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Working with an IBS Nutritionist: Benefits and Questions to Ask

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Working with an IBS Nutritionist: Benefits and Questions to Ask

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • An IBS nutritionist is a registered dietitian who specializes in gastrointestinal (GI) disorders and can help you safely identify foods that trigger your symptoms. 
  • Keep a written food and symptom log before your first appointment to help your dietitian understand trends with your typical diet and IBS symptoms. 
  • The FODMAP elimination diet may be an effective strategy for reducing IBS symptoms when done under the supervision of a dietitian. 

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common digestive disorder, affecting 12% of people in the United States. It involves recurrent abdominal pain and abnormal bowel movements, with most people noticing symptoms after eating.

However, it can be challenging to identify individual trigger foods. Many elimination diets exist for IBS, but not all are evidence-based. Working with a registered dietitian specializing in IBS is the safest, most effective way to learn which foods to minimize. 

Continue reading to learn more about how to find an IBS dietitian and maximize your appointment time for the best results. 

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What Is an IBS Nutritionist? 

An IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) nutritionist, typically a registered dietitian, is a nutrition professional specializing in gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. Some dietitians only work with IBS patients, but most are experts in many different digestive disorders, like Crohn’s disease, gastroparesis, and celiac disease. 

GI dietitians may work in hospitals, outpatient GI clinics, or in private practice. Their role is to provide evidence-based information on how to help you manage your digestive symptoms through dietary modifications. 

In the context of IBS, a GI dietitian will help you identify food triggers for your symptoms and create a personalized meal plan based on the foods you tolerate best.

How to Find an IBS Nutritionist

It can be tricky to find a dietitian specializing in IBS who accepts your insurance. Many private practice providers only accept out-of-pocket payments, while not every GI clinic has a dietitian on their staff. 

First, ask your GI specialist if they have any dietitians they recommend for helping you manage IBS. Next, check your insurance coverage with these providers to determine your best option. 

If you want to work with an IBS dietitian online, consider booking an appointment through Nourish. We’ll match you with a dietitian specializing in GI disorders and work with you to maximize your insurance benefits. Most of our patients pay $0 out of pocket for visits. 

Benefits of Working with an IBS Nutritionist

Working with an IBS dietitian to optimize your diet can significantly help your symptoms and quality of life. The foods you eat can impact your IBS flare-ups, and a dietitian can help you in making dietary changes to minimize these. 

Some dietary interventions for treating IBS can be restrictive in the short term. A GI dietitian can safely guide you through the process while considering your lifestyle, food preferences, and history. They also coordinate with your care team to help optimize your treatment plan. 

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Questions to Ask Your IBS Nutritionist 

Before scheduling your first appointment with a GI dietitian, you’ll want to ask a few questions about their credentials, experience, and fees. 

First, ensure that your provider has a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) credential, which means they have the education and training required to perform medical nutrition therapy

Next, ask about their experience in treating IBS. Not all dietitians specialize in this area, so you’ll want to make sure you find a provider knowledgeable about the current research on managing IBS. 

Lastly, ensure the dietitian accepts your insurance and that you understand any out-of-pocket fees associated with the appointment. 

Ways to Make the Most Out of Your Appointment 

You may need to wait a few weeks or months to get an appointment with a GI dietitian, so you’ll want to make sure you maximize your time together with these tips. 

1. Keep a Food Diary and Symptoms Log

Everyone with IBS has different individual food triggers for their symptoms. Dietitians often ask patients to keep a food and symptom log to help identify connections between food choices and symptom severity. 

You can make your first appointment with the dietitian more valuable by completing a written log in advance and bringing it to the visit to review together. 

It’s important to log details like the time you ate, what you ate, any beverages you had, and medications or supplements you took. Then note the frequency and severity of your symptoms. An example may look like this: 

6:00 am - Woke up with nausea (3/10 severity).

7:00 am - Drank a cup of coffee with half and half; ate toast with peanut butter and banana slices. Took probiotic supplement.

8:30 am - Stomach cramps and diarrhea (5/10 severity).

2. Bring Questions to Your Appointments 

It’s easy to forget about your questions during a medical appointment. Try keeping a running list of questions between your visits and bring it to your follow-up. Make sure your provider knows your questions at the start of the visit so they allot enough time to discuss them. 

Sample questions may include: 

  • Should I be taking a probiotic supplement?
  • Is goat cheese a high-FODMAP food?
  • Do I need to limit or avoid caffeine?

3. Follow Up with Your Appointments

Since everyone has different food triggers for their IBS symptoms, much of the nutrition therapy process involves identifying possible triggers, eliminating them, and then noting any changes in symptoms. This is an ongoing process that typically requires multiple follow-up visits. 

Most elimination diets for IBS are not supposed to be long-term, so scheduling regular follow-up appointments with your GI dietitian can help you identify an optimal eating plan and liberalize your diet. 

4. Ask About Dietary Supplements 

During your visit with the dietitian, ask if there are any dietary supplements they would recommend to help your symptoms. Studies support the use of specific supplements in certain patient populations, like: 

  • Soluble fiber.
  • Probiotics.
  • Peppermint oil.

5. Consider Taking the Low FODMAP Diet Challenge 

Many dietitians recommend a low-FODMAP diet for people with IBS. Research shows that 50-72% of people experienced an improvement in symptoms after following the low-FODMAP diet. 

The low-FODMAP diet is a three-phase plan that involves a 4-6 week elimination diet, a challenge phase where tolerance of individual foods is tested, and a reintroduction phase. 

It restricts certain types of carbohydrates and sugars that can be poorly digested in people with IBS, like wheat, apples, garlic, onions, beans, and milk. 

Without proper guidance, the plan can be confusing and possibly lead to nutrient deficiencies. It’s best to follow this diet under the supervision of a registered dietitian specializing in GI conditions.  

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6. Keep Track of What Works and What Doesn't 

In addition to a food and symptom log, you may want to print out your goals from each appointment with your GI dietitian and note what helped your symptoms and what made them worse as you make changes to your diet. 

This can help your dietitian adjust the plan and tailor it to your individual preferences and symptoms. 

7. Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes and Learn From Them

No dietitian expects you to follow an eating plan perfectly, especially with challenging eating plans like the FODMAP elimination diet. If you deviate from the plan, note any symptom changes, and let your dietitian know. 

The end goal is to find an eating plan that is realistic for you in the long-term and helps your symptoms, not to feel restricted from your favorite foods. 

Takeaway

IBS is a complex condition that can be heavily impacted by food choices. Working with an IBS dietitian can help you get to the bottom of your food triggers while ensuring you get all the nutrients you need. 

Your dietitian might discuss interventions like the low FODMAP diet and certain dietary supplements, which can significantly reduce your symptoms. 

Maximize your appointment time with your dietitian by keeping a food and symptom log in advance, writing down your questions, and tracking what works and what doesn't. 

Managing IBS with an RD

Working with a dietitian to manage your IBS helps take the guesswork out of which foods to eat to control your symptoms. You’ll get an individualized eating plan based on your food triggers, preferences, and lifestyle. 

Get started with Nourish to find a dietitian specializing in IBS and other gastrointestinal conditions. All appointments are conducted online for your convenience and are covered by most insurance plans

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