Diet therapy is a key factor in managing any GI condition. Whether you have IBS, Crohn’s, Colitis or Diverticulitis, you will likely find yourself modifying the foods you eat to avoid aggravating your symptoms. However, did you know that the way you’re eating can have just as much of an impact? That’s right, irregular meal patterns can often lead to more severe symptoms. Being strategic about meal timing, spacing and size can greatly improve GI symptoms in any condition.
Although IBS, Crohn’s, Colitis and Diverticulitis are all very different conditions, the way your meal patterns affect them is fairly consistent. However, keep in mind that each person’s GI triggers differ, so what works for you may not work for someone else. It’s all a game of trial and error to determine what triggers your GI symptoms.
Below are some meal behaviors to consider when treating your GI condition.
Meal timing can be crucial in managing your IBS, Crohn’s, Colitis or Diverticulitis. For all GI conditions, the stomach does not want to be totally empty or totally full, which is why it’s important to eat shortly after waking up. Your body is breaking a fasting period, so eating something GI-friendly first thing in the morning is crucial ease your body into beginning digestion.
Similarly, it’s important to reduce the amount of food you eat at night. For most people, our circadian rhythms plan for us to rest overnight and actively utilize and break down nutrients during the day. With GI conditions such as IBS and IBD, digestion can already be a difficult task. Digesting food at night is even more difficult for your digestive system. We recommend eating a smaller portion for dinner and ensuring your last meal is at least 1.5-2 hours before resting.
Meal size can make or break your IBS, Crohn’s, Colitis and Diverticulitis symptoms. Most people with GI conditions have hypersensitivity in their gut, which means that normal side effects such as intestinal contractions or gas production can feel abnormally painful. For most people, when they overeat at Thanksgiving dinner, they feel uncomfortably full and eventually digest the food and the discomfort subsides. With a GI condition, overeating at Thanksgiving dinner could end up ruining your whole night!
For someone with IBS, for example, overeating can cause symptoms such as reflux, abdominal pain, gas, and bloating that can persist for hours after the meal.
With Crohn’s and Colitis, the key is to avoid further inflammation in the intestines. When you eat a large meal, it’s difficult for your body to digest and absorb the food, which can cause inflammation to become worse.
Diverticulitis symptoms, on the other hand, rely on reducing pressure in the intestines from stool and gas. The more food you eat, the more stool you produce, and the more pressure that builds up in the intestines. We recommend eating 5-6 small, snack-sized meals per day to avoid exacerbating any current GI symptoms that you may be experiencing.
Meal spacing is a key factor in managing your GI condition. When you go too long without eating, stomach acid can build up and increase symptoms in your upper digestive tract. You may experience worsened acid reflux, bloating or abdominal pain the longer you go without eating.
Additionally, once you do add food to your eating schedule, it takes a little while for your body to reactivate digestion. It’s better to keep your body on high alert throughout the day with small amounts of food. Meal spacing is closely related to meal size. The longer you go without eating, the more likely you are to overeat at your next meal, which may cause bloating, distention, and discomfort.
We recognize that managing a GI condition has many components and that each person’s condition needs to be treated with an individualized approach. If you’re having a hard time managing your GI condition, we recommend working with a registered dietitian.
Kaitlyn Willwerth is a Registered Dietitian at OnPoint Nutrition. Kaitlyn's work focuses on providing individualized health and lifestyle coaching and, most importantly, support. She is a Certified LEAP Therapist and has also completed the Monash University 'Low FODMAP Diet for IBS' online training course for health professionals.