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Eating Out With IBS

By Tanzil Miah

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Eating out with IBS can be difficult for those who find their symptoms are directly related to the foods they eat (dietary triggers). There is understandably a certain amount of anxiety associated with eating out when you: 

  • Have severe or uncontrolled IBS. 
  • Are uncertain of which foods might trigger a flare. 
  • Are worried about having to urgently use the bathroom, or having to use a public bathroom.  

Here is a quick guide to help you navigate your way around eating out with IBS.  

Before eating out   

  1. Choose restaurants which make their dishes from scratch and use fresh ingredients and flavours.   
  2. Try to avoid fast food outlets which often have higher fat and processed foods on their menus which we know can trigger symptoms.  
  3. Call ahead or check out the menu online so you have an idea of what to expect, and whether there is an option you feel comfortable with. 
  4. Pick your cuisine carefully for example – if you are sensitive to onions, garlic and spices choosing an Indian restaurant may limit the menu options.  If you are eating out with a group, perhaps suggest an alternative restaurant that has more suitable options, or call the restaurant to see if they can prepare you a suitable dish.   
  5. If you are going to a venue or event where bathroom facilities might not be the easiest to access, consider getting yourself an ‘Just Can’t Wait Card’ to discreetly let staff know that you need access to a bathroom.  
  6. The gut-brain connection is very real and well-researched.  Worrying about eating out with IBS can make symptoms worse.  Trying some deep breathing, gut-flow yoga, or meditation before you head out may help to calm your symptoms.  

When you are eating out 

  1. It can be overwhelming to pick something that you will enjoy, without having to worry about whether it will send you rushing to the bathroom.  Sometimes choosing something plain and simple that you know won’t trigger your symptoms (such as chicken/fish, with potatoes and veg) can put your mind at ease.  
  2.  If there is something that you fancy, but you are not sure how you will tolerate it, ask about how it is prepared, what other ingredients are in it.  You can always ask to have sauces and dressings separately, or swap some of those veggies that really set you off for a salad instead.  
  3. If there isn’t something you think you will get on with, ask if they can make you an alternative.  Most restaurants are really helpful in accommodating this – there are many people with food sensitivities, dietary requirements, and allergies, who will ask for alternatives to the menu.   
  4. Try to choose dishes which are freshly cooked, and lighter.  Avoid rich, creamy and heavy foods, which can make you feel more uncomfortable.   
  5. Limit wind-producing vegetables and legumes, such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussel-sprouts, chickpeas, lentils, and beans, if they trigger symptoms for you.   
  6. If you are likely to choose a lentil/bean dish, you might want to get some BeanAssist (or similar) digestive enzymes specifically designed to help you digest these galacto-oligosaccharides (aka GOS). 
  7. It can be easy to be distracted by the conversation and the company, but be sure to take your time with your meal, and chew each mouthful well.  
  8. If you start to feel full or uncomfortable, ask for the rest of your meal to be wrapped to take home.  
  9. What you are drinking can play its part too – fizzy, caffeinated and alcoholic drinks can trigger gut symptoms for many.  Try to limit your intake of these to 1 per meal.  If you are already worried about eating out, I would suggest choosing something like cordial, a weak brew of herbal tea, or an alcohol-free spirit, wine or beer.    

Take Home

Eating out with IBS is not something you have to fear.  Start by taking smaller steps – try to plan ahead if you can, and choose a restaurant and cuisine you feel more comfortable with, or that is perhaps closer to home.   

I hope this post helps get you back on your way to enjoying eating out.  If you need more support helping to understand your IBS triggers get in touch today for an appointment with me or one of the team.

Tanzil is a gut specialist Dietitian who has a wealth of experience in helping clients with a broad range of conditions, developed through 8+ years of working in various roles. She combines a strong clinical background of managing complex nutritional issues, with a passion for improving her patient’s health, well-being, gut function, and quality of life, through tailored dietary and lifestyle strategies.

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