Ep.42 – IBS mistakes – IBS podcast
28 Mar, 2024

Episode Intro

How do you know if you're making your IBS worse with all your interventions? In this episode of the Inside Knowledge podcast, I'll be sharing the top 10 mistakes I see my clients making, even if you feel like you know all the tricks in the book. Sometimes you might start taking a supplement, avoiding a certain food, or changing the way you eat, and these things might seem helpful at first, but may actually end up contributing to your symptoms like bloating, excessive gas, reflux, or constipation or diarrhoea. Not all of these things in this episode are going to apply to you, but you might just find one of these mistakes and correcting the way you're dealing with them is the first step in getting better digestion.

Podcast transcript

Welcome to episode 42 of the Inside Knowledge about IBS mistakes. I’m Anna Mapson, and this episode is all about helping you if you’ve got IBS.

How to spot IBS mistakes

Today I’m going to focus in on some of the things that people do, unwittingly, that might be making your symptoms a little bit worse. Some of the things might feel obvious, but actually these are common IBS mistakes. And that’s why I focused on this for an episode of the podcast. I just wanted to run through some things which I see again and again. Even in people who’ve really feel like they’ve got a lot of experience in dealing with digestive conditions. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the tips out there on social media, the blogs, the podcasts.

There’s so many things you could be doing and you might have already tried multiple elimination diets or different supplements to relieve your symptoms if nothing feels like it’s working. Let’s go through these top 10 bad habits that might be contributing and see if any of them apply to you.

1. Eating too fast

The first mistake could be that you’re eating too fast. If you’re eating on the go all the time, eating whilst you’re distracted, you’re less likely to be ready to digest your food. If you can make time to sit at a table so your body is sitting upright, you can chew your food really well. Take some deep breaths to calm down before you start eating. Then you’re able to better digest your food.

So it might seem a bit obvious, but if you actually take small bites of food and really chew each bite thoroughly before swallowing, it can help you to digest your food better.

Don’t eat distracted

Another thing is eating whilst you’re distracted. So either eating whilst you’re working at your desk or whilst you’re watching TV. This is partly because your brain needs some time to send the signal from your stomach that you’ve had enough to eat.

We have a couple of different ways of registering our fullness. And some of it is the stretch receptors in our stomach. Just acknowledging that food is in the stomach. Then also we have chemical signals coming from the body that are part of the digestion of proteins and fats telling the brain that we are getting enough nutrients. And we are okay to stop eating for this meal.

Tuning into your stomach

If you ignore all of these signals because you are eating and you haven’t even noticed for example that you’ve finished the meal. Or you’ve reached for another crisp and oh, they’re all gone. This can easily happen when you’re not engaging your brain in the process of eating.

So slowing down to eat will be one of the first things that you can do.

2. Sitting on the toilet wrong

The second mistake I see people making is not sitting on the toilet properly. Now you might think how difficult can it be?! But actually we have a whole load of muscles that have to contract and open at the right time to let the poo out.

One of the things we can do to make it easier is to sit with our feet raised up around about 15- 20 centimetres off the ground. Just enough so that your hip are lower than your knees.

Correct position on the toilet

What you want to do is put your body into a bit more of a squatting position. This is a more natural way for you to go. This is not just helpful for people who have constipation, although it is the most useful for them. However, I also think it’s really helpful for people who have more loose stools and diarrhoea type IBS.

You don’t need a particular product, although there is a product out there called the Squatty Potty. But, you can just use a box, a book, one of those little kids plastic steps to help them reach the sink. Anything really that just raises your feet off the ground.

Make sure hips go lower than your knees and you just lean forward, putting your elbows onto your legs.

And by doing that, you’re putting yourself in a better position that’s more comfortable and more physiologically sound for having a poo.

3. Irregular eating pattern

The third mistake I see people making very frequently is irregular eating patterns. So you’re eating big meals or just going for a long time without any food.

When you’ve got IBS and you eat big meals that are high in protein fats or calories it can cause a slow digestion and this may add to your bloating and discomfort and abdominal pain.

