Ask a Dietitian: Is It My Diet or is It IBS?

We're becoming more comfortable with filter-free convos about all things toilet-related and as dietitians, we're completely on board with that. Normalising discussions around digestive issues like gas, bloating, diarrhoea, and constipation can encourage people to seek help to get to the bottom (pun intended) of the problem.

These particular symptoms are commonly associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), but they can also be caused by other conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease, bowel cancer, and even just plain ol' poor diet.

So before you jump to cutting food groups or juices fads in a bid to fix the problem, it's important to determine what the problem actually is! Here, we break down the difference between diet issues and an IBS diagnosis.

What is IBS?

IBS is a commonly diagnosed gastrointestinal condition. It's a functional disorder with a variety of subtypes depending on the symptoms you experience. The common symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain and discomfort, as well as altered bowel habits such as diarrhoea or constipation.

Diet can play a role in managing IBS, with evidence and experts backing a low FODMAP diet to determine your triggers. However, it's not meant to be followed long-term and that's where a dietitian-backed program like our The FODMAP Challenge can help. 

How can diet cause similar symptoms?

Restricting your eating unnecessarily or consuming a low-quality diet can impact your gut health and also cause unpleasant symptoms that may commonly be mistaken for IBS. Our gut microbiome plays a key role in all aspects of our health and well-being from the digestion of our food through to our mental health. Studies have shown that those consuming a poor-quality diet (or a diet low in wholegrains, fruit and vegetables) had a lower microbial diversity, or variety of bugs in their gut microbiome. Since each of these bugs within our microbiome plays a different role in our health, the greater the diversity, the better.

So, what should my diet look like?

The quality of your diet, including the amount of fruits, vegetables and wholegrains you're eating can impact your daily fibre intake, which is essential for supporting our gut health. Plus, these core food groups also provide us with the essential vitamins and minerals we need to function at our best.

Aim for a diet rich in wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and lean meats. This should include 5 serves of vegetables (one serve of vegetables is ½ cup cooked vegetables or 1 cup salad vegetables), 2 serves of fruit (one serve is a medium apple, banana or mandarin or 2 small kiwi fruits) and 4-6 serves of wholegrains (one serve is 1 slice of bread, ½ cup rice/pasta/noodles, 2/3 cup cereal) every day.

What to do if your symptoms don't resolve 

If you've nailed the dietary recommendations and you're still experiencing symptoms, see a healthcare professional ASAP. It's important to exclude other, serious, causes of these symptoms.

Also keep in mind that other lifestyle factors can play a role in IBS symptoms, including stress and poor sleep.

If this is something you struggle with, Health & Performance Collective is offering its new FODMAP Challenge, which could help you determine your IBS triggers, address your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Sign up with the code BEDTHREADS for 15% off.

Explore more content like this in our series, Ask a Dietitian

Health & Performance Collective is the brainchild of Sydney Dietitians Jessica Spendlove and Chloe McLeod. They use their 20 years of combined knowledge and skills as dietitians to work with motivated people to live and perform at their best.

Enjoyed this? We asked Jessica and Chloe to explain just why it's not ideal to eat dinner late at night.

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