4 Tips for Living with a Digestive Disorder
By Padma Chamarthy, MD, Gastroenterologist, Virtua Gastroenterology
You’re about to sit down for the Broadway show you’ve been waiting years to see, and your stomach suddenly turns against you. Can you make it to the bathroom in time, or will the pain and distress force you to go home?
Digestive disorders can be uncomfortable, but they don’t have to control your life. Oftentimes, diet and lifestyle changes can ease your symptoms and manage your condition.
See how these simple changes can make a big difference.
1. Know Your Nutrition Needs
Dietary changes can help ease the symptoms of many digestive disorders. Different digestive disorders have distinct nutritional requirements:
- For gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Avoid eating or drinking things that make heartburn worse. Common culprits include coffee, spicy foods, alcoholic beverages, and high-fat foods.
- For celiac disease: Avoid foods and drinks with gluten. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, and wheat. Always check the ingredients on food labels.
- For Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis: No single diet works for everyone, and what you eat may depend if you are experiencing a flare or are in remission. Your health care provider may also recommend supplements if you have trouble absorbing nutrients.
- For irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) : Large meals can trigger cramping and diarrhea, so eat small meals throughout the day. A diet low in fat, high in protein, and low in fermentable carbohydrates, such as fructose and lactose—called fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs)—can help relieve symptoms. High-fiber foods, pre- or probiotics, and medication also can help your gut.
Talk with your health care provider or a dietitian to learn which diet changes could help you.
2. Keep a Food Diary
Writing down what you eat can help you learn which foods cause you trouble. This is especially helpful for disorders such as IBS and Crohn’s disease, for which certain foods can trigger or worsen symptoms. A food diary is also a key part of diagnosing food allergies.
Record how much you consume and at what time. Write down what symptoms you have and when they occur. Share your food diary with your health care provider. You may need to cut out foods that cause you problems.
3. Stop Smoking
Smoking weakens the muscle that keeps stomach acid from backing up into the esophagus, increasing the risk for heartburn and GERD. Smoking worsens Crohn’s disease symptoms, as well as damages the liver’s ability to process medications.
4. Partner with Your Health Care Team
Tell your health care provider about all your symptoms, even if you think they’re embarrassing. Make sure all your doctors have a full health history, a list of all the medications you take, and all your test results.
Together, you and your health care team can help manage your digestive disorder so that you can live a full life.
Make an Appointment with a Virtua GI Specialist
Virtua’s GI and Digestive Health’s team of more than 50 gastroenterologists provide comprehensive treatments for the issues affecting your gut. Click here to make an appointment online.
Updated August 5, 2022