A Reminder: Managing IBS Isn't All About What You Eat
For anyone who follows me on Instagram, you’ll know I’ve just got back from a big trip to New Zealand. We hired a camper van for 2 weeks and drove around the South Island. It was absolutely beautiful! Today I want to write, not about the trip and how great it was, but about how great my gut felt during it. On the plane back last night (an 8 hour flight on Air Asia with no entertainment, so I had a lot of time to think..) it struck me that my gut had felt better on this trip than it had done in a long time. That got me thinking about why…
…and that’s what inspired me to write this post today and share those things with you!
For a bit of background, I’ve suffered with IBS for years. 2 years ago, I finally got diagnosed and that’s what lead me to finding out about the low FODMAP diet. I went through the low FODMAP diet and it absolutely changed my life. I finally knew what my triggers were, so I could choose to eat foods that kept my gut calm and to avoid those that would anger it. I loved it so much that I got certified in the diet, and it lead me to enrol in a training program to become a health coach. I want to help others change their lives too. In the process, I’ve learned about so many other diet and lifestyle tweaks that can help make my gut even happier. So, I’m at a place in my IBS life where I’ve got it very much under control and am pretty happy about that. However, I do still get little flare ups, and this is especially common when travelling.
Realising that I felt better on this recent trip than any I’ve previously taken really got me thinking. I want to share the 3 reasons why I think this was with you because they’re such simple things that we can all forget about sometimes. Sometimes, we just need a little reminder.
3 FACTORS THAT ARE SO IMPORTANT IN MANAGING IBS
These are 3 reasons my gut was so happy on this trip. They’re incredibly basic and simple but have SUCH a huge influence on our gut.
1. HOME COOKING
As we were living in a camper van, staying on campsites in remote locations, and trying to spend as little money as possible, we cooked everything from scratch. We planned some meals in advance and did a big supermarket shop the day we arrived, loading up the van with supplies. What this meant was that I was 100% sure everything I ate was free from any of my trigger foods and that I wasn’t eating anything processed.
Whilst I am a big believer in going out for dinner, living your life, and treating yourself when you’ve got IBS, processed foods aren’t good for your gut. When you cook your own food, you’re in control of what goes into your meals. When you go out to eat, you’ve not got much control over this. I want to make a point here that I’m not a great cook and can’t be bothered with complicated recipes. Everything we made was simple, had very few ingredients and was easy to cook in an incredibly small camper van kitchen.
Every day, we were either hiking or walking around a lake or a town. We did well over 10k steps a day, sometimes even 20k. Now, exercising this much wasn’t different for me. I love to exercise and I’m normally at the gym, running or spinning 5 times a week. However, this trip really proved to me that walking is just as good as all of these things, if not better. I tell people this all the time, but this trip really showed it.
Moving your body gets your digestive system working properly, and walking is as good a way to do this as any. Even better, walk outside in nature. I really noticed the effects of being outside, moving my body, in nature. On top of helping with your digestion, it’ll also help you with getting better sleep!
Despite sleeping in the tiny camper van, I was surprised that I slept incredibly well every night (apart from the night where the wind was so strong it swayed the van from side to side and I was genuinely afraid we’d topple over). There are so many things that contributed to this - daily exercise, being out in the light every morning, eating well, and not having a TV to watch at night.
Sleep makes your gut happy! When you don’t get enough, your ‘fight or flight’ nervous system gets revved up. This triggers cortisol to be produced, which encourages bad bacteria to multiply in your gut. What this means is that you can’t actually absorb all the nutrients from your food properly which will lead to bloating and digestion problems. I know that sleep is a huge trigger for me. If I have a bad night of sleep I feel bloated the next day, my digestion slows down, and I feel constantly hungry. Have you ever felt this?!
LIFESTYLE FACTORS ARE HUGE IN MANAGING YOUR IBS
This trip is just a great example of why I am such a big believer that managing IBS isn’t just about working out what your food triggers are. It’s about so much more, and your lifestyle plays a massive part. Yes, one of the most helpful things is working out your food triggers so that you can avoid them, but it’s not just about that. You can be eating all the healthy foods in the world, and avoiding all the foods that trigger your symptoms but, if you’re only getting 6 hours of sleep a night, sitting at your desk all day and eating processed foods in the evening, you’re not going to have a happy gut.
This is why I focus on lifestyle and dietary factors too, alongside working out trigger foods, when I help clients through the low FODMAP diet. These factors have a huge influence on their IBS symptoms, and will for yours too. We spend so much time focusing on the food we eat, that it’s so easy to overlook the lifestyle factors that play a role in IBS. These things seem so basic and so obvious, yet we often forget them and turn to an expensive supplement, rather than just going for a walk or going to bed an hour earlier. These things have just as big, if not bigger, an impact, and they’re a lot cheaper too.
This trip was a great reminder of this for me, and I’m going to make sure I try to keep up with these 3 things as well as possible now that I’m home. I encourage you to consider them as well.
HOW TO MAKE SOME SIMPLE LIFESTYLE CHANGES TODAY
I know the things I’ve mentioned will be nothing new to you, but maybe this post has got you thinking. Maybe you’ve realised you’re not getting enough sleep, enough exercise, or eating enough home cooked food. If you’re suffering with IBS symptoms, and you think you could improve in the 3 areas I’ve listed, challenge yourself to one of these:
Cook 1 more meal at home this week. This could be as simple as making overnight oats on a Sunday for your breakfasts this week, rather than picking up breakfast on the way to work.
Walk for 30 minutes each day this week. Try to do this out in nature but if it’s too cold, or can’t fit it in, do it on the treadmill or around the shopping mall.
Make a bedtime for the week and try to stick to it. Set an alarm 30 minutes before and turn off technology to get you in the right mindset. Have a bath or read a book instead.
I hope this post has made you take a step back and think about whether you’re overlooking any of these basic lifestyle factors. If you feel like you could improve in one of the 3 areas, try out one of the tips above. It really will make a difference.
Which tip are you going to try this week? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this and I hope it’s helped you on your journey towards more control of your gut,