Suffering from IBS is no joke. Whereas with diseases like Celiac Disease, or conditions such as lactose intolerance, there is a clear cause of the illness which, when removed, helps largely or completely eliminate the symptoms, with IBS it just isn’t that simple. IBS can be triggered by wide arrays of foods, or even by illness or stress, leading some to consider that it may be a form of autoimmune condition. However there are ways of changing our diets to soothe our pains and make life easier.
First of all, you need to start with a strict elimination diet. And I mean strict. You will eliminate all dairy, eggs, all seafood (including sea vegetables), all nightshade plants (such as potatoes, tomatoes, etc), all grains, all nuts and seeds, all legumes, all alliums (onions, garlic, shallots, etc), and all sweet fruits. This diet is highly restrictive, but for good reason: all those foods are known to cause imbalances in gut bacteria and/or irritation to the lining of the gut. By eliminating them for at least a week, you allow your gut bacteria to regrow in a healthier balance.
Most sources of carbs are eliminated, and the remaining ones must be reduced. This is because carbs feed yeasts in our guts, such as candida, which can grow out of control and cause many of the symptoms of IBS. But not everything that is off the books is carb heavy, or a plant. Tomatoes and eggplant are removed because they have compounds in them that some people have a minor allergic reaction to. Nuts and seeds, and seafood are removed for the same reason. Likewise, eggs and dairy have sugars and proteins in them that some people are highly allergic to without knowing.
After a few weeks eating like this, try and reincorporate healthy fiber-rich, low carb foods from before. Every two days you will reintroduce a new food. If on the second day you still feel good, keep that food. If on the second day you feel ill, remove that food again and have a break before reintroducing something else. Foods you may want to consider reintroducing are:
- Low carb nightshades.
- Scaly fish.
- Nuts and seeds.
That said, some foods are off the menu forever. You will not reintroduce major carbohydrate sources as these would feed bad bacteria and yeasts in your gut, potentially making you ill again. Most sweet fruits, other than berries, are permanently out. You will continue to avoid potatoes, grains, and legumes. All these foods are too high in carbohydrate, not high enough in indigestible fiber, and not high enough in micronutrients to make them worth your while.
Some other foods, although usually safe on a ketogenic diet, are better never reintroduced when you suffer from IBS. Alliums are known to cause severe IBS symptoms due to their sulfur-producing effects. They are poorly processed by the gut, and this fermentation can lead to irritation, pain, bleeding, or even diverticular disease. Dairy is known to irritate most people. From lactose intolerance, to cow milk protein allergies, to reactions to the homogenized fats in pasteurized dairy, it has too much potential to irritate the lining of the gut.
Although on a ketogenic diet your main calorie source is fats, be wary of excessive fat intake. When we eat too much fat it is eliminated through our colon. Whereas in people with healthy guts it is not harmful to occasionally pass oily stool, if we do so too often we can cause irritation and inflammation that leads to bowel cancer. This inflammation is also very painful for people with IBS. Work out how many calories you need, and restrict your fat intake so that your stools remain firm but soft, brown, and fibrous.
As a final note, always ensure you eat a wide variety of fibrous foods. It can be hard to transition from a fairly unlimited diet onto one with restrictions. This sometimes results in people eating the same diet as before, minus a few foods. But in reality, what you need to do is add two or three low-carb, non-irritant, healthy plants for every food you eliminate. This way you ensure variety, which helps maintain gut health.