IBS can be debilitating for people who have it. Experts reveal how to reduce IBS symptoms through food choices and managing your stress levels.

Want to learn how to reduce your IBS symptoms once and for all? You’re not alone. Research suggests that IBS is on the rise, with new stats revealing that 1 in 5 people in the UK have the condition, and that one third of sufferers have been housebound due to psychological trauma brought on by their condition. A further 35 per cent have cancelled plans at the last minute, 33 per cent have declined social invitations, 18 per cent have felt socially isolated and 14 per cent have turned down a date because they’re so embarrassed of their symptoms. One in ten people have even sacrificed a holiday for fear of getting stuck in a gut rut while away!

New research by Bay’s Kitchen, the UK’s leading Low FODMAP specialist food brand, reveals how the psychological impact of IBS can be even more disabling and traumatic than the physical symptoms, which can include stomach cramps, bloating, back pain, fatigue and irregular bowel movement.

Nearly half of all IBS sufferers experience extreme anxiety about finding the nearest bathroom and over a third (35 per cent) feel anxious about their food choices with as many as one in five (21%) admitting they have shifted from being food lovers to food haters.

Some of the most common high FODMAP foods are wheat, garlic, onion, milk and certain fruits and vegetables. Many people can’t tolerate honey and artificial sweeteners either.

The debilitating impact of IBS stretches far beyond mealtimes with 36 per cent of sufferers admitting to feeling anxious about their body, too. Many also feel that their IBS is sabotaging their style with a large selection of wardrobe staples such as high-waisted trousers and tight dresses being out of bounds.

The research also unveiled that as many as 65 per cent of Brits who have not been diagnosed with the condition still experience IBS-type symptoms on a regular basis. But 82 per cent of those have not sought medical advice. The reason? Because 15 per cent thing their symptoms are “normal”, 10 per cent are too scared they’ll be told to give up their favourite foods and drinks, while nine per cent say it’s too embarrassing.

We spoke to some health experts to find out how to reduce your IBS symptoms…

Being anxious can make things worse’

kirsten jacksonIBS and Gut Health Dietitian Kirsten Jackson

‘I believe the psychological impact of IBS should be addressed with equal importance to the physical symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder of the gut-brain axis and it is important that we look at mental health when it comes to long-term management. When you have IBS, you will often be anxious around social situations and food choices. This anxiety drives what we call the “fight or flight” pathway and can lead to digestive symptoms, regardless of what you eat. Some of these anxieties can be helped by pin-pointing specific food triggers by doing the low FODMAP process so that you can feel comfortable and confident in the food decisions you make. The last thing we want is for people to avoid foods at random, which can lead to unnecessary restrictions, nutritional deficiencies and a poor relationship with food.’

TRY IT: ‘Eating out can be an anxious time for people with IBS. One simple thing you can do to help your symptoms is to check the menu ahead of time. Many meals can be adapted to be lower in FODMAPs, which will reduce the load on your gut. For example, can the restaurant offer wheat-free pasta? Even if the rest of the meal is higher in FODMAPs, the total amount will be lower and so your symptoms will be more manageable.’

‘Mood and gut are related’

kelly watkins Cognitive behavioural therapist and psychologist Kelly Watkins:

‘Your gut is your second brain. This gut-brain connection means emotional and psychological issues often manifest as gastrointestinal distress. It explains why you get butterflies in your stomach before a first date, feel queasy when you have to deliver bad news, or have loose stools when you’re stressed.

Research proves that there is a link between depression and low mood and digestive symptoms. Even your gut microbiota can be altered. One common stress trigger for people with IBS can be trying to work out which foods are going to cause symptoms.

TRY IT: Meditation has been clinically proven to help symptoms in people with IBS. Try to do 10-20 minutes daily to get the full benefit.

‘I was virtually house bound!’

bay burdettBay Burdett, founder of Bay’s Kitchen experienced low self-esteem and stress as a result of IBS.

I suffered for many years with chronic cramps, irregular bowel movements, fatigue, back pain and bloating but none of that came near to the anxiety pangs I’d have about leaving the house. I used to cancel on friends making up all sorts of excuses and I didn’t go on a date for over five years. I’d be worried about my pregnant looking belly, about finding a toilet in time, about leaking bowels, about the noises my stomach would make, about eating the wrong foods…and it all became a vicious circle because the anxiety triggered more cramps which made it physically impossible to leave the house anyway!

People who get diagnosed with IBS are often advised to follow a low FODMAP diet, which cuts out certain foods for a period of time to reduce or even eliminate symptoms. But with such a long list of foods to avoid, this can cause added stress and anxiety and trigger many to stop eating all together. I launched Bay’s Kitchen to offer IBS sufferers simple, safe and delicious solutions that take all the stress out of their low FODMAP journey. I am passionate about empowering IBS sufferers to enjoy healthy, delicious tasting good mood foods that will in turn have a positive effect on both their physical and mental wellbeing.

Find out more about Bay’s range of IBS-friendly foods at bayskitchen.com.

Words: Alison Hardinge. Images: Shutterstock. Research by Bay’s Kitchen.