IBS and Food

Recognising the triggers and making small changes

Originally published on: December 4th, 2020. Last modified on April 1st, 2022

Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS is a chronic relapsing and often lifelong disorder involving a collection of symptoms, which vary from person to person but generally include:

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Bloating or distension
  • Wind or flatulence
  • Change in bowel habit (Diarrhoea and /or constipation)

I like to think of what happens in our gut as a continuum from ‘normal’ function to severe problems and we all find ourselves somewhere on that line.

IBS Continuum of Symptoms

Who does IBS affect?


If your symptoms bother you often enough to disrupt your life, then you may have IBS.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms can be catastrophic for many people and you may feel that you are not being taken seriously or that you are in so much pain that there must be something really wrong…you go back and forth to the doctor but nothing seems to work?

Also, the symptoms you experience may differ from day to day and not be the same as the next person with IBS, which makes it so difficult to diagnose.

Your first point of call should be your GP, as there is a set protocol for the GP to follow, which may require taking blood, or bowel sample to rule out other things, as some people with other gut disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease or coeliac disease have similar symptoms.

For this reason it is also difficult to perform research into the best diet for IBS.

However most people reportalcohol, caffeineandfatty foodsas their triggers. More recently research has shown that some carbohydrates may contribute to IBS symptoms These carbohydrates are call Fermentable Oligo- saccharides, Di-saccharides Mono-saccharides and Polyols and a Low FODMAP diet to restrict them has grabbed media attention.

However rather than starting with a restrictive diet, some small changes may be all you need to control your symptoms and reduced the amount of medicines that you take. It is not advisable to commence a low FODMAP diet without the help of a registered dietitian – restricting your diet may mean that you avoid many foods and therefore miss out on some important nutrients which may lead to deficiencies. Also a healthy gut needs a variety of foods to keep the bacteria in balance.

Here are some things that anyone can try

  • First find your triggers – Keep a food diary!
  • 经常吃
  • Drink enough fluid (8-10 cups of caffeine free drinks, non fizzy drinks or water)
  • Chew your food well, and take time when eating.
  • Reduce caffeine and alcohol.
  • Try to reduce stress.

Keeping a Food and Symptom Diary

So keeping a food diary is a good way of helping you to notice the foods, which may upset you – it is important to carry the phone or paper you are using to note down with you rather than try and remember as it is easy to forget what you ate that day.

Below is an example of what to record, by reflecting on this and making small changes, you will find that over time your symptoms improve.

Meal Food eaten Symptom
Breakfast 8am White toast with butter -2 slices
Snack 11 am Tea and 2 rich tea biscuits
Lunch Nothing except water
6.00pm pain and grumbling stomach
Evening meal Curry with Friends
Chicken Tikka Starter, salad and dips
Dahl and Rice 9.30pm Pain and wind, bloated – unable to sleep
All day -Coffee from machine at work 5 or 6 cups 11.30pm diarrhoea
IBS Food Diary Chart - Download

IBS Food Diary

[BBC:064]Food Diary

Keeping a food diary is a good way of noting which foods may upset you if you think you have IBS. This chart will help you keep a record of what you ate and when to identify triggers.

Eating Regularly



Sometimes drinking more is just about reminding yourself – find something that you like to drink. Still water is best, so carry a bottle with you – aim to drink the whole bottle before you leave work or college or before say 6pm if you are at home that day.


Many people ask me “does stress really affect my gut?”


Think about people who get a bout of diarrhoea before an exam or interview…. this is part of our ‘Fight or Flight’ response, an innate system which prepares our body to face threat, such as a wild scary animal.


However we can deal with this stress and help ourselves to relax. Try meditation, deep breathing techniques or using an app such as Calm or Headspace to talk you through a relaxation exercise. Physical Exercise also helps alleviate stress and improve mood, so try a walk, a swim, yoga or Pilates.

Cutting Down on Caffeine and Alcohol

Hopefully your food diary will have indicated how often you drinkcaffeinateddrinks, How often do these appear?

  • Cola, Diet Cola, Iron Brew
  • Energy Drinks: Monster, Red Bull
  • Tea
  • Coffee – instant or freshly brewed


Most people find cutting down onalcohol有点棘手。但这是可以做到的!试着把你的饮料换成单杯而不是双份,或者换成低酒精的啤酒或葡萄酒。试着把它们和柠檬水或苏打水混合在一起,做成奶昔或汽水。或者,每第二轮喝一杯不含酒精的饮料,或者试着放慢速度,这样你在同一时间内就不会喝那么多了。如果你很渴,可以尝试不含酒精的饮料,记住每周不要超过14个单位。

Fatty Foods and Fibre

Fatty foods are not great for anyone and therefore should be limited as part of a healthy diet. They also have been shown to aggravate some IBS symptoms such as diarrhoea.



Fibre is found in bread, rice pasta, fruit and vegetables, whole nuts and seeds. Try making small changes such as changing to wholemeal bread or white bread with added fibre. Wholemeal pasta and brown rice contain more fibre than the white varieties and wheat bisks, bran flakes and oats contain more fibre than cornflakes and rice krispies. You may wish to swap some of these, but don’t make too many changes at once as you won’t know what works and what doesn’t – I suggest starting with the thing you find easiest and leaving a week between changes.

Above all, it’s important to think about what you eat and listen to your body. Notice and record any changes to your symptoms as you make adjustments so that you learn what suits you. If you can follow the initial steps to drink plenty of water, eat regularly and avoid your triggers, you’ll then be able to take some additional steps towards a healthier and happier lifestyle. Reducing stress is never easy, but once you find something that works for you and your schedule, your belly will thank you for it!

Sarah Monk

Registered Dietitian

Sarah Monk Dietician

Hi I’m Sarah, a registered dietitian who currently works in a leadership role for the NHS. I became a dietitian because I love food, cooking and eating it… so what better job to do than talk about food all day!