What You Shouldn’t Say to Someone with IBS or on a Low FODMAP Diet
People love to think they’re experts on the various maladies and diets they’ve heard from the internet, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and the low FODMAP diet are no exception.
The truth is that the only IBS and low FODMAP experts are doctors and registered dieticians, and if someone tells you that they have IBS or that they’re on the low FODMAP diet, they’ve probably already spoken to the experts and don’t need your ‘friendly’ advice, which is usually pretty cringey.
Here are 10 things you shouldn’t say to someone with IBS and/or on a low FODMAP diet, and what you could say instead.
1. “There’s always something wrong with your stomach.”
We are well aware of this and don’t need you to remind us, thanks.
Instead say: “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. Is there anything I can do?”
2. “Maybe you should see a doctor.”
As mentioned above, if we can confidently say we have IBS and have started the low FODMAP diet, we’ve already seen a doctor several times, and might be insulted that you think we hadn’t thought of the most obvious thing.
Instead ask: “What did your doctor recommend?”
3. “You are such a picky eater!”
We are picky eaters, but not by choice. The low FODMAP diet is restrictive, so we would not be following it if we didn’t have to. And we do have to if we don’t want to spend the next week on or near a toilet or curled up on the floor with cramps.
Instead say: “Let me know which foods are okay so we can make sure you have something to eat.”
4. “I’m sure a little bit will be fine.”
If you consider agonizing cramps, regular diarrhea and/or constipation, and severe bloating fine, then sure, we’ll be fine. The truth is even the tiniest amounts of high FODMAP foods can be a trigger. Better safe than sorry.
Instead ask: “Are any of these foods safe in small amounts?”
5. “But you just said you were feeling better.”
IBS symptoms don’t follow a schedule. They can appear at any time, sometimes hours or days after we eat a trigger food. Feeling good now doesn’t mean we’ll feel good later. This is the way of chronic illnesses; they ebb and flow.
Instead say: “I’m sorry you’re feeling unwell again. That must be frustrating.”
6. “Try not to think about it.”
That’s easy for you to say. We live with the anxiety that at any given moment we will have to run and find a bathroom. Every time we think about eating, we have to think about whether or not it will destroy our stomachs. Not thinking about it is actually a very bad idea.
Instead ask: “How can I make this easier for you?”
7. “You should go to the bathroom now, so you won’t have to later.”
As mentioned in number 5, we don’t have control over when we’ll need the toilet. We can’t choose to go when we want to just as much as we can’t choose not to go when we need to, even on a long car ride.
Instead say: “Let me know if you need to find a washroom. It’s no trouble.”
8. “No garlic or onions? Your food must be so bland.”
Even if this were true, we wouldn’t appreciate the reminder. But our food isn’t bland. There are tons of herbs and spices we can eat that will flavor our food. And, if we do want the taste of onion or garlic, we can use garlic infused or shallot infused olive oil.
Instead say: “I’d love to know how you replace onions and garlic in your cooking.”
Related: No Onion or Garlic? No problem
9. “Oh my god, what can you eat?” (said with annoyance while deciding what to make for dinner)
Please remember that we’re not trying to be annoying in our food choices. We wish we could eat what you can.
Instead say: “Let me know which foods are safe for you so we can make something we’ll both enjoy.”
10. “Oh, I get IBS sometimes.”
Getting a stomach ache from oily or fried food or because you’re lactose intolerant is not the same as having IBS. IBS symptoms are chronic, ongoing, and can be debilitating and intensely painful, sometimes to a point we can’t go to school or work. Try being sensitive to what we’re going through.
Instead say: “I only get occasional stomach aches so I can only imagine what you’re going through. Is there anything I can do to help?”
If you’d like to learn more about IBS and the low FODMAP diet, read our IBS survey results, and if you want some recipes for your friends with IBS, check out our low FODMAP recipes.