People with IBS may find fasting or really long gaps between meals can also cause cramping or like colicky pains. So if you leave too long between meals, you’re more likely to overeat at the next meal. Also, if you eat a lot of fibre at one go, like a large salad and lots of vegetables. Or you try to eat three normal sized meals in a restricted feeding window of eight hours, you will not have very long to digest your meal before the next meal comes around.

Intermittent fasting for IBS

Most of the research about fasting is on a 16-8 (hour) pattern or longer without food. You’re fasting for 16 hours eating in an eight hour window. This is great for some people. It does work okay.

But when you’ve got IBS, if you’re trying to eat your five vegetables a day, at least 50 grams of protein in just eight hours, you may find it puts pressure on your digestion.

Eating at different times

The other thing I see people doing is not just fasting, but eating erratically. So some days you’ll have breakfast, and you’ll eat lunch and dinner. Some days you’re skipping breakfast, but then you’re snacking all day.

And your body loves routine. It loves to be boring, even though you might think it’s boring. Your body is happiest when it’s doing things in a set routine.

4. Ignoring the impact of alcohol on IBS

The fourth mistake is drinking alcohol and not understanding the impact that that can have. Now I’m not someone who will say you shouldn’t be drinking at all but what I want you to do is understand the impact on your gut of alcohol. It’s not just as you’re drinking it or the next day.

A hangxiety attack

Alcohol can bring on symptoms of IBS. Most people know that as you’re getting a bit of a hangover, you might also get loose stools, a bit bloated, gassy and also increased anxiety.

Alcohol is a diuretic, it causes a bit of dehydration and that can sometimes irritate your stomach. But also, alcohol itself just irritates the lining of our gut and our intestines and that can add to your sensitivity and pain as well as gas.

How to drink with IBS

So if you do drink, just try not to go overboard and obviously try to pick drinks that are not your triggers. Some people it will be the fizziness of things, and they get on better with something like wine or ale. Other people may find that they get on better with spirits and a mixer and the bubbles aren’t such an issue. And it’s more the fermented drinks like beer and wine.

Some of them are higher FODMAPs, for example, like rum, cider, white wine and red wine. These can all be high in FODMAPs and can add to your symptoms.

However, generally, alcohol, we all know, is not that good for us. But if you’re going to do it, then what I mentioned is what I want to think about is how long it takes you to recover from the bloating, from the gas.

A longer term impact

It’s not just the next day. I do find with my clients that they drastically underestimate the impact of a big night out on their digestion.

So if you’re someone who has a night out every weekend or you’re frequently drinking, try to think about the impact that that might be having on your IBS symptoms.

5. Ignoring the urge to go when you need to poo

The fifth mistake is ignoring the urge to poo when you need to. This can contribute to IBS, because if you don’t listen to your body, you don’t go when you need to, you may find that over time, your body loses sensitivity to these signals. Your nervous system is telling you that you need to go and release waste from your body.

And even if you’re not at home in your normal toilet, you should go to try and do it. If you’re at school, if you’re at work, wherever there’s a toilet that’s nearby. Because if you’re holding it in, you may be contributing to future issues with pelvic floor dysfunction. That is partly down to your nervous system not recognizing the messages and just not allowing the processes to happen in the right moment.

Do you avoid the toilet at work?

I’ve had quite a lot of clients who don’t want to go at work or cannot bear to go in a public space if there’s not cubicle toilets. I really do understand some of the challenges with this. You’re worried about the noise, you’re worried about the smell and generally just feel anxious about having a poo because sometimes it can take a long time. It can feel scary as well.

If you take a little bag of things around with you including some, maybe some air freshener or smells that you can release into the toilet that can help. Sometimes flushing to reduce the noise. There’s all kinds of things. But don’t ignore the urge to go when you need to go.

