If you’re currently navigating the frustrating world of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and considering a low FODMAP diet to improve or reduce your symptoms, know that it’s not always the best option for everyone.

While a low FODMAP diet can effectively improve your IBS and help you identify your dietary triggers, there are other IBS management strategies you can try before you jump to a restrictive elimination diet. 

What is a low FODMAP diet?

A low FODMAP diet is a three-phased diet that reduces your intake of foods high in certain fermentable carbohydrates, known collectively as FODMAPs. It has been shown to reduce symptoms in up to 86% of people with IBS. 

Phase 1 

High FODMAP foods are reduced in your diet for two to six weeks. 

Phase 2

If your symptoms improve significantly in phase 1, high FODMAP foods are reintroduced back into your diet during phase 2, using controlled challenges to determine trigger foods. 

Phase 3 

This phase involves the long-term reintroduction of high FODMAP foods, and personalizing the diet to meet your individual needs.

The whole process should take you around three to four months to work through. Just remember, this is not a DIY diet. Instead, it’s best to collaborate with a dietitian or other healthcare professional who can lead you safely through the three phases and ensure your gut health is maintained.

Rethinking restriction

A low FODMAP diet is just one of the many IBS management options available to you. And  many of these options focus on nourishing and adding in more of the good stuff, rather than restriction. 

Something else to note is that you might not see the symptom improvement you were hoping for if you start a low FODMAP diet without considering and addressing other factors influencing your symptoms first. 

What’s really triggering your IBS symptoms is often complex, and there could be many influences at work. This is why it’s beneficial to manage your IBS from multiple angles.

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What should I do before starting a low FODMAP diet?

1. Support your gut-brain axis

The vagus nerve connects the gut and the brain, which sends communication signals back and forth that influence your digestion and gut function, amongst other things. 

Miscommunications can occur along this pathway and may contribute to your painful gut symptoms. This makes supporting the gut-brain axis an important part of IBS management.

Stress and anxiety are also closely linked to your symptoms. Each can trigger the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, which activates the sympathetic nervous system. Many physiological changes can occur when this happens, like reduced blood flow to your digestive organs or compromised digestion. Identifying when your stress and anxiety are peaking may help you recognize their role in the severity of your IBS symptoms.

A form of hypnotherapy known as gut-directed hypnotherapy (GDH) is another way you can  address the miscommunication between your gut and brain. It may also help you de-stress and reduce your anxiety. It uses relaxation techniques, visualizations, and suggestions to ‘speak’ to your unconscious mind. And GDH has been shown to be as effective as a low FODMAP diet for reducing IBS symptoms; no food restrictions required.

GDH can be completed in-person with a trained hypnotherapy practitioner, or by listening to pre-recorded hypnotherapy sessions. Nerva is an evidence-based six-week hypnotherapy program available through an app that you can listen to at any time, making it convenient and cost-effective.

2.  Get moving

It’s well known that regular exercise is good for our general health, but research shows that it can help improve your IBS symptoms too.

Exercise is a great stress reliever (hello, gut-brain axis support!), but it also helps by stimulating movement in the digestive tract, which can be particularly helpful for those suffering from trapped gas and constipation. 

Exercise as an IBS management strategy works best when you get moving regularly and commit to a fitness plan in the long term. Unfortunately, a few sweat sessions here and there aren’t enough for you to see the benefits. 

Generally, lower-intensity workouts are best for IBS—anything that places your body under too much physical stress may end up making your gut symptoms worse.

3. Manage mealtime behaviors

Focusing on ‘when’ and ‘how’ we eat is often just as important as ‘what’ we eat when it comes to managing IBS. Putting a few simple strategies in place to optimize digestion can make a big difference to gut symptoms, without needing to restrict your favorite foods.

Aim for regular meals throughout the day—a sensitive gut typically likes regularity. It can often stress the gut out when food intake is sporadic or portion sizes are overly large. Smaller meals eaten regularly will be easier for your gut to tolerate and encourage digestion.

We know eating can generate anxiety for people with IBS, but do your best to reduce stress around mealtimes to avoid compromising your digestion. Try to eat in a calm and relaxed environment, physically relax your body, and take a few deep breaths before you start.

