Hypnotherapy or low FODMAP diet to manage IBS?

If you're living with IBS, you know how challenging it can be to manage your symptoms effectively, in a way that leaves you feeling confident and in control. The constant discomfort, the threat of unpredictable flare-ups, and the significant impact on your daily life can leave you feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. But there's good news! You might have heard about alternative therapies like hypnotherapy and dietary interventions like the low FODMAP diet that are fast becoming popular options to manage IBS symptoms. If you’re left wondering which one would be the best for you, and the pros and cons of each, you’re in the right place.


Understanding IBS

First things first, let's talk about IBS itself. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder often characterised by symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhoea, and constipation, although symptoms can also include less obviously related ones like headaches, back pain, fatigue and brain fog.

Although it may seem there’s something physically wrong with your gut, it’s actually a disorder of the communication between your gut and your brain. This means that the problem is functional: having to do with the way that your gut functions, rather than causing structural damage. That faulty communication between the brain and gut is the root cause of the symptoms you may be having like pain, bloating, spasming, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea and heartburn.

How can hypnotherapy help?

You may have heard of hypnosis as a stage performance trick used for entertainment but rest assured that hypnotherapy has nothing to do with mind control, unconsciousness, or clucking like a chicken. Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic approach that can be used to improve various issues, including IBS.

In hypnotherapy, we use hypnosis combined with relaxation to become more responsive to positive suggestions, learn to use our imagination to rehearse changes in our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, as well as changing how the brain interprets pain and discomfort.

By improving the gut-brain connection, hypnotherapy for IBS helps with physical symptoms, like bloating, pain and unpredictable bowel movements, helping the gut become less sensitive, learning to manage stress and reducing anxiety about IBS symptoms. Studies from the past 35+ years have consistently found hypnotherapy to create significant, long-term symptom relief in 70 to 80% of cases.

How can the low FODMAP diet help?

FODMAPs are a group of foods that contain certain types of carbohydrates found in foods like wheat, dairy, onions, and garlic. These foods tend to take longer to be broken down in the small intestine and tend to ferment in the colon, which attracts more water and creates more gas.

In a ‘normal’ gut that doesn’t cause an issue, but in the gut of someone with IBS, it might cause things like pain, discomfort, bloating, and unpredictable bowel movements. That is because when you have IBS, the nerves in your gut are more sensitive to sensations of pressure (caused by the extra gas for example) which can cause a negative chain of events and lead to a flare-up.

The low FODMAP diet aims to figure out which foods are most troublesome for you specifically, and consists in eliminating all FODMAP foods for a few weeks and then slowly reintroducing them for another few weeks in order to identify which foods are triggers for you, and eliminate them from your diet.

Hypnotherapy vs the low FODMAP diet for IBS

Both approaches can be effective in managing IBS symptoms, but they work in very different ways.

Hypnotherapy works by targeting the gut-brain connection, helping to restore communication between your brain-brain and your gut-brain. It also reduces the severity of your symptoms by working on your thoughts and feelings about your IBS which play a large role in keeping you stuck in the vicious cycle of stress and symptoms.

On the other hand, low FODMAP diets work by helping you identify and eliminate foods that trigger your symptoms, without addressing the cause of these symptoms; the miscommunication between gut and brain.

A randomised clinical trial found gut-directed hypnotherapy to be as effective as the low FODMAP diet to treat IBS (Peters et al., 2016). This study compared three groups of IBS sufferers: one group which was given hypnotherapy, one group which followed a low FODMAP diet, and one group which combined both. In all groups, the proportion of individuals who saw their overall gut symptoms improve were similar, at about 70%. Those who did hypnotherapy had more improvements in psychological indices, including anxiety and depression, than those who followed the low FODMAP diet only.

This means that, with hypnotherapy, you can significantly improve your problematic gut symptoms like bloating, pain and unpredictable bowel movements without needing to overhaul your diet or restrict which foods you can eat. In addition, hypnotherapy can bring you other benefits in the area of stress management and anxiety reduction.

Neither options are quick fixes or magic cures: both require time and commitment to see results. If you do hypnotherapy, you don’t need to change your diet, but you’ll need to commit to listening to recordings between sessions. And if you follow a low FODMAP diet, you’ll need to rethink what you eat, how you prepare food, and follow a strict food plan. Thinking about your stress levels, the relationship between anxiety and your IBS flare-ups, and your existing relationship with food can help you decide which approach to take.

If you are curious about doing hypnotherapy to manage your IBS and wonder if it could be right for you, feel free to book a free initial chat with me so I can answer any questions you may have.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, Greater London, SE3
Written by Olivia Spaethe, Irritable Bowel Syndrome Hypnotherapy | Dip. CBH
London, Greater London, SE3

I specialise in helping people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) to manage their symptoms, regain freedom, confidence and control using a combination of hypnotherapy and CBT, two of the most evidence-based approaches to managing IBS symptoms in the long-term. I work online, with clients all over the world. Get in touch to have a free 30min chat.

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