Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can be challenging and leave you feeling confused about what your dietary triggers are, and therefore what to eat day-to-day. While meal plans are commonly suggested for various health goals, this article is going to help you understand why we don’t routinely recommend meal plans in the treatment of IBS.
1. Diverse Nature of IBS Symptoms
IBS is a complex condition with a wide range of symptoms and triggers. Some people with IBS may experience constipation, while others may suffer from diarrhoea, bloating, or abdominal pain. What works for one person may not work for another, and so a generic meal plan isn’t going to suit everyone’s individual needs, it may in fact exacerbate certain IBS symptoms.
2. Food Triggers Vary
Sensitivity to certain foods is one of the hallmarks of IBS (though food isn’t the cause of IBS). These triggers can differ greatly from person to person. For example, some people may be sensitive to a group of sugars called fructans (found in garlic, onion, dried fruits and wheat) whilst others may be sensitive to the sugar found in milk (lactose). A meal plan can be too rigid and restrictive to take all these factors into account. We instead work with you and your own personal triggers to come up with a plan that allows for the least amount of restriction whilst still getting symptom relief.
3. Changing Symptoms and Needs
IBS symptoms can be influenced by stress, hormonal changes, and other factors. A meal plan may not account for these variations and could potentially slow an individual’s progress at achieving good symptom control leading to frustration with the process. Working with a dietitian for a personalised approach allows for flexibility in response to changing symptoms, empowering individuals to make informed choices based on their current needs.
4. Psychological Impact
Meal plans tend to suggest the need to follow a set plan on a set day, including only specific foods listed. This rigid plan can have negative psychological effects, potentially leading to feelings of deprivation, guilt, or anxiety around food. For many with IBS, there’s already an existing anxiety around food where individuals have struggled for some time trying to manage things themselves. We of course don’t want to worsen this further especially as stress and emotional factors can contribute to symptom flare-ups via the gut-brain connection. We aim to provide a more individualised approach that focuses on balance and flexibility, to reduce the psychological burden associated with rigid dietary restrictions.
5. Nutritional Adequacy
This is an important one which is often overlooked. Everyone has different nutritional requirements, and this can vary from day-to-day. IBS sufferers may already face challenges in obtaining everything they need due to restricting trigger foods. A set meal plan for IBS can be extremely difficult to create that meets all essential nutrients, potentially leaving individuals with nutritional deficiencies. So please beware of anyone selling such plans. Working with a dietitian allows for consideration of your individual nutrition needs for a targeted approach. Where necessary your dietitian may recommend testing of key nutritional bloods and in some cases, nutritional supplements to ensure nutrient targets are being met to support overall health alongside IBS treatment.
While meal plans may have their place in certain situations, they may not be the most effective approach for managing IBS symptoms. The nature of IBS means symptoms can be unpredictable, and triggers and needs can change. A rigid meal plan therefore isn’t going to work here, instead we need a more flexible and tailored approach to treatment. Choosing a personalised approach by working with an experienced IBS dietitian empowers individuals to become more attuned to their bodies.
We work with clients to help them develop a deeper understanding of their unique triggers and responses. This knowledge can enable better decision-making to enable long-term symptom management, ultimately promoting a sense of control over your health. We also work with you to help you understand how diet is only a small part of the IBS management plan, and that it requires a holistic approach designed to your specific needs.
If you’re looking for support with your IBS, Jo and Hazel are our dietitians who specialise in this area. You can book in with them directly here. Or use the contact form to get in touch to set up a discovery call ahead of making an appointment.