Level Up Nutrition | 8 tips to manage your IBS during lockdown and beyond
Brighton based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
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8 tips to help you manage your IBS during lockdown – and beyond

Lockdown sign in bush self care

8 tips to help you manage your IBS during lockdown – and beyond

Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

So it’s been a couple of months now and we’re all trying to adjust to whatever new normal is thrown at us with each briefing. (NB DON’T ‘clean’ yourself with disinfectant 😐)

Even as lockdowns are starting to be lifted, for many of us our eating, working and living patterns are disrupted and no matter what those ‘encouraging’ Instagram posts say, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with this.

I’d hope that you’ve read this a lot already by now but I just wanted to reiterate:

you don’t have to learn a new language, master your sourdough technique or nail the splits during these months. Just doing what you can to get through it is okay. 

I wanted to take a look at what looking after your health and managing your IBS could look like at the moment, with 8 actionable tips to think on during lockdown and as we begin to ease out of it. Have a read and try them out if you feel like they could be helpful for you and your particular situation.

Let’s start with food

Sure, it’s important, it’s always important… but it’s very different right now. For many of us we’re super-privileged for it as it’s traditionally something we might have taken for granted; easy access to foods that we enjoy with no particular immediate concerns or worldwide pandemics affecting it.

Now, not so much. Again, we’re all in very different situations – from shielding to self-isolation to feeding just yourself of a large family, there’s no standard here and so I wanted to touch on the aspects of food and eating that I keep getting asked questions about.

  1. Remember to feed yourself – try to avoid skipping meals and grab some sustaining snacks

For many people, smaller and more regular meals and snacks can be a helpful way of managing their IBS. This is because leaving long gaps between eating can mean just having a few big meals through the day – and many people find that these large meals can aggravate their symptoms. 

Skipping meals can also leave you feeling super-hangry later in the day and you could suddenly yourself eating way more at your next meal than you’d intended to …which could leave you feeling pretty rotten.

Where to start? 

Eating at your desk, distracted or in a rush can worsen symptoms – and as we may not be getting the usual cues from colleagues these days, try setting lunch and break alarms on your phone or computer, and step away from work for long enough to eat with as few distractions as you can manage. 

If your eating patterns have had to change to adapt to working at home, why not take ten minutes out and have a think on when you feel most hungry through the day – where could you fit in a sustaining snack, what it might be? 

Then you can work these into your shopping list. As I’m sure you know already, it’s worth having a couple of back-ups if you can in case the supermarkets are out when you come to get them.

2. Remember to drink enough fluid

Another easy one to forget when you’re not in your usual routine. Staying hydrated with at least 6-8 cups of fluid per day can help to keep your digestive system working effectively. There’s no need to drink loads more, unless you’ve been advised by your GP to do so – but nailing this basic can be helpful for lots of people when managing their IBS. 

Where to start? 

Some people find that filling a jug or labelled water bottle and monitoring it through the day is helpful, some clients also set reminders on their phones. Has anything worked for you in the past? Try out a few different ways and see what works for you.

3. Caffeine

Speaking of fluids, when you’re not having to shell out for them and your office is a lot closer to your kitchen (or you’re playing teacher and parent to very busy kids!) than usual, it can be easy to keep grabbing another cuppa. Caffeine can aggravate IBS symptoms in many people, as well as affecting sleep patterns. 

IBS keyboard coffee lockdown nutritionist Brighton

Where to start? 

If caffeine affects your symptoms – check in with yourself, how many cups are you having through the day?  Then see if it could be helpful to cut down a bit. Try swapping some out for herbal tea or a decaffeinated version of your fave brew.

4. Sleep

This new situation is definitely having an effect on our sleeping patterns, which is totally understandable! There are so many factors involved in getting a good snooze and pretty much all of them are affected by the lockdown. You might find that getting a good night’s sleep can have a positive effect on your IBS symptoms, whilst disturbed sleeping patterns might play havoc.

Where to start? 

Going back to basics and practising the fundamentals of good sleep hygiene can be key. Getting yourself into a bedtime routine if you can and limiting screen time before bed can play a part – check out the NHS guide to good sleep for some more ideas, plus these NHS-approved apps which could be free in your area.

5. Stress & anxiety

Breathe neon sign lockdown mental health IBS lockdown nutritionist Brighton

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Stress and anxiety about the unknown can leave us all feeling pretty out of sorts, and this is a big freaking unknown. Lockdown easing can being a whole other level of concern as we begin to leave our little sanctuaries.

First up – that’s totally okay, it’s a very human reaction. There are some things you can try to help you along the way though. From day to day meditation techniques, mindfulness through to getting more structured, online support from a mental health professional, take some time to find out what works for you. 

Where to start?

