A Food Solution for My Irritable Bowel Syndrome

—by Nicole Infinity

Many sources suggest that up to 20% of American adults are troubled by the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). A simple definition of IBS is a range of signs and symptoms including excess gas, diarrhea, bloating, constipation, and cramping that are persistent, frequent, and reoccurring.

The causes behind this not-very-sexy syndrome are unknown. Some researchers believe that folks with IBS have more sensitive nerves in their gastrointestinal tracts, that the brain does not speak to these organs efficiently, that people with IBS may have abnormal serotonin levels, unbalanced bacteria levels in the intestines, and, in women with IBS, that hormone levels may be a factor. Stress has also been heavily linked to increasing severity and frequency of IBS signs and symptoms.

Ever since I was about fifteen, I have had stomach problems. I usually blamed them on what I had eaten, but they continued to get worse into my twenties. At the age of twenty-five, my partner noticed that something was not quite right. I had been living with these symptoms for so long that I had not noticed how bad they had become.

With very painful symptoms three or four times each week, I realized I should probably see a doctor. After using several online flow charts about various belly problems, speaking to a doctor, and a few medical tests, I felt comfortable with an IBS diagnosis. There were a few symptom relief options:

, Prescription medication(s)

, Fiber supplements

, Over-the-counter laxatives and/or antidiarrheal medications

, Change in diet

With an aversion to taking excess pills and supplements, I opted to start with a change in my diet and saw immediate results. Instead of three or four times each week, I now have serious IBS symptoms three or four times each year. These were the steps for me:

1. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

According to several food guides, both domestic and international, half of what you eat should be fruits and vegetables. For folks with IBS, fruits and vegetables are even more important because of the helpfulness of fiber in easing IBS signs and symptoms.

This was a really difficult process for me because I dislike the taste of most vegetables. I started by eating more of the fruits and vegetables I already enjoy.

Continue trying the foods you are not so fond of by preparing them in new ways or even hiding them in foods you already like to eat. I have put grated carrots in pasta sauce and pumpkin into my
pancakes, but my favorite way to get fruits and vegetables inside my body is a Rainbow Smoothie (see recipe at end of article). 

2. Increase liquid intake.

Liquids aid in the digestion process. I always have my water bottle with me everywhere I go. The difference between well-hydrated days and dehydrated days is quite noticeable.

3. Eat many small meals each day.

Smaller meals may be easier for the body to process. We currently eat breakfast shortly after waking, morning snack, lunch, first dinner, and second dinner. This definitely seems to help me have fewer symptoms. If I do eat a large meal, I usually have painful consequences. 

4. Watch for what upsets your stomach and avoid these foods.

Even with the best intentions, I have never been able to commit to a food diary. However, if you are so inclined, writing down what you eat and your signs and symptoms is a great way to discover patterns and possible intolerances or allergies to foods. Some of these foods may even be raw fruits and vegetables. Carbonated beverages, alcohol, dairy, and caffeine may also be culprits.

5. Eat more homemade, simple foods.

Learning to make simple foods at home helps in a few ways. When you cook, you know exactly what is going into your food. This makes it easier to figure out if certain foods give you more problems than others. Over-processed foods or restaurant food may make it difficult to ascertain a common link between the food and the symptoms.

So far I have learned that undercooked onions and garlic give me problems. I have also begun to enjoy foods like hummus, kale, guacamole, and black beans. My definition of simple foods are those that require around three different things put together.

You will notice that the Rainbow Smoothie requires several ingredients, but each of these was added slowly. The Rainbow Smoothie was only half a rainbow at the beginning. 

Try pasta with a simple sauce, or black beans and cheese on a tortilla, or peanut butter toast.
I cut back on the seasonings and spices as well until I could figure out which ones gave me problems.  These choices have left me with a better understanding of what makes my body feel the best.

6. Reduce stress.

At nearly every family get-together for the past ten years, I have had IBS symptoms. Even though my symptoms are significantly reduced, these are the most common days for me to have stomach problems. These and other stressful events can cause spikes in signs and symptoms.

Being aware and prepared can help. I eat before I go and eat low risk foods while at stressful events and I always bring a snack wherever I go. I have realized that too much time between meals can also cause problems as is common with people who have IBS. Like most people, my life is stressful, but all of these lessons combined help me continue to control my symptoms.

Rainbow Smoothies!

Red: frozen strawberries

Orange: frozen mango and orange juice

Yellow: banana

Green: spinach or kale

Blue/Purple: frozen blueberries

Put desired amounts of all the fruits and vegetables in a blender. I use the most blueberries and just a handful each of all the rest.

Pour in orange or mango juice over all the fruits and vegetables until they are covered. 

Blend for what seems like too long so as to not leave chunks. Add more juice or fruits and vegetables throughout this process until you reach the desired consistency. 

Notes on Rainbow Smoothies:

, I use one banana for half of a blender and two for a full blender.

, Grapes, blackberries, kiwi, and raspberries have also entered into these smoothies successfully.

, Continue adding different fruits and vegetables until you find the best mix for you.

, Freezing raw vegetables myself is sometimes cheaper than buying frozen vegetables, but not always.

, Substitutes for orange juice include soy milk, almond milk, or any other juice. We even used carrot juice once.

, Kids tend to really enjoy these smoothies. So, be sure to share yours with a little one.

Additional Resources

1. www.mayoclinic.org

2. www.choosemyplate.gov

3. familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/abdominal-pain-long-term.html 

[Nicole Infinity works in public education, makes art, and enjoys community living with her lady friend.]