Dietitian for IBS
Advice from a Dietitian who is also Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Looking for a Dietitian for IBS? If you are, chances are you may have also heard about the low FODMAP diet and are a bit overwhelmed about what to eat to best manage your symptoms.
To be honest, I don’t like to use the word “diet” when talking about low FODMAP. I prefer to use the term “challenge” or “trial” since it is not designed to be followed for the rest of your life. It has nothing to do with adopting a whole new lifestyle like the Mediterranean diet or a vegetarian diet. It is about managing the symptoms of a syndrome that affects 11% of the worlds population.
Living with IBS myself, I have done the low FODMAP challenge to help manage my symptoms better. I am also trained in the low FODMAP challenge from the Monash University. I strongly believe that technical knowledge and education is important in helping people struggling with this disease, but that personal experience is also beneficial because the professional knows exactly what you are going through.
How Common is IBS?
In my experience as a dietitian for IBS support, IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and other digestive health issues, I realized that it is common that many people are shameful about their symptoms. Many of my clients do not understand why they are experiencing symptoms, struggle with inconsistency and feel they are lacking support.
While it is true that it might be hard, and may take a long time to get a diagnosis, it is not accurate to say that it is rare. In Canada, 18% of the people live with IBS and 1% live with IBD. On top of this, there are many more people struggling with digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, cramping, heartburn and other issues as well. I previously wrote about 3 common digestive health issues in this article: Healthy Eating for IBS, IBD (Crohn’s Disease/Colitis) and Celiac Disease
My Personal Experience as a Dietitian with IBS
I want to share my personal history with dealing with IBS in order to normalize the digestive issues and provide some hope in the management of the symptoms.
As far back as I can remember I have had issues with my gut. At a young age, I sometimes missed days of school because of diarrhea and cramps that came from nowhere. I have often had sleepless nights because of the diarrhea or the pain. I remember when I was 17 years old, the night before passing my driving exam test, I was so stressed that I spent the night glued to the toilet bowl. Let me tell you, that sure didn’t help to reduce stress at all. Can you relate?
During my studies in nutrition, years before I got diagnosed with IBS, I had the opportunity to travel internationally and participate in a 2-month research project in Senegal in Africa. It was my first time travelling outside of North America and unfortunately, I experienced severe diarrhea the entire time I travelled which significantly impact my health and enjoyment of the trip. During that trip I lost 15 pounds of muscle in only 60 days and my bloodwork showed some minor signs of malnutrition. After coming back from Senegal, I was able to get my nutrition status and weight back to my normal, but it took time.
Being unable to access a family physician during my studies and for 2 years after I graduated, I was unable to get a proper diagnosis for my symptoms. I didn’t feel that doing an elimination diet (such as the low FODMAP, gluten free or lactose free) without an assessment, investigation and diagnosis made sense. Therefore, I tried to manage my symptoms of constipation, diarrhea and pain instead of identifying the cause.
While living in the Yukon for almost 3 years there were no family doctors accepting new patients. In November of 2018, I was struggling with lots of stress and that stress resulted in a 2-week episode of alternating constipation, diarrhea and heavy persistent cramps. I had to be absent from work for several days as I was unable to get out of bed. I went to the emergency room 3 times in 2 days. At that time the only result that came back was that I was dehydrated (of course I was dehydrated, I had diarrhea for 2 weeks!). At that time, I pleaded with the doctor in emergency to do a thorough investigation to identify the source of my symptoms. Gratefully this doctor agreed to be my family physician and started the investigation process which included ultrasounds, a colonoscopy, a biopsy and blood work. All the results came back negative. I therefore got diagnosed with IBS-M (IBS “Mixed” because you go back and forth between diarrhea and constipation). This is also known as IBS-A (alternating). The other types of IBS include IBS-D (diarrhea) and IBS-C (constipation).
Living as an IBS Dietitian with IBS!
Soon after receiving the IBS diagnosis, I started the low FODMAP challenge. Me being a vegetarian made this extra tricky since there are not many food items permitted for vegetarian people. I was able to ensure adequate nutrition through the elimination phase of the low FODMAP challenge and have been able to successfully identify the food group that triggers my symptoms. For me it was fructose in excess of glucose. Let me explain further what that means. If the fructose concentration of a food is equal or lesser than the concentration of glucose it is generally tolerated okay. But, if fructose is present in a greater concentration than glucose, it can cause digestive troubles.
That was a shock for me especially since many of my favorite fruits such as apples, mangos and cherries were things I needed to avoid.
I now live without symptoms most of the time since early 2019. I occasionally have some flare ups in symptoms when I am exhausted or anxious, but it is typically not too bothersome. I have had pain less then 5 times in over 2 years and usually it is because I have eated food items belonging to the category I need to avoid.
I remember one night my partner cooked a curry with mixed frozen vegetables and two hours after eating dinner, I was in bed and unable to move because of the pain. When I finally took a peek at the leftovers, I realized I didn’t see the broccoli hidden in the curry sauce (and this is a trigger food for IBS symptoms for me). That was one of the only times I experienced severe pain since I identified the food triggers.
For pleasure, I sometimes enjoy some cherries we grow in our backyard or a tablespoon of homemade applesauce, but I have been able to identify the amount I can tolerate. When I feel like having more, I know I will pay the price… sometimes it’s worth it!
Working with a Dietitian for IBS
The best part about understanding the science of digestive health and IBS and working with a Dietitian for IBS is – you really can feel better! You don’t have to struggle alone. Working with an IBS Dietitian will help you understand the low FODMAP challenge and determine your trigger foods so you can always feel your best.
Please reach out to me if you are seeking support for IBS management or other digestive health issues. Find out more here: IBS Nutritionist & Digestive Health Dietitian Services.
Looking for more simple meal planning tips and healthy recipes for a healthier lifestyle? Sign up for our weekly newsletter for a healthy recipe of the week (and nutrition articles and videos with a balanced living philosophy to help encourage healthy habits but still save room for your favorites). Our nutrition newsletter is written by the Online / Calgary Nutritionists on our team who each hold a professional Registered Dietitian license to ensure you are getting credible advice.