredient list on the labels. So be careful with ANY type of processed food.

4 - Stop overeating and don't eat 6 times a day

A huge meal will even make a non-IBS sufferer have digestion issues. So reduce your portions, but also don't eat so frequently. You're putting so much work and stress on your stomach trying to digest everything all day long. You need to give your body a break from eating.

So what I do to minimize discomfort, is have only 2 reasonably portioned meals, and no snacking. I will have a fruit and a small square of dark chocolate right after my main meal as a dessert. But I will not snack between meals. And I will not keep chewing something every couple of hours. I also avoid eating at night, because that bothers me too. I mean you don't have to fast or anything, like if I find myself getting extra hungry at night, then instead of a full meal, I will just have a cup of warm milk or some cottage cheese, just so that I can sleep. But if you take your maintenance calories early on in the day, in your main meals, without snacking, you won't feel hungry at night.

5 - Walk, walk, walk some more

Walking does wonders for digestion, especially after a meal. I like to include at least 1-2 hours of walking every day to my routine, but I understand that it's not always easy with a busy schedule. So I would suggest to walk for at least 15 minutes right after every meal. If you can increase that to 30 minute sessions, that's even better. There are also yoga poses that can help with digestion. Here's a great session by Adrienne.

6 - Drink water every hour

How, when and how much you drink water also affects digestion, in a good or a bad way depending on what you're doing. Here's my water routine:

  • Drink 2 glasses of water as soon as I wake up in the morning, on an empty stomach.
  • Drink 1 glass of water at least every hour throughout the day. That's at least double than the so-called recommended 8 glasses of water a day.
  • Don't drink water right after meals. I prefer to wait at least half an hour after I eat.
  • Don't drink cold water. I always drink room temperature water even in the hot summer, and 2-3 cups of warm herbal tea a day.
  • Don't drink too much in one go. No matter how thirsty you are, don't drink more than 2 glasses of water in one go.

6 - Supplementation for IBS

There are a few things you can take to manage your IBS, some may or may not work depending on your individual symptoms, you have to try them out and see what works for you:

  • Aloe Vera: Read this post on aloe vera on how I take it. I have experienced significant improvements from aloe vera juice.
  • Ajwain Seeds / Carom Seeds / Lovage Seeds / Bishop's weed: These are all names for the same seeds. You can find them in Indian or halal shops, or shops that sell spices and herbs, or you can order them online. These seeds are perfect for when you have an attack. When you're extremely bloated, have gas or constipation, make a hot tea with half a teaspoon of this and drink it for immediate relief. They are awesome to have as an emergency, or you can take the tea every day to help with digestion issues, and many many other ailments. They provide relief to any stomach troubles, including menstrual cramps, and act as a blood purifier, as a diuretic and they've even helped me reduce my androgen hormone levels (my bloodwork at the time showed elevated levels.)
  • Mint tea: Peppermint (whether dry or fresh) can soothe the intestines, relieve indigestion and bloating.
  • Fennel tea: Fennel improves digestion and can help with gas as well. It's also commonly used along with camomile tea in infants for colic.
  • Psyllium husk: it's a form of fiber that can help relieve constipation or diarrhea. The results in studies are mixed on this one, and personally I haven't noticed any good changes while taking psyllium husk, so once again, whether it works for you or not will depend on your individual symptoms.
  • Probiotic / prebiotic / digestive enzymes supplements: These are all 3 different supplements, they are known to help with digestion troubles and IBS, but I haven't noticed any significant improvement in my situation.