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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Self-care for IBS

Changing how and what you eat can help to improve your IBS symptoms. Changing your lifestyle, for example, being more active and learning to manage your stress levels, can also help.

Eating well with IBS

Eat regular meals

Eat at regular mealtimes – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This can help to keep your bowels regular. Do not skip meals, eat late at night or just before lying down.

Always sit down to eat

Sit, preferably at a table and not in front of the TV or computer.

Eat slowly

Make sure you chew your food well before swallowing.

Watch your portion sizes

Eating large meals may make your symptoms worse, especially if you have diarrhoea, pain or bloating. Have small meals and use your hand to judge portion size.

Eat a variety of healthy foods

Every day have food from the four food groups:

Change your fibre intake

In the past, people with IBS were told to eat more fibre. High-fibre foods include vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes (cooked dried beans, peas and lentils), wholegrain breads and cereals. But we now know that although this helps some people, it doesn't help everyone. For most people with IBS, eating more fibre can help constipation, but having too much fibre, especially wheat bran, can make bloating, wind, diarrhoea and pain worse.

Drink plenty of fluid

Drink at least eight cups of fluid a day. Water is best. You might need to drink more during hot weather, after activity or if you're constipated.

Avoid foods and drinks that make your symptoms worse

It may help to keep a diary and record whether certain foods and drinks make your symptoms better or worse. You can then avoid those that make them worse.

Common foods and drinks that may make your symptoms worse include:

Food intolerance and special diets

If your symptoms do not get better by following the suggestions above, you may have a food intolerance. In this case it may help to try a special diet such as a Low-FODMAP diet to work out what foods you are intolerant to. A dietitian can help you to work out if you have a food intolerance. Ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to a dietitian.

Physical activity for IBS

Being active can help to relieve stress, keep your bowels regular and reduce other IBS symptoms. It can also help you to feel better about yourself.

Do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days. Be active in as many ways as possible – move more and sit less.

Stress and IBS

Reducing stress can help many people to ease their IBS symptoms. Getting enough sleep and being active can help to reduce stress. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, tai chi or muscle relaxation exercises may also help.

Talking Therapy and IBS

Talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been found to help many people ease their IBS symptoms.

On the next page: Low-FODMAP diet

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2021.


See also:

Fibre & fluid for healthy bowels

Keeping active

Reading food labels


Tips for sleeping well

Page reference: 28007

Review key: HIIBS-27995