Tips on Managing IBS While You're Travelling
This is a sponsored post. Thank you to Alflorex for helping to support the blog.
The hottest day of the year, in the middle of Paris, on a trip that had been 3 months in the planing and that I'd been wanting to do for 20 years. I was SO EXCITED about going to see The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower and spending an evening watching the can can at the Moulin Rouge. I had daydreams of sipping coffee in a beautiful little red and white pinstriped café with little ornate, metal chairs and getting my hands on all those pastries.
And then the worst happened. IBS struck.
There's no shame in it. It's thought that around a fifth of the population will experience IBS related symptoms over the course of a year. But planning is everything.
Looking back, and knowing what I now know about the condition, I made some mistakes that could have avoided the whole issue altogether. You kind of do things you don't normally do at home when you're out travelling, especially when you're in Paris.
This month is IBS Awareness Month and I thought to help spread the word I'd share some tips I've learned on how you can help manage your IBS symptoms while you're out and about enjoying yourself. I'm pleased to say I've learned from my mistakes. I hope these tips will help you whether you're embarking on a 13-hour flight across the world or a day trip to the seaside.
Let me know what you think.
1. Watch what you're eating
The day before my attack, I made ALL the mistakes. I ate convenience foods grabbed on the go, the best ones I thought that were available at the time, but looking back they were fatty, starchy and sugary, and these are some of my triggers. Thirsty, in the hot sun, I grabbed a cool, refreshing fizzy drink full of sugars (and lots of bubbles of carbon dioxide, aherm), and shared half a bottle of more chilled fizz - the champagne kind - with my friend in the evening. You can see how that might all stack up. Look for whole foods - don't rely on starchy, sugary foods and fizzy drinks to fuel you on your adventures. All that gas can irritate your gut and lead to symptoms. And avoid caffeine, sweeteners and alcohol. Pack something healthy and similar to what you usually eat at home if it looks like you won't be able to buy something trigger-free when you get there, and make sure you have plenty of fresh, (not sparkling!) water in a re-useable bottle, too, so you don't get dehydrated.
2. Eat regularly
According to Consultant Gastroenterologist Simon Smale, eating regularly can help avoid triggering IBS symptoms. Simon says, "Start by eating regularly. Don’t leave long gaps between meals and don’t skip meals." Eat little and often - don't starve yourself of food and then binge because you're starving at the end of the day. All this isn't great for the stomach. Neither is overeating. Spending all day not eating because you're sightseeing and then gobbling up a three course meal in the evening until you're bursting full isn't going to be the best idea. Pack healthy snacks that will see you through the day and through any unforeseen hunger pangs and space your (light) meals out throughout the day.
3. Prep yourself with probiotics
Ahead of your trip, or before school holiday season, prep your gut with some good quality probiotics. Simon says, "Typically, you want to try a probiotic that is clinically proven so, Alflorex would be one of those. A clinically proven probiotic is one that first of all has evidence that it works for patients with irritable bowel. That means it has to get into the bit of the gut that it’s meant to affect. It must also grow there in sufficient numbers so that it actually impacts upon symptoms. The other considerations are also palatability, how often do you have to take it, because if you have to take something four times a day, almost nobody manages that. I certainly don’t. Whether you need to keep it in the fridge is also a factor." For more information, and how it may help with IBS symptoms, visit the Alflorex website.
4. Manage your stress
If you suffer with IBS, you'll know how big a factor stress is on your tum. You could be eating right, have slept well the night before and have all the public loos pinned on your phone's map but if you're worried, anxious or if something unexpected has put you in a tailspin you could be aggravating your IBS. Day trips, train journeys, flights, hotel bookings gone wrong and the usual hunt for the passport and tickets all add stress to our day, but try and keep this under control. Slip into mindfulness exercises as soon as you notice your heart rate or your breathing start to increase. Enjoy your scenery and just breathe through any anxious emotions. It'll all be OK.
5. Know your FODMAPS
Simon Smale suggests that if you're doing all the good things and looking after yourself, and IBS symptoms are still a problem, then FODMAPS might be the answer. "If you’re doing everything you can in your diet and you are getting the basics right with regular eating and excluding the obvious things, the next thing to do is to seek the support of dietitian to talk about specific exclusion diets. The three commonest exclusion diets are dairy, wheat and FODMAPS. FODMAPS are sugars that get to your large bowel undigested, and because they get undigested to the large bowel, they are then available to the colonic bacteria to ferment, and fermentation leads to gas production. That may be irritant to the colon and then people get change in bowel habit." Sometimes people find that they embark on a healthier eating plan and their IBS symptoms get worse. This could be down to FODMAPS. They're present in a range of veggies, like garlic, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts and stoned fruits.
Travelling, days out and being up early or late don't correlate too well with a restful night's sleep. Add excitement or anxiety (or both) to the mix and you might be staring at the ceiling for longer than you'd like. But lack of sleep, although it sounds unrelated, could exacerbate an IBS attack. "Lots of people sleep poorly, and that has a significant impact on the way your bowels function," says Simon. If you're going on a trip get a good night's sleep the night before and try and keep your sleep schedule on track even though you're going away. Things like keeping your room as dark as possible, or maybe packing a sleep mask or ear plugs in your luggage if it might help. Keeping to regular bed times also works too, but is harder if you're up later than usual catching flights or going to events. I find I tend to nod off once I've read a few pages of a good book, with the lights low.
Exercise is a great, long term answer to managing IBS. Exercise is great for the gut - it'll get you feeling good, too. Regular movement helps stimulate the muscles in the digestive system, meaning that you'll have more regular, comfortable bowel movements and therefore potentially fewer instances of constipation or diarrhoea. Simon says that current guidelines reckon we should aim for 150 minutes of breathless activity per week. And before you panic - that works out at just over 21 minutes a day. Much more achievable now, don't you think? Do something you love - dancing to your favourite music, swimming, playing tennis with a friend or football with the kids.
8. Let your friends you are travelling with know
One of the things about there being an IBS Awareness Month, is to help spread awareness and educate people about the condition. There is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of if you suffer with IBS. It's super common, and I bet you'll know other people that suffer with it too. If you're travelling with friends or family, discretely let them know you suffer with it before your trip. Then, even if you've taken all the precautions you can and it still strikes, you'll have people that understand and can help you overcome an attack if one happens. I was with my friend and she was amazing. Plus, all the pressure to get things right or the worrying that you might have an episode on your travels can lead to stress, which could exacerbate it anyway. Relax, have fun and enjoy your trip.
For more information on how Alflorex might help you, visit the Alflorex website.