What to Eat When You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Question: I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome four months ago and am having a tough time figuring out what I can eat. I have awful bloating, gas, and diarrhea that require me to be close to a bathroom all the time. I’m diabetic (Type 2), have lost 12 pounds since the diagnosis of IBS, and can’t afford to lose any more weight, since I am slender. My son is getting married on a week-long cruise and I want to enjoy his wedding. How can I attend to my nutrition?

Answer: Merrill Dozier, a clinical dietitian with the Emory University Hospital Food and Nutrition Services, said whenever you have diarrhea and abdominal pain, eat lower fiber foods. Choose tender cuts of baked or grilled chicken and fish and smooth nut butters, while avoiding tough, high-fat, and highly processed meats. Dairy products may aggravate symptoms if you have lactose intolerance. If so, try soy or almond alternatives or lactose-free milk. Grains made from refined flour may be better tolerated than whole-grain foods; have white bread, rice and pasta instead. Applesauce, bananas, and oatmeal contain soluble fiber, which can help reabsorb fluid and reduce diarrhea. Choose well-cooked vegetables with skins and seeds removed. Be aware that cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage, may cause gas. Have smaller servings of fruit (1/2 cup) and avoid fruit canned in heavy syrup. You can gradually increase your fiber intake as your symptoms improve.

Eat smaller, more frequent meals and aim to drink eight cups of fluid daily. Avoid foods that are spicy, high in sugar or fat or contain sugar alcohols (sugar-free gum or candy) because they may exacerbate diarrhea. Dozier said consider trying a liquid nutritional supplement. During a flare, these may stabilize weight loss by helping you consume more calories and protein.

So have fun on the wedding cruise, but avoid alcoholic and carbonated beverages, and have a small piece of wedding cake.

Our expert: Jackson Rainer is a board-certified clinical psychologist who practices with the Care and Counseling Center in Decatur, Georgia, helping people living with chronic illnesses. He consults with a variety of experts to answer a selection of readers’ questions in each issue of Pain-Free Living.

Have questions about living with and managing chronic pain? Email questions to [email protected]. Please put “PFL Q&A” in the subject line.

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