IBS flare ups – which can include bloating, bouts of stomach cramps, diarrhoea and constipation – can happen at any time. They’re notoriously unpredictable, and they can make you feel pretty rubbish.
Luckily, there are things that you can do to help alleviate the symptoms of an attack (and to even help avoid them in the future). To help gain control of the condition, here are my five essential steps:
1. Set an intention
Your New Year’s Resolutions may already be fading from your mind, but it’s not too late to set an intention to look after yourself this year. Intention setting helps you focus on long-term change, which is important if you have an ongoing health issue like IBS. Your intention could be “I’m going to take care of my body in the way that it deserves” for example. Dietary changes to reduce flare ups might be a part of this, but an intention will help you frame them as self-care rather than deprivation. See your body in a kinder light and look for positive ways to support it.
2. Find alternatives
Social events that involve food, like dining out with friends or work drinks, can be difficult to navigate if you have IBS, but eating your trigger foods because you don’t want to make a fuss is not worth it and is bound to cause a flare up. You can find most menus for restaurants online, so before going out for dinner, take the time to look at it and research other alternatives, instead of suffering through. Many restaurants now mark gluten-free or lactose-free choices on their menus, and there’s a range of alcohol-free options at the pub, from beer to G&T, so you can still enjoy yourself. Ask for almond milk in cafés, and choose sourdough toast at brunch – the fermentation process helps make bread easier to digest. You don’t have to be a people-please all the time, be direct and ask for what you need.
3. Keep a food and symptom diary
It can be hard to work out what’s causing your IBS flare ups sometimes but one really useful strategy is to keep a food and symptom diary. Keep it simple and just jot down the food you eat at each meal plus drinks and snacks, along with a note of the time and location, and any symptoms you’re experiencing. It’s important to remember that food can take 24-48 hours to pass through the digestive system, so symptoms straight after eating may actually be related to a food you ate yesterday. Keep your diary for a couple of weeks and see if you can spot any patterns.
4. Reduce your stress triggers
You may have noticed your symptoms getting worse in times of stress, and it’s a well-researched contributor to IBS. There’s a strong link between your brain and gut, and we’ve all got stuck in a negative cycle of stress and symptoms at one time or another. Think about strategies to keep flare ups under control. If you feel anxious in the mornings as your symptoms are worse, then make sure your morning routine includes plenty of time to go to the toilet. Exercise can also help: yoga or Pilates are relaxing if you get cramps, while constipation might be eased by a morning walk. Exercise is a great stress-reliever, so it will bring lots of added benefits.
5. When diet and lifestyle changes aren’t enough
Diet and lifestyle changes can go a long way to minimise IBS flare ups, but if they’re just not working you could find yourself turning to multiple medications – which often come with unwanted side effects. Instead you can try Enterosgel (£12.80 from www.enteromed.co.uk), an innovative, drug-free intestinal adsorbent proven to alleviate chronic diarrhoea and abdominal pain associated with IBS. Enterosgel binds to bacterial toxins and other harmful substances like excess bile acids and removes them gently through the stool, reducing the frequency and duration of IBS-related diarrhoea and effectively alleviating IBS flare ups. This natural, non-allergenic gel dissolves in water and makes IBS management easy.