Do you know your IBS triggers?


Your IBS triggersIt is essential to find out what triggers your IBS in order to have some control over your symptoms.

Even if knowing your triggers won’t stop the reaction, it can help you in the short term to avoid or reduce flare-ups. And having SOME control is a welcome change.

When we think of IBS and triggers, we often think about food. And it is true that for many people, certain foods will start off IBS symptoms. But that’s not the whole picture.

Food intolerance

First on the list to watch out for are the main types of food intolerance. They are classic IBS triggers, so I have to include them.

Foods that are high in Fodmaps tend to be those that are least well tolerated by IBS sufferers. As everyone is different it is important to experiment and make your own list of foods that you can digest the best. This article explores food intolerance in more depth.

This is why the low FODMAP diet can be very useful. It includes a number of foods that are low in certain fermentable sugar chains, and that are generally better tolerated than others.

The idea behind the low FODMAP diet is that by taking out foods that trigger your IBS, it allows the digestive tract which has often become inflamed, to calm down and even heal. However, this diet is only supposed to be used for a few months. You are supposed to gradually try different foods again, one food category per week, in order to establish what your triggers are.  The difficulty with the reintroduction of foods is that you may have other triggers setting off IBS symptoms too.

However, this diet is only supposed to be used for a few months. You are supposed to gradually try different foods again, one food category per week, in order to establish what your triggers are. The difficulty with the reintroduction of foods is that you may have other triggers setting off IBS symptoms too.

If you are having difficulty with the reintroduction of foods, you may well have other triggers setting off IBS symptoms too.

Quantities of different foods

Watch out for portion sizes and see how they affect your digestion. If you are intolerant to fructose, for example, you may have a tolerance level where you can eat some fruit, but not others. Or small portion sizes. The same applies to gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance. You may find you are totally intolerant, or only intolerant to a certain amount of a food.


Industrial foods contain common food triggers used to enhance flavour, texture and make them last longer. So preparing food from scratch is one way to have total control over what you are eating. If you want to see what your food triggers really are, you need to be able to see them in isolation.

Mismanaging sugar intake

I never realised that blood sugar levels could have such an impact on health.

According to Alisa Vitti in her excellent book WomanCode“The adrenal glands perceive mismanaged blood sugar as a stressor”.

In short, rapidly changes in sugar levels can cause stress in the body, and this can in turn be contributing to, or causing, an IBS flare-up.

She adds that ANXIETY can be a sign of high blood sugar!

She also points out that “Low blood sugar “is likely to occur if your body lacks adequate food intake, or overindulging in carbs.whereas headaches and fatigue can be symptoms of low blood sugar“.

Beyond Fodmaps

IBS is not just about food. Other triggers can be giving you crossed signals.

If you are keeping a food journal, it is a good idea to add other details, such as:

    • how you are feeling
    • what is going on or has been going on just before the meal
    • where you are having your meal and with whom
    • the temperature of what you are eating and drinking
    • the environment (hot, cold, noisy)
  • any sensations you may be having while you’re eating

Be sure to look out for the following:


You may find that certain people are triggers for your IBS. This was one of my personal nasties.

This may well include, family, friends, neighbours, a colleague, your boss. It can be someone you see or hear from regularly, or not very often. If you have a person that triggers you every day, you may not  even have noticed the link. Because you are always subject to that trigger.

If you do recognize someone as a trigger for you (and this may be more apparent to a partner or friend than to you, so do ask them) you may feel lost to know how to change things.

As a fast, temporary measure, you may find some deep breathing before and afterwards helps to stop, or reduce, the stress reaction.

Alternatively you can choose to work on the trigger pattern and release it, undoing that automatic reaction and changing it for a more constructive one.


Some women find they have more flare-ups a certain times of the month and are sensitive to the hormonal changes in their bodies, and they have more flare-ups during this time.

If you can relate, I would especially look into how you can take care of your liver.  This is where all used hormones are collected for elimination from the body. If the liver is working under par, it is also the place where used hormones accumulate and it can start disrupting the levels of hormones present in the body.

Alternatively talk to your gynecologist. I personally tried this, but got no help there.

This book “Woman Code” by Alisa Vitti  examines hormone disruption and elimination in detail, and may give you answers you have been looking for.

She also talks about IBS, signs that elimination of waste in the body when they are compromised, and what you can do about them.

Situations and events

You may notice that certain situations or events set your IBS off. I found that being invited for an aperitif was a trigger for me because it starts late, goes on late, and everyone is hungry and tired. So now if I’m invited for an aperitif, I say I’m not free in the evening and would they like to come for coffee instead. I find that situation suits me much better and I can control what I eat and drink (like substitute coffee:)

Environmental triggers

These can be anything from the weather, moon state, to products and substances in your environment that trigger you. It is not necessarily the triggers themselves that are dangerous. They can be linked to past situations or memories that trigger your IBS, and an integral part of a trigger loop.

Sounds and smells

This may sound trivial, but you may find yourself reacting to different sound levels, or different smells. Do you wince when someone talks loudly? Or if there is loud music? Do certain smells cause you revulsion? A food smell? A particular perfume or aftershave? If you react, you may find that these experiences are linked to past experiences, and have formed a  trigger loop.

Sun and heat (or cold)

One day I went to a restaurant, had lunch inside and digested it relatively well. A few weeks later I went back and had the same dish. As it was a nice day I sat outside and ate it in the sun. I immediately felt very tired – usually a symptom that I wasn’t digesting, – and I had a flare-up later that afternoon.  Same meal, same people.

I went back a few weeks later and ate inside in the shade. No problem that time.

I concluded that heat, or the sun, certainly seemed to be a trigger for me.

Knowing this, and not really being able to do much about it at that time (that was before learning how to work on triggers and trigger loops), I avoided having lunch in the sun, and I felt much better for it.

Why triggers are useful indicators

Finding triggers means that you start to look at the cause and effect of your IBS – and take back some control over it. Maybe you can avoid some triggers, and avoid an accumulation of them. And this can already improve day-to-day living.

However I would urge you not to stop there.

To beat my IBS I went a step further. I traced triggers back to their trigger loops and to their root causes, the big why’s buried deep down in my story. And by releasing the trigger mechanism of each of them, I could then recover.

Finding your triggers gives you the possibility of avoiding them as much as possible, or of finding ways to turn them around.