Tummy troubles are generally pretty common today, and many practitioners attribute these symptoms to diet. Food intolerances and allergies are on the rise, and we are learning more and more that different environmental exposures, especially as related to nutrition, can have a huge influence on the development of autoimmune responses. Food and its effect on health, especially GI health, has increasingly become the subject of media attention lately, and understandably so — if there’s a way to gain control of debilitating IBS symptoms, people should know!
However, since the effects of food on health are such a hot topic, marketing efforts subsequently tend towards these subjects more often than not. Businesses and blogs profit off of popular subjects, so they are more likely to emphasize certain “buzz words.” The result is that food gets a lot of attention in terms of IBS, and there is less advertising done with regards to other health topics.
The truth is that food intolerance is only one cause among hundreds of factors that trigger symptoms such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or abdominal cramps. The research actually shows that the most dramatic influence on IBS is actually stress! In this case, stress refers to any factor that alters the secretion of cortisol and other hormones in the body in a significant and measurable way. This can include psychological stresses (as we typically think of stress) such as work, school, or relationships, but it can also include physiologic stresses. These would include excessive or unpredictable exercise patterns, sleep disruption, or nutritional stress.
In contrast to the latest diet trend, nutritional stress is a subject that does not get much media attention. Nutritional stress is the physiologic stress response that results from caloric restriction, dietary fluctuations, significant changes in eating habits, or the toll that diet changes take on a person’s mental status. To sum it up, nutritional stress results from dieting, and just as with other sources of stress, this can trigger symptoms of IBS. (To learn more about how dieting triggers stress responses, read this study!)
I talk to people all the time who struggle with gastrointestinal symptoms that resolve completely with lifestyle modification. The secret to their success really isn’t a secret at all — they heal by providing their bodies with proper nutrition, consisting of healthy, satisfying, regular meals and snacks of sufficient quantity and frequency. I always tell people that healthy eating starts with eating early, eating often, and eating enough. This is a radically different approach from the restrictive elimination diets that are popular on “wellness” blogs today.