Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a chronic condition affecting the large intestine. Food either moves too slowly or too quickly through the intestines, and although it doesn’t cause damage, it does cause discomfort. You can learn to manage this condition, thus controlling the severity of your symptoms, by making changes to your diet. Just as no two people are alike, no two diets are alike, either.

Recognizing IBS

Before you can treat IBS, you must recognize its symptoms and receive a diagnosis. FamilyDoctor.org explains that in the early stages, your symptoms may indicate another problem. Symptoms include abdominal pain that occurs at least 12 weeks of the year with at least two of the following three characteristics: relief with a bowel movement, a change in the frequency of your bowel movements or a change in the shape or appearance of the stool. For a diagnosis of IBS, you must also have other symptoms such as an uncontrollable urge to have a bowel movement, mucus in your stool, bloating, or difficulty or inability to have a bowel movement, explains the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Signs that your IBS is becoming worse include the appearance of symptoms following a large meal, after consuming caffeinated beverages, dairy products including chocolate milk, wheat or rye, and alcohol.

Food Diary

You cannot plan your meals until you know what foods trigger or worsen your symptoms. Keep a food diary for one or two weeks. Write down the foods you eat and any symptoms of IBS that follow. Watch for a pattern to develop; if you notice a specific food or foods intensifies the severity of condition, eliminate it from your diet, but only do so if it causes problems more than once. IBSResearchUpdate.org explains that a successful diet for IBS lies in the hands of the individual. Everyone reacts differently to their diet, so no specific diet plan exists.

Your Goal

You want to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet while avoiding foods that aggravate your symptoms. Fiber, while an important part of your diet, can be problematic. Too much can cause gas, while just the right amount can relieve the constipation from IBS. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are all high in fiber. IBSResearchUpdate.org states that the recommended amount of fiber consumption is between 20 and 35 g per day, but this may vary with each person. Begin with a small amount each day, gradually increasing your intake. Dairy products are also essential. They contain protein and calcium, but not every person can tolerate them. It may help to consume small amounts of milk with other foods. You can also substitute yogurt for milk. If you are lactose intolerant, choose lactose-free milk. Drink more water than other beverages, and avoid drinks with caffeine, such as soda, coffee and tea, since caffeine can worsen diarrhea.

Sample Menus

The following is a day of low-irritant, well-balanced meals. You may find the need to replace one food for another in the same food group if it is a particular irritant for you. Breakfast may be a high-fiber cereal with skim milk. If lactose intolerant, use a lactose-free product. Eat a banana with your cereal, and enjoy a cup of decaffeinated tea or coffee. Have a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread for lunch with a cup of yogurt, raw carrots and cup of water. Dinner can consist of lean meat such as chicken or fish with brown rice or whole wheat pasta, accompanied by a serving of vegetables.