Tummy trouble? How to gain control of your symptoms

It’s not something anyone wants to talk about, but 1 in 5 of people suffer digestive issues with typical symptoms, including bloating, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhoea, excessive wind, heartburn and nausea. Suffering in silence is very common. The good news is that there is now an innovative approach to alleviating the symptoms, finally putting you in control!

You may have seen your doctor, or even a gastroenterologist who has diagnosed Irritable Bowel Syndrome (you should not diagnose yourself with IBS). Although it is good news that your symptoms are not due to anything more serious, such as coeliac disease or Ulcerative Colitis, coping with and managing the symptoms can be very difficult. Some of my clients severely affected by IBS can find it difficult to even leave their house, and some can’t hold down a job due to the pain and debilitating bowel habits. Standard medical advice includes increasing fibre (fruit, vegetables and whole grains etc. which for most can make things worse!), as well as reducing caffeine, alcohol and stress. Medications can be of some help, but not for everyone.


What causes IBS?

Common triggers include antibiotics which alter the good bacteria in the gut, food poisoning, gastroenteritis (tummy bug), or a period of intense stress. Sometimes no particular trigger can be identified.

Managing IBS

Unfortunately, there is no ‘cure’ for IBS. Understanding and managing the condition can be upsetting, frustrating and confusing. The good news is that there is a new, scientifically tested dietary treatment that produces a significant reduction in symptoms for 75-80% of people. The FODMAP Diet was originally developed at Monash University, Australia; and recently more  research has been carried out at King’s College, London. The low FODMAP diet is increasingly being used by gastroenterologists and dieticians to successfully manage the tummy problems.

IBS Fodmap

What are FODMAPs?

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Quite a mouthful! These foods have one thing in common: they are all carbohydrates that the gut poorly absorbs and are quickly fermented by the bacteria in the colon (large intestine). This fermentation causes the bloating, wind, diarrhoea or constipation and pain. There is quite a long list of foods that are high in FODMAPs, and not everyone with IBS reacts to the same foods.


For the first two weeks, the FODMAP diet is a ‘learning diet’, where all high FODMAP foods are removed for approximately 2-4 weeks. Many people see improvements within a few days. After this elimination phase, foods are reintroduced in a systematic way to establish the individual’s tolerance. The reintroduction phase is important to establish which high FODMAP foods cause problems, and how much of the foods can be tolerated.

What foods are high FODMAP?

You may be surprised that many foods considered good for digestion can aggravate IBS. These include wheat, onions, garlic, apples and pears. Other high FODMAP foods include artificial sweeteners in chewing gum, lactose found in dairy products, beans and lentils.

75% of people who try the low FODMAP diet see a significant improvement in their symptoms. It is not unusual for my clients to report that it has been life changing, enabling them to go to the shops, walk to work or take their children to the park without worrying where the nearest bathroom is!

IBS and FODMAPs can be confusing, with a lot of conflicting advice on the internet. If you would like some guidance from a Registered Dietitian with experience in the Low FODMAP Diet, your GP can refer you within the NHS, or a list of private dietitians in your area can be found on the Freelance Dietitian’s website.

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