Many people find that anxiety and stress can affect their symptoms and finding ways to manage this can help. Take a few moments out to think about what you might have tried in the past that worked for you. Some ideas for things that could help are:

  • Yoga – some research has shown that yoga could be as beneficial for managing symptoms as traditional interventions for people with IBS. A small study in 2016 showed that it could even be as effective as and potentially easier to stick to than a low FODMAP diet. Although reviews have shown that more research is needed before it can be recommended across the board as an adjunct therapy, if it’s something you enjoy doing, it could help with stress management and general IBS management.
  • Mindfulness and meditation have also been shown to help with IBS symptoms and stress in general. There are plenty of books and courses available online or via your local library or you could try apps like Calm or headspace which have free trials so you can see if it’s a good fit for you.

6. Movement

Movement and physical activity can not only help you to manage stress and feel stronger in your body, but gentle movement has also been shown to help people manage their general IBS symptoms – and help to ease constipation. Even with the extended exercise periods, most of us aren’t as active as we were, it can be trickier to find ways to fit something in, but it’s totally possible. 

HAES intuitive eating Brighton Hove nutritionist private dietitian nutrition exercise IBS lockdown
Image by Shelly Johnson

Where to start? It doesn’t have to be a high-intensity class or a mega-cardio session, gentle regular exercise and just being active around the house can all help.

Tidying up and running around after tiny humans / partners or housemates all counts!

If you do prefer something more structured, why not check out one of the free NHS home workout videos (and follow their exercise guidance!) – there’s everything from pilates to belly dancing on there! Check out Youtube for other ideas and the fab  Lets Joyn have a bunch of weight-inclusive workouts on their app too – helping to put the joy back into movement. Plus check out my post on joyful movement here for some more ideas.

7. Symptom tracking

As everyone experiences IBS so differently, keeping a detailed food, activity and symptom diary can be key to helping identify what your own personal triggers and tolerance levels are. Some people are finding this easier in lockdown, others are finding it much more difficult. For the reasons I’ve outlined above, many of your symptoms aren’t likely to be ‘typical’ at the moment. Having more time on your hands could also mean that you’re more attuned to symptoms which wouldn’t normally bother you. 

Where to start? 

This will be so different for everyone but I’d say start with being kind to yourself. If you’re finding it tricky to manage tracking at the moment, for whatever reason… give yourself a break. You could try taking a few days to just eat and live and look after yourself and start to tune into your body in a more relaxed way. 

After you’ve reset a bit, come back to it and see where you’re at – what goals do you have? Rechallenging? Just tracking? Take them on one at a time, it’s a slow process – but you’ll get there and there’s no need to pile any more pressure on yourself at the moment.

8. Unplugging

Social media can be an amazing tool to connect with others, share experiences and feel less isolated. However it can also leave you feeling like maybe you’re not doing enough, that others are having a better time in lockdown and that their productivity is through the roof.

It’s perhaps an overused phrase to say that social media is the highlight reels of people’s lives, you’ll likely know yourself that behind many of those happy, beautiful shots that you might have shared that the story ain’t all that great behind the scenes. This distortion is of course going on as much now as in those pre-lockdown days. 

lady in bed relaxing book lockdown IBS self care

Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

Where to start?

I’d argue that it’s probably always a good idea to cut back on the amount of screen time that you’re exposing yourself to, especially if it’s making you feel like crap. Whilst the news can of course be helpful to learn more about what’s going on, the 24 hour cycle can bring unwarranted levels of stress. Have a think on whether you could check in with it a couple of times a day (or whatever works for you) and give your brain some down-time from it all.

As for your social feeds, social media detoxes are pretty much the only kind of detox I can get behind; pick a time to sit down with your phone and unfollow accounts that make you feel bad – about your lifestyle, how you look, your productivity… whatever. If they make you feel like you’re not enough, simply sack them off and try to find ones that make you feel good. 

The takeaway

Be kind to yourself – this is all new, there’s no guidebook or right way to do this. You’ve got to do what works for you, your situation and your family. Have a think on some ways that might help you to manage your symptoms but don’t beat yourself up if you find it hard to stick to anything at the moment. Times are changing fast and you can always press pause and revisit things at a later date.

Everyone experiences IBS differently and it’s important to check in with your GP in the first instance if you have any worries about your symptoms. I can’t stress enough that they are still open at the moment and referrals for specialists are still being made – besides from telephone or video calls, they can usually also offer in person appointments if they think you need to come in.

If you’d like some dietetic help to manage your symptoms at the moment, please don’t hesitate to book in a free initial consultation call here and let’s see how I can help you. All of my clinics are online or telephone only and I can talk you through the process if you’ve not had online consultations before.

Other posts you might like:

What’s the deal with FODMAPs?
5 top tips for navigating the low FODMAP diet as a vegan
Fermented foods, gut friend or foe?

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