An Elimination Diet is not only good to help us identify potential food triggers for IBS symptoms, but it's also ideal to uncover the cause of other problems, such as skin rushes, eczema, excessive mucus production, itching and a score of other problems.
Identifying trigger foods that set off your particular IBS symptoms can be difficult. Even people without IBS will have a gastrointestinal reaction to certain foods once in a while.
But people with IBS have a heightened sensitivity to foods. So if they react badly to a particular food they're likely to avoid it for good.
But what if the reaction was due to unusual stress, or a mild case of food poisoning or just one of those normal gut reactions?
You might avoid a food forever for no good reason. You might be so afraid of an attack of diarrhea, constipation or horrific gas that you might err on the sight of caution and keep off that particular food, becoming seriously food phobic.
But too much caution can have serious consequences. It can lead to low blood sugar, weight loss, malnutrition and another kind of socially awkward situation: you can become afraid of eating with friends and going out for fear of an attack.
So what can you do to identify the foods that are at the root of your IBS symptoms? It all depends on whether your symptoms are severe or mild.
If your symptoms are not so severe, you might want to just keep a food diary or a IBS journal. This is how it works:
Over time you'll have a good idea of which foods you need to avoid to feel well and which you can eat safely.
For people with extreme IBS symptoms, the simplest way to identify
the right trigger foods is to first follow an Elimination Diet for five
to seven days. People with other conditions may want to do it over a longer period of time, perhaps 2 or 3 weeks, as they may take longer to clear (like skin problems, for example).
What does it involve? In short, it's a meal plan that avoids all potential offending foods, then slowly reintroducing them one by one.
Along the way you keep track of reactions to foods you are reintroducing in a food diary.
If you have diarrhea-predominant IBS, your five- to seven-day Elimination Diet will avoid all trigger foods plus all fibre, including soluble fibre.
If you have severe constipation-predominant IBS, your Elimination Diet will avoid all trigger foods, but incorporate foods rich in soluble fibre and small amount of insoluble fibre.
Whichever plan you follow, after about a week you'll be ready to test some of the potential trigger foods.
It's best to try one new food every two to three days and carefully documenting what you eat and how you feel during the 24 hours afterwards.
The best foods for IBS health are those that are gentle on the digestive system and which encourage "smooth passage" through the intestines.
As much as it pains me to say so, vegetables, fruit and whole grains are a bit hard for the body to break down, so they should be limited until your symptoms subside and you identify foods that are problematic for you.
There's no doubt that fruits and vegetables are really the best healthy foods you could possibly eat. But if you suffer with severe IBS symptoms, especially with frequent bouts of diarrhea, you need to be sure of which fruits and vegetables you can tolerate without setting off the symptoms.
A friend of mine, for example, was suffering with debilitating diarrhea. She thought it was caused by something she was eating, hence she tried staying off wheat, coffee, chocolate and all sort of other foods, but nothing seemed to work. She was having salad every day trying to be "healthy", until she found out that that was exactly what was causing her problems. Through trial and error she finally found out how much of it she could eat without setting off her symptoms.
Fibre (or 'fiber' outside Britain) comes in two main varieties: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre dissolves in water and turns into a kind of gooey, gummy consistency.
Insoluble fibre is tougher. It doesn't dissolve and pretty much keeps its form, but does absorb a lot of water.
Although insoluble fibre is generally healthy and very beneficial for most people, it can be very hard on the intestines of people with IBS. Insoluble fibre speeds food through the colon, something that many diarrhea-predominant IBS sufferers want to avoid.
People with constipation-predominant IBS may want to experiment with how much insoluble fibre they can eat without experiencing too much gas and bloating.
Soluble fibre, on the other hand, promotes regularity, regardless of the type of IBS you have. That's why you'll find plenty of soluble fibre integrated particularly into the Elimination Diet for IBS with Constipation.
If you suffer with diarrhea-predominant IBS go to IBS wit Diarrhea - The Elimination Diet.
If you suffer with constipation predominant IBS go to IBS with Constipation - The Elimination Diet.