On Your Health

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A Guide to Eating Out When You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Going out to eat is an essential part of many people’s social lives. However, when you’re dieting or have food restrictions caused by conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, meeting friends for dinner can quickly become stressful.

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is characterized by digestive issues accompanied by constipation, diarrhea, and/or stomach pain and cramps. While there isn’t a known cause, many people in the U.S. suffer from this uncomfortable condition. Many foods, especially of the deliciously fried, sugary or cheesy variety, can trigger IBS symptoms.

You don’t have to miss quality time with your friends and family; with a little advance planning, you can navigate going out to eat with no ill effects.

Know your IBS triggers

If you’re living with IBS, FODMAP dietary guidelines may be something you strictly follow. FODMAPs, which stands for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols, are essentially carbohydrates found in food. FODMAPs are not easily digested and can disrupt bowel function.

High-FODMAP foods may trigger IBS symptoms like bloating, gas, constipation or even diarrhea. These foods can include high fructose corn syrup, milk, ice cream, sugary cereals, pitted fruits, beans and soybeans, among many others.

Low-FODMAP foods are less likely to trigger symptoms. This includes tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, cantaloupe, corn and oat products, quinoa, potatoes and many more foods.

Every person with IBS is different. Things that may be a trigger for one individual can be consumed by another person with little or no IBS symptoms. It’s a good idea to keep track of which foods work and don’t work for your digestive system.

IBS infographic

Research restaurants ahead of time

Once you have an idea of what you can and can’t eat, take time to research local restaurants before making dining plans.

More and more restaurants, both chain and local, are accommodating diet restrictions. From gluten-free to vegan diets, there is a lot of consideration going into menu planning, IBS-friendly options included.

Most restaurants have their menus posted online which makes it easier than ever to plan ahead. If a few menu items catch your eye, make note of them for later. If nothing on the menu seems IBS-friendly or if there are no options for substitutions listed on the menu, call ahead to see if they can accommodate. If not, you may want to choose another restaurant.

If the menu is unavailable online, you can try calling a restaurant prior to your meal to learn about the menu. Many restaurants will answer your questions about the menu, ingredients and available substitutions. It’s best to call them at least a day or two in advance.

Once you gather some dining experiences, create a working list of restaurants that feel comfortable to you, and keep these in your back pocket for the next time you make plans to go to a restaurant.

Prepare for the meal

Eat light, non-IBS triggering meals leading up to the restaurant outing. That way, you’ll feel your best when you arrive at the restaurant.

If you take any prescribed IBS medications, use them as prescribed before your meal out. If over-the-counter medicines help you manage symptoms like gas, take a few along with you.

Watch your alcohol intake

Going out can sometimes mean pre-meal drinks. Alcohol can still be a part of your plans, just watch out for sugary cocktails and mixed drinks. Stick to alcoholic beverages that are relatively low FODMAPS, like beer, red or white wine, vodka or gin. One serving is recommended.

If your IBS is particularly triggered by alcohol, it’s best to avoid it entirely.

Have an exit plan

If you feel uncomfortable or start to experience symptoms, it will feel more reassuring if the restaurant has a restroom you feel comfortable using. You can always ask for a table that is closer to the restroom should you need to use it at any point.

If you’re worried about symptoms interrupting your night, you may feel more comfortable driving your own car to the restaurant.

INTEGRIS Health IBS resources

Don’t live life with un-managed IBS. If you are experiencing digestive pain or other issues, consult a gastroenterologist. INTEGRIS Health's network of qualified physicians can diagnose and treat IBS-related symptoms, allowing you to live life, and eat out, more freely.


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