Marissa Mekelburg Functional Medicine Dietitian
How to Calm IBS Flare-Ups: Things You Can Try Today
Bad news: your IBS is flaring up and you need to feel better – stat!
How can you be spending more time in the boardroom and less time in the bathroom? Here are dietitian-approved recommendations for how to calm IBS flare-ups as fast as possible.
Your gut and brain are chatting all the time. When you’re feeling serene and calm, it is more likely that your gut is, too. And if you’re feeling nervous or excited you’ll recognize the butterfly feeling in your belly.
But what if your gut is having a really terrible day and your IBS is off the rails? You’re going to need these handy tips to know how to calm your IBS flare-ups as quickly as possible.
In this post, I offer you holistic tips both for your nutrition as well as your lifestyle. Deep breathing techniques, tea, and a few healing foods can all offer your gut a chance to calm the heck down.
Interventions for an IBS Flare: Food and Nutrition
Chew well to give your digestive system a break
While it is more and more common to eat while doing work, watching TV, chasing your kiddos and folding laundry, multitasking is not conducive to a relaxed state for your digestion.
Whenever possible, try to eat without distraction - go rogue! Chew slowly and thoroughly - this offers two benefits to help your belly feel better, especially during an IBS flare.
Well chewed food is easier for our body to digest. Not only are the pieces physically smaller and easier to deal with (this is called mechanical digestion) but also your body’s enzyme action actually begins in your mouth (this is called chemical digestion).
No matter what, cultivate that sense of calm – even in your belly –- by eating more slowly and chewing each bite really well. Added bonus? Less air being swallowed with each bite means less bloating!
Smooth foods for smooth sailing
Photo by Hanna Balan on Unsplash
Raw foods are more work for our gut to digest. While you’re feeling crummy with an IBS flare, you will feel better faster if you are gentle on your digestion. Eat foods that are as simple as possible for your body to digest.
Cooked and blended foods are best. For example:
For your soups and smoothies, skip the dairy. The dairy might make your flare-up worse.
Peel fruits and vegetables. While the high-fiber peels are usually a health boost, right now they’re more work for your upset belly.
While you’re symptomatic, focus on gentle foods like well-cooked meats and well-tolerated grains like rice. Fats and oils might irritate your gut, so focus on lean meats for now.
Whether you’re struggling with diarrhea, constipation or both, staying hydrated helps you to minimize the effects of your flare and helps you to bounce back more quickly as well.
It can be hard to feel like drinking much if you’re bloated and full; try small consistent sips of any of the following drinks to keep your hydration levels high.
● Coconut water
● Bone broth
● Herbal tea - mint, fennel and chamomile may soothe your belly
As mentioned above, dairy can be a culprit in aggravating your IBS, so removing dairy when in a flare can help.
Boost your enzymes
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash
You might think about enzymes as a supplement, and while that is possible, you can actually get enzymes in two special fruits!
If you’re struggling with constipation, fresh papaya and pineapple can help. These two fruits contain naturally occurring enzymes that support digestion. Papaya contains papain and pineapple contains bromelain (SOURCE). Both fruits are also low FODMAP when eaten in 1/2 cup or less servings.
FYI - canning makes the enzymes inactive. So while canned pineapple is delicious, it won’t have the same enzyme benefit as fresh or frozen. Frozen pineapple can be used to make a creamy smoothie without dairy.
Lifestyle interventions to soothe an IBS flare
● Use a heating pad or hot water bottle to soothe your belly and relieve the pain caused by abdominal cramping.
● Apply diluted peppermint oil directly to your belly to help reduce pain and gas/bloating. Make sure you’re using a high-quality brand of essential oil that states for topical use.
● Stress reduction: remember how we talked about how much the gut and brain are chitchatting all day long? Deep breathing, meditating and aromatherapy can calm the mind and encourage your irritated gut to do the same.
● Gentle exercise. Exercise can help to – ahem – get things moving. A gentle walk, regular squats or yoga squats (even supported) can get things moving.
● Hydrate: being dehydrated can pump the brakes on your bowels. Consistent sips of water, herbal tea and coconut water throughout the day might feel better than trying to chug a big glass of water.
● Colon Massage: you can help to propel things along with gentle massage, tracing the path of your colon across your abdomen. Plus, some self-care and deep breathing can further soothe your gut. To try this, lie down, take a few slow deep breaths and begin rubbing small circles in the lower right quadrant of the body (inside your right hip bone). Move up the side, over the midline (under your ribs), and down the left side, across the lower abdomen and back over to the right. Basically, you’re making a square around your belly. To further enjoy this massage, diluted essential oils like peppermint can reduce pain, and get gas and a BM moving. A heating pad or hot water bottle can also help with pain.
Having an IBS flare can really put a damper on your day! I hope that these tips for how to calm IBS flare-ups help you to feel better soon.
There are so very many factors that contribute to how you feel on a given day: it can feel really confusing and frustrating to keep having flares, even when you’re trying your best to understand what your body needs. If you’re ready to dig into your gut health, identify your unique root causes and feel your best, I’d love to help. You can schedule your clarity call today.