By Chloe McLeod, Dietitian
I went out to dinner last night with some friends, and we got talking about a variety of topics, which ended up including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Not your standard dinner table conversation, however, doing what I do, learning about people’s bowel habits over dinner is really not a fuss (much to the amusement of some of my friends!) More and more people are suffering from IBS, yet for the general public (ie non-sufferers), there appears to be little knowledge about what it is actually all about, and sometimes this can put sufferers in a tight spot.
IBS is a common disorder which affects your gastrointestinal tract. Most common symptoms are bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, wind, abdominal pain and sometimes reflux. Levels of severity vary between people, for some the symptoms are minor, for others they can be debilitating. For many people, the treatment is to go on a low FODMAP diet, and then participate in food challenges in order to assess tolerance of each particular FODMAP. FODMAP stands for ‘fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols’ (so feel free to just remember ‘FODMAPs’)!
In this instance, my friend (lets call her Sally), was venting her frustration about a recent incident at a dinner party. Sally happens to have quite severe IBS, so is always very careful when she eats away from home. To cut a long story short, the food being served at the dinner party was very high in FODMAPs. By the time dessert came around, Sally decided she would simply skip this part of the meal, as she knew she was already very close to where she would start getting symptoms, which she of course wanted to avoid. What Sally’s host did not understand is that there is a big difference between healthy choices for someone like Sally, and for someone with IBS.
If you are someone who does suffer from IBS, you may be familiar with the above situation!
Following are some strategies to help you handle these situations:
- Eat low FODMAP food as much as possible in the lead up to the event
- Consult with the host. Some venues now have low FODMAP options, or
- If the meal is cooked at home, ask if you can see what is on the menu beforehand
- Offer to bring something more suitable for yourself
- Talk to your friends and family about it
Buy you mum/sister/best friend (whoever cooks for you regularly) the book ‘Food Intolerance Management Plan’ by Sue Shepherd and Peter Gibson, it has lots of information about IBS and some great, appropriate recipes
If someone you know has IBS, and you will be cooking for them, ask them about it and learn which foods they need to eat less of to make both of your lives easier (or buy the book mentioned above). Although it may seem odd that they need to avoid particular foods, try and be understanding; a healthy choice for you, may not be such a great choice for them. Understand that the symptoms can be debilitating; a great choice for you, might mean a night spent in the bathroom for them.
If you have had any other experiences like Sally, please tell me about it so we can all learn from the experience.
Chloe McLeod is a dietitian at BJC Health.
This blog focuses on diet & nutrition generally and diet & nutrition in relation to the treatment of arthritis and arthritis-related diseases. Contact us if you'd like our help in managing diet-related health issues.