Eat slowly and chew each mouthful well to give your body time to recognize you’re eating. This will help get your stomach acid and digestive enzymes ready to go. And the more you chew, the less work the rest of your gut has to do breaking down food—aim for about 20 chews per mouthful.

4. Consider your fluids, fiber, and diet

Staying hydrated is a must for everyone, but if you have IBS it’s particularly important as it’s going to help support healthy bowel movements. Not drinking enough water can lead to hard, dry stools that can be difficult to pass. For most people, drinking between four to six pints (two to three liters) per day is adequate.

Fiber is the other key player for bowel health. Too little means your stool may lack volume and good form, but too much fiber can cause issues. A fiber intake of about 1 ounce (30g) per day is adequate for most people. Including softer, soluble fibers in your diet is particularly helpful for IBS. Try eating more oats, chia seeds, ground flaxseeds, and psyllium husk. Keep in miind, it's always best to take a slow, gradual approach when increasing your fiber intake to give your gut time to adjust.

While IBS dietary triggers can vary greatly between individuals, there are a few known gut irritants you might want to reconsider. These include highly caffeinated drinks, spicy foods, alcohol, and fatty foods such as deep-fried foods, pastries, or creamy sauces.

Questions to ask yourself

There are a few further questions you can ask yourself to determine if a low FODMAP diet is your next step.

Have you spoken with a healthcare clinician to ensure this diet is for you? 

The low FODMAP diet shouldn’t be attempted by yourself, and you will need the guidance and support of a healthcare professional to lead you through all three phases.

Do you have three to four months to dedicate to the process? 

The low FODMAP diet can’t be rushed, and it is restrictive. If you know you have commitments coming up that are going to make the diet difficult to stick to, rethink your timing. 

Do you need extra support from a dietitian? 

A dietitian will ensure you can maintain an adequate and enjoyable diet, support your microbiome health, and help you achieve results.

The Wrap Up

A low FODMAP diet can be an effective way to reduce IBS symptoms and identify your food triggers. However, it’s not always the best option for everyone, and there are things you should consider before trying it out. For most people, what triggers their IBS symptoms is multifactorial, so it’s always beneficial to think about managing your IBS from multiple angles. Beneficial management strategies to have in place before starting a low FODMAP diet include supporting your gut-brain axis; developing a reliable meal routine; ensuring you're hydrated; eating enough fiber; and reconsidering known food triggers. Discuss your options with a healthcare practitioner like a dietitian if you think you’re ready to try a low FODMAP diet.

About Amy Minogue

Amy completed a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics (Honors) at Monash University in Australia. She is an accredited practicing dietitian and nutritionist, and a Nerva-approved facilitator. Amy specializes in nutrition support for gut disorders, and loves helping people identify potential food triggers, reduce uncomfortable symptoms, and improve their quality of life. Amy appreciates that gut issues can be complex, and knows the importance of considering more than just one’s food intake when searching for answers. Amy is passionate about helping her clients feel empowered and knowledgeable to make informed nutrition choices that benefit their health long into the future.

Contact Amy at AM Dietetics

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Contents

Calm IBS in 6 weeks

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✅ 89% success rate
✅ 50,000+ people helped
✅ Created by Dr Peters

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Hot Flash Relief

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Refer, monitor and grow

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Could it be IBS?
Take the quiz to find out.
Free guide to managing IBS with hypnotherapy
Calm IBS in 6 weeks
Diet and drug free program
50,000+ people helped
Created by Dr Simone Peters
What if you could calm IBS in just 6 weeks?
Diet and drug free program
50,000+ people helped
Created by Dr Simone Peters from Monash Univeristy
Could it be IBS?
Take the quiz to find out.
Calm IBS in 6 weeks
Diet and drug free program
50,000+ people helped
Created by Dr Simone Peters
Calm IBS in 6 weeks
Diet and drug free program
50,000+ people helped
Created by Dr Simone Peters
Calm IBS in 6 weeks
Diet and drug free program
50,000+ people helped
Created by Dr Simone Peters
Calm IBS in 6 weeks
Diet and drug free program
50,000+ people helped
Created by Dr Simone Peters
Manage IBS with gut-directed hypnotherapy
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Sleep better, without hormones
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Low risk
Evidence based
Manage hot flashes in just five weeks
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Manage hot flashes without hormones
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