Tips for handling digestive issues or “Irritable Bowel Syndrome lite”

When we’re younger most of us don’t have any great issues with food. Typically, we can eat what we want, when we want and as quickly as we want with no ill-effects. Later, though, some of us will arrive at a stage where the aftermath of every meal is accompanied by some discomfort whether it be bloating or pain. The degree of this discomfort varies, sometimes it’s debilitating, sometimes it’s more of a low level annoyance we learn to live with.

Ironically, those of us who have most severe issues may resolve the issues quickest as we’re driven  to consult a dietician. Often they’ll diagnose Irritable Bowel Syndrome. From there, an experienced dietician can recommend a course of action that will address the issues, frequently starting with simple interventions and progressing to more complex solutions as needed.

It’s the other cohort, however, the people who have a mild to moderate level of digestive distress, a milder form of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, never quite bad enough to seek professional advice, that this post is aimed at. There are a large number of people who go for years with digestive issues and never really think to question it, ironically these are often people who’re trying to build muscle or achieve some endurance sport goal. They believe that a low level of either bloating, gas, flatulence or mild stomach aches after meals are all just normal occurrences. Just to be absolutely clear, experiencing any or all of these symptoms with regularity is not normal.

Everyday life could be a lot better with just some simple changes. These changes can lead to more energy, better sleep and better performance in exercise. Basically you’ll be a lot happier.

Below are a few tips we’d recommend for anyone who feels they may fit into this category – not all tips are applicable to everyone, pick based on your experiences.

  • Don’t eat too late. If you’re someone who experiences low to mild discomfort after food, it may not be something that’s too bothersome when you’re occupied during the day. If you eat too close to bedtime though it may delay or even prevent you falling asleep and, once you are asleep, the quality of sleep won’t be great. If you’re in a continual sleep deficit, it has such a negative knock on and cumulative effect. Our advice is to just try for 3 to 4 days (say Monday to Thursday initially) to not eat within 3 hours of bedtime to see if you notice an improvement.
  • Don’t eat too fast. Often, it isn’t necessarily the type of food we’re ingesting that’s giving us issues but the speed at with we’re eating it. Eating too fast causes two potential issues, first, the food you’re swallowing hasn’t been chewed properly which places a greater burden on the digestion system and, secondly, you’re probably taking in mouthfuls of air which also causes stomach discomfort. Our advice is to chew each mouthful calmly and completely before swallowing. (For more on mindful eating see here).
  • Look at the low FODMAP guide. If you only experience discomfort occasionally, it may be that certain high FODMAP foods are causing the problem. By avoiding these temporarily, you can determine whether they’re the issue. Please note, most dieticians who direct people to a low FODMAP diet as a treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome would ultimately want to reintroduce as many foods as possible, so don’t set the goal of cutting out foods indefinitely and if you feel this may be necessary, consult a dietician. Our advice is to keep a food diary and after each meal, make a quick note of the food and then track how you felt over the following 2 to 3 hours.
  • Avoid protein powders. If you’re finding that the first 1 or 2 hours after drinking a shake you’re having some discomfort then this might be something to look at. Some people experience issues with dairy and most protein powder is whey based. A large percentage of people pursuing health and fitness goals will use protein powder, some for convenience and some because it is the only way they feel they can meet their protein goal. Our advice is to really make an effort to see whether you can replace protein powder with ‘real’ food to see if you can hit your targets without them. If you simple ‘have to have’ a shake, try a Whey Isolate or non-dairy based shake.
  • Pay particular attention to fibre, for some people more fibre can help while for others they may need to reduce their fibre. Again the food diary can help here. Our advice would be to initially increase fibre slightly and if symptoms get worse, reduce to below your original level. Don’t go to an extreme in either direction though, remember consult a dietician if you feel the need.
  • High fat diets suit some very well but not everyone, if you feel the urge to run to the bathroom within an hour of eating a high fat meal, it may be a sign that you’re suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome -D. We know that low-carb and keto diets are very popular but while they’re excellent choices for some, there’s no one size fits all diet. Our advice is to be honest with yourself about how well you tolerate fat in your diet rather than being dogmatic about a popular diet.
  • Cut back on alcohol, particularly beer (sorry) and carbonated drinks. Beer can be very hard for someone with Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms due to their constituent ingredients and carbonation, high fizz sodas are almost as bad. Our advice is not necessarily to avoid alcohol totally but at least look for a drink that’s kinder to your digestive system.