You are what you digest!
Diet is an obvious place to start when looking to ease IBS. You must understand, though, that you are what you digest. This means that you can be trying to eat “healthily” but still not supporting your body.
Say you have read that grapefruit is a super probiotic, and start having some for breakfast every morning. If you can digest grapefruit, and you feel the benefits, that’s is great. But if you find that you don’t feel that well, don’t continue. If your body cannot handle grapefruit, forcing it will just make digestive issues worse.
Knowing what you digest the best
It is important to try out a variety of foods, but equally important to know what you digest. Make a list of foods that you eat when you are not feeling so good and that you tolerate the best. We will call this your GREEN LIST. These may not all be “healthy foods” but at least you know you can digest them. You will improve your diet later. Your first priority is calming down your digestive tract. Once you have a few staples on your list, see if you have enough to note down some of the meals and snacks you can make with these.
Make up a second list of foods you can digest when you are feeling a bit better. This will be your AMBER LIST. Try to include in that list different categories of foods, including fruit and veg. There may be just one fruit you can digest well and in small portions.
Experiment with portion size and the time of day. Maybe you can drink the juice of an orange sometime in the afternoon, but not first thing in the morning.
It can be very helpful to refer to a low FODMAP list as a general guide to what you should try adding in next. The Food Maestro app provides references for British foods, while the Monash University App list is used internationally. It is not because a food is on a Low FODMAP diet list that you will necessarily digest it well, so you need to do some experimenting. Identify some potential new foods that you fancy and put them on a RED LIST.
Do the same with drinks too, as drinks can also be triggers for bad digestion.
Beware of Convenience
When you are shopping do your best to buy the food you are testing in a very basic, organic state. If you buy salad ready-to-use in a bag it probably has some sort of preservatives with it that you could be reacting to. Buy an organic one and prepare it and see how you react. That way you are not complicating the result. Likewise, don’t use shop bought salad dressing when you are testing. Make up a basic vinaigrette dressing with 1 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tbsp of lemon juice (from a real organic lemon, not concentrate) and salt and pepper to taste.
Adding in foods
Once you are digesting (after a week) using the green list only, gradually add in foods from your amber list. And if you are still OK 3 or 4 days later, then you can start adding a small portion of ONE food from your red list and paying close attention to what happens. If you digest it, try having it again a couple of days later. Then put it on your amber list, and later promote it to your green list if relevant.
Remember that your body needs a variety of foods to stay in optimal health. If you know that you have a food intolerance, trying to force your body will not work. it is important, though, to try to find substitute products so that you still get the nutrients you need in your diet.
I really can’t work out my food triggers
Working out what you can digest takes time and patience – but only you can do it. Do consider getting the guidance of a qualified IBS nutritionist if you feel the need.
However, if you are finding that whatever you do your digestion does not calm down over the space of a few weeks, and that you really cannot “read” your food triggers, do seriously consider Candida and SIBO as a potential cause. I had Candida for years without realizing it and it made food triggers very hard to determine as I regulalry had bad digestion.
Once I treated my Candida, many of my digestive symptoms improved significantly. I also found I could eat a wider variety of foods again that had once been a problem.