6. Swallowing air can cause IBS bloating

The sixth mistake I see is people who are inadvertently increasing the amount of air that they are swallowing. This can happen with chewing gum, drinking a lot of fizzy drinks and eating whilst you’re talking. And eating whilst you’re distracted.

Which is why the first mistake was about slow eating, chewing your food really well and all of that.

Chewing gum is an IBS mistake

Now, when we’re chewing gum we can quite easily swallow a lot of air that can add to IBS, so try not to do that. Also, some chewing gums have got xylitol in them, which is a high FODMAP sweetener. You might also find that that is irritating your digestion as you’re digesting some of that xylitol.

Avoid fizzy drinks

With fizzy drinks, obviously, like the carbonation is adding small bubbles of gas into your stomach that has to come out somehow.

So it’s either going to come up as belching or it’s going to go down and come out as flatulence. The carbonation just adding to that gas build up. And if you’re someone who really suffers with hypersensitivity and really noticing every small painful passage of gas through your intestines. Then you’re just going to be making that worse.

7. Not breathing properly!

The seventh mistake that I see is people not knowing how to breathe correctly. Again, a little bit like not sitting on the toilet correctly. You might think, oh, well, I’ve managed so far throughout my life, breathing away, not a problem.

And, of course, you are breathing. You’re breathing okay.

But, what people are doing less and less, these days is good diaphragmatic deep breathing. Some of the benefits of this is that it helps to relax you so deals with stress and anxiety. And learning how to breathe correctly really can help get oxygen around your body.

Reducing anxiety in IBS through breathing

It can help to reduce feelings of anxiety. Because as we’re engaging in a slow and out breath, the exhalation that’s longer than the inhalation, we’re engaging the parasympathetic nervous system.

That is your nervous system that helps you feel relaxed, helps you feel calm, and that is kind of soothing your digestive system.

So we want to try to reduce symptoms of stress. I could have said in this mistake, just don’t be as stressed or deal with your stress. But actually that’s not very helpful and I also know it’s not very realistic.

Reducing stressors

What you can do is deal with some of the symptoms of stress. Which are holding yourself tight, feeling very anxious and withdrawn. And kind of just holding everything tense.

So if you’re physically, consciously relaxing your body through deepened breaths, that does have a positive impact on your digestion.

We know stress and anxiety affects your digestion. And over time that can lead to more and more IBS type symptoms. It doesn’t mean the IBS is in your head, it just means that it can be triggered by feelings of anxiety. There’s physiological changes, there’s chemical changes when we’re highly stressed and anxious.

These do have an impact on your ability to digest your food and typical IBS symptoms such as bloating, pain, erratic bowel habits. Let’s come on to the last three mistakes.

8. Not eating enough fibre, or too much

Now I haven’t said not enough fibre or too much fibre because you need to find the right amount for you.

Some people feel better with a little bit less fibre and I have actually had a few clients who were so into trying to do well and trying to eat healthily that they were actually overeating with IBS in terms of fibre. And this was negatively impacting their digestion. However, most people need to eat a bit more fiber.

Fiber is probably something that you’ve reduced down because it can trigger your symptoms. It doesn’t mean that this is bad for you. And this is where working with a trained nutrition professional is probably the best way to increase your diet diversity and increase your fiber. Because you want to find fiber that is not going to set off your bloating.

The bloating is sometimes down to bacterial fermentation. Some of that can be happening in the small intestine which is SIBO, Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, where you’ve got too many bacteria in your small intestine doing a good job, they’re doing the right job, they’re fermenting fibre, but they shouldn’t be doing it there, they should be in your large intestine, or they should be not there at all.

Now, you are aiming for around 30 grams of fibre a day, That is the correct sort of target to aim for, however, most people are around 18 grams on average in the UK. And so the best way to do it is just to really gradually increase your intake small amounts every day. Just try to increase your fiber by a little bit more than you were eating yesterday.

It could be like one gram, two grams of fibre a day. It doesn’t have to be much, but what we’re trying to do is gently, over time, build it up so that you are getting somewhere near that target.

