Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is no joke. Life can feel pretty shitty (pun intended) when you’re constantly worrying about your poop troubles – whether it be diarrhea, bloating, constipation (or all three). According to the National institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, “IBS is a group of symptoms – including pain or discomfort in your abdomen and changes in your bowel movement patterns – that occur together.” A lot of experts recommend following a low-FODMAP diet, but what do you do when it comes to dining out? I chatted with Danielle Capalino, a registered dietitian in NYC who provides nutritional counseling on digestive health, on how to keep IBS symptoms at bay while dining out.
Know your triggers. “In my practice I work a lot with my patients using the low-FODMAP diet because I find that foods that are high in FODMAPS can be triggers for people with IBS,” says Capalino. “FODMAPS stand for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Polyols are sugars that can be difficult to digest and ferment easily in the gut. They can cause a slew of digestive symptoms including bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Some of the high FODMAP foods include apples, pears, honey, beans, milk, garlic, onions, wheat and artificial sugars.” It’s important to keep track and pay attention to how your body responds to certain foods because what might be a trigger to one IBS patient may not be a trigger for you.
Try to avoid gluten or wheat. “Though there are people with both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, many people who are sensitive to wheat may actually be sensitive to the FODMAP content of the wheat rather than the gluten,” says Capalino. Try to keep a food journal and pay attention to how your body reacts whenever you eat wheat product or foods with gluten. If the reaction is negative, try avoiding them altogether.
Try to avoid dairy. “If you are lactose intolerant you may be able to tolerate hard cheese, Greek yogurt, and butter, which are dairy products that have less lactose,” says Capalino. There are also meds you can take the day you’re eating out that can help but it all depends on how sensitive you are. “It can be helpful to take a lactase enzyme with a meal. Lactase helps to break down lactose so that you can digest it.”
Be careful with alcohol. Just because you have IBS doesn’t mean you have to eliminate alcohol altogether, but you might want to be selective with the kind of alcohol you consume. “The alcohol that tends to be tolerated the best is wine and clear liquor like vodka, gin, and tequila without fancy mixers,” says Capalino. Avoid sugary cocktails and mixed drinks. Wheat beer can be a trigger for some because it’s usually top-fermented and brewed with a large proportion of wheat relative to the amount of malted barley. It’s also carbonated.
Watch your coffee intake. “Similar to alcohol, coffee can be a definite trigger for some people with IBS,” says Capalino. “It could be the caffeine that revs up your digestive systems and sends you running to the bathroom, in which case you might be okay with decaffeinated coffee which has less caffeine. Coffee is also quite acidic and can cause aggravation of heartburn or acid reflux, which can overlap with symptoms of IBS.” This doesn’t include all the things you might add to your coffee like milk and sweeteners, which can also trigger symptoms.
Avoid red meat. Foods like steaks, burgers, and other types of red meats tend to set off symptoms for a lot of people that struggle with IBS. Try selecting a lean protein that’s easier to digest like fish, seafood or chicken.
Try to choose the restaurant. Most of my good friends know I struggle with stomach problems, so they usually leave it up to me to pick a place. But if you’re not comfortable telling your friends or a first date that you have IBS, just let them know you’re sensitive to certain foods. Try suggesting a good restaurant or asking if they could choose a place with vegan options. That’s always a safe bet.
Don’t eat too much or too fast. Loading up on a big meal can lead to uncomfortable gas and bloating. I stick to small plates and try to eat slowly, always keeping a glass of water on hand.
Consult a dietitian. Capalino says the most important thing to remember is that it is possible to maintain a healthy social life despite having IBS. “I encourage people to work with a dietitian, if possible to help identify your personal triggers, so that you can know what foods you need to avoid in order to enjoy food comfortably. There are also lots of mindfulness exercises and yoga positions that can help relieve digestive discomfort. Don’t give up!”