It’s not just what you eat, but how you eat.
For people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a lot of attention goes to what you eat. One of the first things most people do to improve symptoms is learn their food triggers and reduce their intake of the foods that give them trouble. That’s certainly important, but another key to manage IBS symptoms is how you eat.
Your meals are more likely to trigger IBS symptoms if they are rushed, large, sporadic, and chaotic. Making some intentional choices about when, how, and how much you eat at each meal may make a huge difference in your post-meal symptoms.
Mealtime Habits to Manage IBS
It’s essential to limit or avoid your IBS food triggers, but you’ll also want to work in these mealtime habits to manage IBS:
1. Eat smaller meals more frequently
Many people with IBS tend to have better luck eating four to six smaller meals a day, compared to the standard three large meals. That’s because filling your stomach in one sitting can make digestion more challenging. Since your gut is hypersensitive as it is, this may lead to bloating and cramping.
2. Eat on a schedule
Try eating meals around the same time every day. Your gut may appreciate the routine.
3. Make meals more relaxing
Stress can worsen IBS (as you probably already know). If you regularly struggle with symptoms after meals, eating itself may stress you out because you’re dreading the impending pain and cramping. This can create a negative cycle where the fear of having symptoms is what actually leads to symptoms.
One way to counter this is by making your mealtimes more relaxing and to practice mindful eating. Sit at the dinner table—not on the couch or in bed. Turn off or put away technology, including TVs and phones. You could even go the extra mile and dim the lighting and play relaxing music.
4. Slow down
Take smaller bites and chew your food thoroughly. Eating fast may cause you to swallow lots of air, which can worsen bloating.
An added bonus: Slowing down can help prevent overeating. In addition to helping you avoid symptoms from large meals, this may also help with weight management.
Getting Help with IBS
Mealtimes may be a struggle for IBS, but some smart lifestyle changes should help. If you continue to struggle with symptoms after meals, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can work with you to find out what’s causing the problem. You may also be a candidate for medications that may help with specific IBS symptoms.
After all, meals should be a source of pleasure—not pain.