Managing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) takes practice and discipline, but making a few key changes to your lifestyle can make a big difference in how you feel. Often times a change in your dietary habits, building in time to exercise and managing your stress can pay off big time in the severity and frequency of your symptoms.
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Keep track of your triggers and symptoms and record when you experience any discomfort. Eventually you can start to piece together what makes a difference and what doesn’t when it comes to managing and treating your IBS.
Gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD, gives nine tips to try for a healthy gut:
- Pump up your protein amount: Try to eat protein at every meal to help prevent blood sugar imbalances that feed bad gut bacteria. Choose sustainably raised fish, turkey, chicken, nuts, beans, seeds and tofu.
- Feast on fiber-rich foods: Enjoy high-fiber whole grains, veggies, nuts, seeds and fruit. The fiber in these foods will keep you fuller longer, but it’s also good for your gut.
- Don’t be afraid of fat: Choose healthy omega-3 fats, like wild salmon, sardines, flaxseed and seaweed. You can also try to include grass-fed, organic animal products and healthy oils (like olive, sesame seed and nut). You should avoid all hydrogenated fat, like margarine, processed foods, oils and baked goods.
- Incorporate fruits & veggies: Aim for 8 to 10 servings of colorful fruits and veggies a day. Their vitamins, minerals, fiber, nutrients and antioxidants help fight off many diseases and conditions.
- Pass on the processed food: Don’t let junk food, sodas, juices and diet drinks impact your sugar and lipid metabolism. Liquid sugar calories contribute most to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
- Relax on a regular basis: Put meditation, deep breathing and yoga on your schedule each day. Lowering your stress level can ease and prevent your IBS symptoms from flaring up, along with many other health conditions that come when our body is in a constant state of stress.
- Focus on good sleep: Sleep loss leads to weight gain, depression, worsens pain and ups your risk for heart disease, diabetes and a whole host of other problems. Make sleep a priority in your life and aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
- Make exercise a part of your daily life: Daily exercise (even just walking for 30 minutes) can help prevent countless health problems. For a challenge try high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or strength training through weights or resistance bands.
- Go ahead and give probiotics a try: Feed your digestive tract diverse strains of good bacteria, like lactobacillus, bifidobacterium and saccharomyces boulardii. Start slowly to see how they affect your gut and record how you feel. (You can also try fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, miso or kimchi, too.)
With a little time and patience, you can start to identify what strategies help your symptoms and what you can realistically incorporate into your life. If you’re really stumped, a dietitian can provide more direction and tips for fostering a healthy gut.