If you’re suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, certain foods are likely to trigger your symptoms. Some foods are well known as possible triggers for IBS but others will be unique to you. Your symptoms may also get triggered when you are particularly stressed or when you experience certain emotions. They may improve after exercise or when you take particular types of medication.


April is IBS Awareness Month, so to mark the event, GI Doctors are sharing useful tips on keeping a food and symptom diary. 

Keeping a symptom diary may helps you to pinpoint what triggers bouts of IBS and what helps to calm it. This information will then help you to manage your condition more effectively.


Why keep a careful track?

Diet is a key factor in IBS By making a note of everything you eat and drink and writing down how you are feeling after eating it, you might be able to start spotting patterns and picking up clues. Once you know which foods and drinks are most likely to trigger symptoms you can alleviate them from your diet and start to feel better. 

The secret to keeping a symptom diary is to be specific and detailed. If you had a sandwich, don’t just write down “sandwich” but write what was in it, what type of bread, if there was any dressing or vegetables etc.

Stress and emotions are thought to play a key role in IBS. By writing down what is happening in your life and how you are feeling on that day, you may start to notice the factors that worsen your IBS symptoms. You may not be able to eliminate every source of stress for your life but you may be able to put in place techniques to help you to manage it more effectively.

Here are some tips on getting started.

Food and drink

Meals: Write a detailed description of everything you ate, including all of the individual ingredients. How was the food prepared – baked, grilled, fried, roast, raw?

Portion size: How much did you eat? Eating more smaller meals has been shown to be better for IBS sufferers. If you had a heavy meal, how did you feel afterwards?

Snacks: Don’t forget to write down snacks, however small and seemingly insignificant as everything you eat can have an impact on your IBS symptoms. Also include sweets, chewing gum, nuts, crisps.

Drinks: It’s easy to overlook what you drink but certain drinks can have a big impact on your digestion. Fizzy drinks can cause gas and drinks containing caffeine can irritate your gut.

Cigarettes: If you smoke, make a note of how many and when and what impact this has on your digestive system.


Note down every time you experience stomach problems. Make a note of what the problem was, how long it lasted, how long it had been since you ate or drank anything. Write down:

Poo: When you went for a poo, how often and what sort of consistency it was.

Gas: Did you experience bloating or wind?

Pain: Any pain in the abdomen or bottom? What type of pain? How severe on a scale of one to ten?

Stressors & Lifestyle

Emotional state: How do you feel and why? 

Stressors: Write down anything that is causing you stress? How bad is the stress on a scale of one to ten.

Exercise: List any kind of exercise that you do. What was it, how long did it last, how did you feel afterwards?

Medication: Write down any medications that you took and how you felt afterwards.

How it works – practical steps to feeling better

Keep a symptom diary for a week or two and then take a look:

  • Compare the data on what you ate and drank with the data on how your digestive system felt.
  • Can you see any obvious patterns?
  • Look at the stressors and how you were feeling.
  • Pay particular attention to the bad days.

Next, compare:

  • Have a look at what you consumed on that day and the previous day.
  • Compare this with other bad days.
  • Are there any common factors?
  • How were you feeling on that day?
  • What activities were you engaged in?
  • Did you take any medications?

Next, eliminate:

  • Once you have identified possible “trigger” foods and drinks
  • Try eliminating them from your diet one at a time or in groups (such as anything containing wheat).
  • Keep a food diary to see how your symptoms are without these foods and drinks.
  • Has anything improved?

Take your symptom diary with you to your next doctor appointment so you can show them what factors are linked with a flare up in IBS symptoms.

This approach may not help you to eradicate every single thing that irritates your gut but even knowing what some of the major trigger factors are will help you.

If your doctor knows what things cause a flare up he or she can advise you what sort of things you might be able to do to alleviate the symptoms or reduce them.

Working with a specialist that can promptly diagnose and monitor your symptoms, will give you the best chance to get back to feeling your best.