9. Eating too late at night can be an IBS mistake

The ninth mistake I see people making frequently is eating very late at night. And this could be either because you’re going to the gym in the evenings. Or you’re waiting for your partner to get home from work. Maybe you don’t finish work till 8 o’clock. And then you’ve got to cook and do all of that stuff when you get back.

If you’re eating late at night, however, it could be contributing to a worse quality of sleep. Symptoms such as acid reflux and regurgitation or bloating. So if you’re in the habit of eating late at night, it may be affecting your body’s ability to digest the food. Because when we’re eating late at night, we’ve probably got more food still in our stomach that is not gone down into the small intestine by the time you go to lie down.

Allow 3 hours before to eat your last meal

So allowing around three hours before bed is the best way to help prevent those reflux symptoms. So you’re sitting upright or you’re walking around after your dinner. And then that just allows the food to be slightly digested before you go lie down.

Glucose sensitivity reduces throughout the day

The other thing is that your body tends to be better at dealing with glucose earlier in the day and we know that people throughout the day on average have a worse response to glucose.

So kind of a higher insulin resistance over the course of the day. And so if you’re having a really large meal really late at night, then your tolerance to that in terms of blood glucose and insulin may be worse than when you ate that same meal first thing in the morning.

Repeated patterns are more important than odd occasions

So also need to think about over time. How often are you doing this? You know once or twice a week doesn’t really matter But if you’re regularly eating your largest meal of the day at 9 o’clock. And then you’re going to bed at 10 or 11 o’clock. It’s quite late in the day.

So ideally we want to front load the energy intake or at least try and have more of your nutrition earlier in the day.

Eating late can affect your sleep quality

The way it might be reducing your sleep quality is just that your body’s still digesting the food.

Sometimes people will find if they eat late at night, they wake up in the middle of the night and they’re getting like a blood glucose dip first thing in the morning as well. This is down to do with your insulin and also your liver processing as well. This is basically meant to happen, not when you’re asleep.

So just shifting it all forward might help you get better quality of sleep. And we know that sleep also has a bearing on IBS symptoms, especially things like pain, anxiety, and sensitivity.

10. Over-restricting your diet

And then the final mistake. is something you’ve heard me talk about a lot if you’re a regular listener. And that is overly restricting your diet.

A lack of diversity in your gut microbes may be causing issues with your digestion. This is down to the way our gut microbes interact with our immune system and help to build a good, strong lining of the gut. Like a good mucous layer, a good bacterial layer as well. Just protecting us and keeping up it all intact. That is better and stronger when we eat a diversity of fibres. A diversity of nutrients that allow us to build a strong immune system and that strong gut lining.

Avoiding nutrient insufficiency

The other thing is that if you have removed a lot of foods from your diet, you may be low in certain key nutrients that are important for your overall physiology and health. So things like iron, calcium, zinc, B vitamins, these tend to be low in people who have IBS.

In summary

I hope that’s given you a few things to think about in how you might be able to improve your IBS symptoms.

Whether it’s just making some small changes or just addressing some of these topics. I know living with IBS is very challenging. It’s very hard to change your diet and your lifestyle. But the good news is that sometimes making these small steps to manage your symptoms in a healthy way can actually make things more manageable.

So you’re living with IBS but feeling better in yourself.

Your next steps to tackle IBS

If you want to work with me I run a three month gut reset program where I take people on an individual basis through diet and lifestyle changes that can really reduce unpredictable gut symptoms like bloating, constipation or diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and excessive gas.

  • Follow me on Instagram for regular tips and content. I’m called @goodnessme_nutrition on Instagram
  • You can sign up to my mailing list to get regular Emails from me each week. I send out some tips on how to improve your digestion, Reflections from my gut reset program where I share things that I found worked or Client stories. I also send out one recommendation per week and that might be a podcast that I’ve found interesting or a recipe or an article that you may enjoy.

Sign up to the Inside Knowledge email list.

That’s it for this week.

Thanks for getting the Inside Knowledge. Better digestion for everyone.

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