Best Strategies to Improve Constipation, Diarrhea, Gas and Bloating

Our guest contributor is Marie Murphy, MS, RDN, CSSD.

With the holiday season in full swing, our dietary habits can get out of whack. Hello, panettone, latkes, cookies, and eggnog! For some, such indulgences can lead to gut discomfort and dysfunction. The most common complaints include bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea. Whether you’re someone who deals with these symptoms on an ongoing basis, or for whom gastrointestinal (GI) upset is only occasional, I wanted to share my top tips for keeping your gut happy and healthy without missing out on the treats.

Woman with GI symptoms during the holidays

Before we dive in, I want to be clear that the following strategies are intended for general management of occasional gut issues and not intended to treat any medical condition. If you are experiencing GI symptoms regularly, and the strategies below are not effective, it’s time to work with a dietitian!

Gut health is the foundation of overall health. Optimal gut health means optimal absorption and elimination, and support for hormone regulation and immune function. Not only that, but poor gut health is associated with depression and fatigue. (1) Addressing underlying dysfunction can improve mental health as well as overall health.

Limit the FODMAPS

If you’ve been struggling with gut symptoms for any amount of time, you’ve likely heard of the low FODMAP diet. This approach to treating IBS symptoms originated in Australia, where researchers at Monash University demonstrated the relationship between consumption of poorly digested and fermentable short-chain carbohydrates (FODMAPS) and the primary symptoms of IBS (bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea and constipation).

FODMAP stands for: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Monash researchers measured the levels of these carbohydrates in various foods, creating lists that help individuals and healthcare practitioners develop personalized low FODMAPS diet plans. You can find a summary of low and high FODMAP foods here. The tricky bit is that sensitivity to each FODMAP varies from person to person. Thus, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.