Have you ever felt held captive in your own home due to fear of stepping too far away from the washroom?
I think most of us have been there at some point or another, whether it be from eating some food that didn’t agree with us, having a bout of food poisoning, or some sort of stomach bug.
The ensuing result is often a raw, agitated, and unhappy gut, perhaps coupled with abdominal pain due to one too many trips to the loo.
If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), with a tendency towards IBS-D, or any another other type of intestinal disorder of a similar nature, you’re likely a little more familiar with these types of episodes.
Even if your symptoms are pretty well-managed most days, if you have a sensitive gut to begin with, you may still find yourself with a flare-up every now and then, whether it be every few months, or even just a few times per year.
For some people, unfortunately, this is a much more frequent occurrence.
(By the way, if this sounds like you and you want help getting these symptoms under control so you can return to some form of normalcy in your life, I invite you to book a complimentary, no-obligation clarity phone session with me and I will help you. You can access my calendar on this page).
Everyone has their own triggers, but often times these flare-ups are provoked by certain foods or eating habits, and a lot of the time stress is a HUGE contributing factor. It can be a bit of a vicious cycle too because the symptoms themselves are enough to bring on more stress and anxiety, causing even further digestive distress.
What to eat when you’re experiencing a flare-up in symptoms?
This can sometimes be tricky because although you’re feeling uncomfortable, you’re not necessarily sick, so you may still in fact have quite an appetite.
Here’s what I suggest
The goal should be to soothe your system without causing any further irritation, while providing easy-to-digest nourishment and fuel.
Keep in mind we all have our own individual triggers – so if you know that something is disagreeable with you, obviously you should avoid it.
I know it sounds a bit like a cliché, but honestly, the best advice is to listen to your gut. Intuitively you know if something feels off-putting to you or if it may upset things further.
It will depend on the severity of your symptoms, but you can eat these foods for a period of time. For some people it may be up to a week or longer. For others it may be 3 or 4 days.
Don’t worry about getting in any particular ratio of macronutrients.
*Also, please keep in mind that it’s still important to get to the bottom of your own triggers (if you’re unaware of them) to help reduce the frequency and severity of future flare-ups.
What to Eat During an IBS Flare-Up?
If you don’t have much of an appetite, there’s no need to force feed yourself. Often just sipping on nourishing liquids like warm broths, soups, and purées is a nice way to give your digestive system a little rest.
Also, it’s the dead of winter right now where I’m located, so most of these foods are warming and take into account the cooler climate.
Lastly, I’ve made mention of FODMAPs since they can be a trigger for IBS-sufferers, however, if they’re not an issue for you, or you’re not keen on making an effort to eliminate/reduce them at the moment, feel free to eat them as you please. You can read more about the Low FODMAP diet here.
1) Bone broth, Veggie broth, Clear soups, Purées. Omit most high FODMAP veggies like garlic and onion if possible, although it might not be if it’s a ready-made soup. Also avoid soups made with cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower which can contribute to more gas production.
I shared a recipe for my nourishing homemade veggie broth over on my Instagram (omit the onion if you know it to be an issue), but if you don’t have the patience or time for homemade then picking up ready-made broths is an easy option. There are some nice ones found in tetra-paks or glass jars.
2) Cooked and Easy-to-Digest Veggies. Green beans, zucchini, okra, carrots, etc. Avoid raw veggies or anything with tough skins or stems.
3) Bananas. Not overly ripe, but not green either (the image above is a good reference, actually).
4) White Rice (or Brown Jasmine Rice). White rice is less fibrous so easier on digestion – especially best if you’re experiencing loose stools. If that’s not an issue you might be okay with Brown Jasmine Rice – which is a shorter grain rice that tends to be more digestible than longer grain brown rice. Eat it bland – don’t add any spices or sauces. You might cook it in veggie or bone broth for some added flavour. Rice is starchy and absorbs water, and can help make your stools firmer. It also provides some substance if you’re unable to eat much.
5) Easy-to-Digest Proteins. Salmon, Poached or Soft-Boiled Eggs, Sprouted Tofu, Shredded Chicken, protein powder. I’m partial to grass-fed whey for easy digestion and suggest sticking with the whey isolate form if lactose is an issue for you. If you prefer a plant-based protein powder look for sprouted varieties for easier digestion, but be aware that some of them have a higher fibre content which may not be suitable for you at this time. In which case, you might want to avoid protein powder all together. I mention it only because it’s an easy source of protein that you can mix with a bit of water – good if you don’t feel like eating anything.
6) Kefir (plain, unsweetened). A fermented dairy (cow, goat, or sheep’s milk) drink rich in beneficial bacteria – aka – probiotics. You can also find coconut kefir if dairy is an issue for you, however, if it’s the lactose that’s the problem know that much of it is broken down via the fermentation process. It’s NOT the same as drinking a glass of milk. I suggest drinking it on an empty stomach or at the beginning of a meal. (I also suggest taking probiotics in supplement form for a more therapeutic dose of beneficial bacteria).
7) Black, Ginger, or Peppermint Tea. Okay, technically not a food but can be soothing nonetheless. Black tea is nice because it’s quite rich in tannins making it particularly astringent, which is helpful for diarrhea or loose stools. Be careful with extremely hot liquids though as they can be irritating to an upset stomach/intestinal tract. Sometimes a splash of milk can make it a bit more soothing and comforting. If you’re doing the herbal teas just let them cool a bit so the temperature isn’t so extreme, drinking them warm rather than piping hot.
8) Be Careful with Fruit. It depends how sensitive your gut is feeling but you might add in some more fruit as things calm down a bit. Besides bananas, any other low FODMAP fruit such as oranges or kiwi (peeled) could be a safe option. Limit consumption to one serving at a time. If you really want your morning orange juice, stick with ¼ to ½ a cup per serving and dilute it with water. Cooked, peeled, and stewed fruit is also an option (even if not low FODMAP, such as apples and pears, as long as you can tolerate it).
9) Sprouted and Ground Chia/Flax seeds. I suggest adding this in only after things have calmed down a bit. Start with 1 tsp and work your way up to 1 tbsp per serving in water or perhaps over some well-cooked oats. Both ground flax and chia seeds provide a good source of soluble fibre which creates a gel in your intestinal tract when mixed with water and can provide bulk which is helpful in slowing things down. You can also use ground psyllium powder but be sure to couple it with a lot of water (I don’t suggest putting it on oats) to move it through your digestive tract as it’s very absorbable and can really bung things up if you’re not attentive to getting enough hydration. I suggest avoiding most other fibre powders and only introducing them very slowly as they can make symptoms worse (bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramping) in some people.
10) Water. Okay, I added this one just to make it an even ten. But I can’t underestimate the importance of getting in plenty of liquids – particularly relevant if you’re losing them! Adding in a pinch of sea salt (perhaps with a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime) is a nice way to replace lost electrolytes.
Keep in mind that the severity of your discomfort will determine which foods you can handle. Again, it bears repeating. Listen to your gut. Your body knows best. If something doesn’t feel right to you, don’t eat it!
Any soothing, gut-friendly foods you would add to this list?
Share your suggestions in the comments below!