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HealthInfo Canterbury

Eating & lifestyle guidelines for IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder where your bowels (also called intestines) don't work properly. You can read about the symptoms of IBS.

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

Tips to manage IBS symptoms

Eat regular meals

Eat at regular mealtimes – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This can help to keep your bowels regular. Don't 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 follow the healthy plate model for lunch and dinner. Or use your hand to judge portion size.

Eat a variety of healthy foods

Every day have food from the four food groups:

  • wholegrain bread and cereals
  • vegetables and fruit
  • low-fat milk and milk products
  • lean meat, chicken, seafood, eggs, legumes (cooked dried beans, split peas, and lentils), nuts and seeds.

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 while 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 are constipated.

Identify foods and drinks that make your symptoms worse – and avoid them

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:

Be active every day

Being active can help to relieve stress and help to keep your bowels regular. 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.

If you are not active, ask your GP or practice nurse about a Green Prescription. This includes a free consultation with a physical activity coach to create a personal activity plan just for you, and gives you a chance to take part in group physical activity sessions.

Manage stress

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.

Food intolerance and special diets

If your symptoms don't get better by following these tips you may have a food intolerance. In this case it may help to try a special 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.

On the next page: Food intolerance and the low-FODMAP diet

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by GP liaison, Gastroenterology, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed March 2017. Last updated June 2018.


See also:

Fibre & fluid for healthy bowels

Keeping active

Reading food labels


Tips for sleeping well

Page reference: 28007

Review key: HIIBS-27995