Take the Dairy Challenge: Does Dairy Trigger Your IBS?

If you haven’t already done so, get yourself a nice notebook to use as a food diary. Keep track of your typical food and beverage intake (and your physical and emotional symptoms) diligently for at least a week before taking the dairy challenge. This preparation gives you a great benchmark because you track the effect your current, typical diet has on your IBS symptoms.

If you find yourself resisting the dairy challenge, or if you think that dairy couldn’t possibly be the culprit in your IBS, please reconsider and make the commitment to yourself to do this challenge. Given the statistics, there’s a possibility that dairy is involved in your IBS symptoms.

The dairy challenge involves avoiding dairy — and only dairy — for two weeks in order to determine whether these foods are causing your IBS symptoms. If you avoid all possible trigger foods at once, not only are you severely limiting your food choices, but you may become hungry and discouraged and drop the whole experiment.

Why two weeks, you ask? You typically need three to four days to clear a substance from your system and then another few days for your body to start repairing any damage the offending food may have caused.

Start by stocking your kitchen with dairy substitutes and giving your dairy products and foods containing dairy to your best friend (who hopefully doesn’t have IBS). Start on a weekend, and for two weeks, use your food diary to track your diet details and the physical and emotional symptoms that you notice after eating.

After about a week, you may already notice the relief of a dairy-free diet. If not, don’t worry; avoiding dairy is only part of the exercise.

The challenge part of the experiment comes at the end of two weeks. Make it a Saturday so you have Sunday to recover, if necessary, and stay close to home, especially if diarrhea is your body’s chosen reaction to trigger foods. Then simply indulge in all the dairy foods you stopped eating for two weeks and record the results.

Have a large glass of milk for breakfast. After a few hours, eat several pieces of cheese. Have some ice cream after dinner. During the two-week challenge, your body got used to being without dairy. Now that there’s the equivalent of a three-car pileup of milk, cheese, and ice cream careening down the superhighway of your intestines, you’ll be the first to know if dairy is doing you in.

If you discover that your symptoms never really left and are exactly the same as they were before you eliminated dairy from your diet, dairy probably isn’t contributing to your IBS symptoms, and the search continues.

However, you may discover that eating dairy again after two weeks off makes you feel worse, so you can decide to moderate your dairy intake. Rotate dairy choices, and use substitutes.

The next food you should avoid and challenge is gluten. Depending on your reaction to the dairy challenge, you can continue eating dairy or rotate it while eliminating gluten.

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