Anxiety about food and IBS are very common, and after over 30 years of working with people struggling with digestive and gut disorders, I know how interlinked the two things are. Many of those living with IBS believe that food is the cause of their symptoms. This makes sense due to the nature of the condition. This connection between food and symptoms can lead to fear of foods and eating, restriction of food groups, restrict and binge cycles, as well as poor relationships with food and increased anxiety around eating.
As anyone with IBS will know, the festive season can be a particularly challenging time when it comes to eating. Festive menus laden with triggers, tables full of rich food, extra booze (for some) all there waiting to wreak havoc with the digestive system. When thinking about how to manage IBS during the party season, focusing solely on the food will only increase stress and anxiety around food, and that can actually worsen the condition.
Anxiety about IBS
It’s not often clear which comes first; the anxiety about food triggering IBS symptoms, or the dietary restriction leading to stressful thoughts and obsessive behaviour around eating.
Depending on what you are restricting, you may find it affects your digestion in the following ways:
- If you are not eating enough food, you may find you become constipated, or your digestive muscles weaken due to lack of sizable amounts of food going through the digestive tract. Constipation can lead to putrefaction and fermentation which may present as extra gas, pains, or bloating. Chronic constipation can also have other health implications, increasing the risk of bowel infections, bowel perforations, sepsis, diverticulitis and bowel cancer.
- If you have a diet with very limited variety, your gut diversity will be reduced, which may impact on your immune health. We know that the bacteria feed on whatever we eat, so to get a broad range of microbes, we need to eat a varied diet, with lots of vegetables, fruits, pulses, grains, and proteins. Unfortunately, many fibre-rich foods can be frequent triggers for IBS symptoms, so you might be avoiding them, which can create a vicious cycle of increased symptoms due to imbalanced gut health.
Connecting food and frustrating symptoms in this way can lead to a poor relationship with eating, which may include fearing social events, festive parties, family mealtimes and restricting whole food groups altogether, rationalising to yourself that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Studies on IBS and eating habits
Over the years, I have worked with thousands of IBS patients and so many of them say that when their digestive system reacts to one food, they eliminate it, then another, and so on, until their diet has become very restricted, causing more health issues, including the psychological ones. In short, they come to fear food.
Studies have shown that, of those diagnosed with a gastrointestinal disorder including IBS, 44% have disordered eating, and 98% of people with a diagnosed eating disorder also suffer from digestive issues.
Disordered eating occurs when individuals regularly engage in eating patterns that do not follow the cultural norm, for example, skipping meals, limiting foods, or following a restrictive diet. Disordered eating is often seen in IBS as a way to avoid or prevent symptoms. For example, patients may skip meals at work or school to avoid bloating, abdominal pain, or diarrhoea.
When you restrict your food, your digestive system slows down. This can lead to delayed gastric emptying and a feeling of premature fullness. A lack of regular food intake and/or purging can lead to constipation… and anxiety can increase gastric pressure and may also make you more sensitive to pain and uncomfortable digestive symptoms.
Your nervous system can become less responsive during eating disorders and can make constipation a more frequent symptom, and when you’re constipated and not passing stools as often as you should be, it leads to more bacteria being present in the small intestine and this can lead to a number of IBS symptoms.
Targeted supplements for IBS
Over the years, I’ve been very privileged to help so many people enjoy their food again, just by explaining to them how they got into the ‘fear of food’ mess in the first place and by putting together a simple, inexpensive supplement protocol for them.
I always remember my Grandma’s quote when she was alive: ‘I live to eat, Linda’, and she would laugh, patting her abdomen. She was a larger than life woman, who enjoyed her food right up until the end. I don’t agree with the ‘live to eat’ mantra though. No-one should be eating in excess, but Grandma was slim, worked until she was in her early 70s, loved her food as much as she loved life, and I want others to enjoy their food too, without the fear of it causing symptoms.
You may have tried supplements in the past without success, but they probably didn’t work for you because they were not tailored to your symptoms, or they were of dubious quality and efficacy. There are literally thousands of different supplements out there, which is why I used my many years in clinical practice to put together the Just For Tummies range. Here at Just For Tummies, we can put together a simple supplement protocol and this can often improve symptoms in a matter of days, enabling you to enjoy previously banned foods.
It has certainly worked for Trudi who has had great success with our Digestive Enzymes tablets:
If you would like to talk about ways to help you enjoy your food not only over the festive period, but beyond, then please get in touch.