How to Figure Out Your Child’s IBS Trigger Foods
If you haven’t connected your child’s IBS symptoms to the foods he or she eats, chances are the kid isn’t going to make the connection either. Regardless of IBS variety, children need to understand that paying attention to food choices can lead to more comfort in their bodies and doesn’t have to be a chore.
Your IBS-D child may already be aware that sometimes she has an urgent, painful, explosive need to go to the bathroom and may have even had an embarrassing accident or two along the way. An IBS-C child may recognize his symptoms (the pain and bloated feeling in his stomach) but not their cause.
Find fiber that satisfies your tot’s tastes
The soluble foods children favor may be different from adult choices. Applesauce, apricots, bananas, peaches, papayas, carrots, potatoes, squash, zucchini, oatmeal, rice, miracle noodles, and non-gluten pasta are some examples of safe soluble foods for kids.
Suspect food sensitivities
You can use a food diary to help determine which foods trigger your child’s IBS symptoms. Quietly pay attention to how your child seems to feel or behave after eating a meal or a snack. The goal is to notice any patterns he has around normal mealtimes and snack times or after holidays and parties.
Track your observations in a notebook. How many times a day did he visit the bathroom? Was he grouchy or complaining of pain? Was he demanding or indulging in more of a specific food (such as ice cream, cake, or bread)?
Be subtle about recording his eating habits — no need to tell him you’re watching every piece of food that he puts into his mouth!
A weekend is a great time to start your detective work because your child isn’t away at school for several hours during the day and you likely have more time free to observe him.
If you prepare food for your kid, just carry on with your typical menu. Remember, you want to notice what is in his current diet that may be causing IBS symptoms. At this stage, you’re just observing and making notes.
After a few weeks of being a private detective, do a simple experiment. Pick a weekend when your child will be having all his meals at home. Plan your menu for the weekend and leave out one or two foods that your research suggests may be the IBS culprits. You may want to start with dairy and/or wheat, which are often in the top two.
Instead of the typical milk-on-cereal breakfast and cheese sandwich at lunch, plan ahead for alternatives. Remember, you’re just avoiding one or two things for a couple of days. Make notes about any changes (or lack thereof) you observe in your child’s symptoms. If you see no perceivable improvements, experiment with two different foods on another weekend.
Challenge foods to find the culprits
It can be harder for kids to give up their trigger foods, which are often the ones they love most and will fight you tooth and nail for. When a kid craves a food, it can be like an addiction, and she won’t give it up easily.
So if you want to encourage your child to do a food challenge, be ready with your sales pitch. One idea is to wait until she complains about spending too much time in the bathroom or being uncomfortable from pain and bloating.
If you’ve been monitoring her food habits and reactions, present some of your detective work in a way that doesn’t make her feel like you’ve been stalking her! Mention that you noticed her running to the bathroom after the pizza and movie night and that you’ve read that the ingredients in pizza can have that effect on some people.
Then ask her whether she wants to do an experiment to see what foods her body does and doesn’t like. Have her pick a Saturday when she can eat as much junk food as she likes and explain that you want her to avoid sugar, wheat, and dairy for six days leading up to that splurge day.
During this time, you both will note how she feels emotionally and physically and keep track of her bowel movements.
The more family members who participate in this experiment, the better. Not only does full participation make food preparation easier, but even those without IBS also feel some benefit from the exercise. Anyone who does the avoidance and challenge test comes away with a greater insight into how food affects their mind and body.
When Saturday rolls around, let her eat all the pizza, soda, ice cream, sugar-coated cereal, and sweets she can stomach. The aftermath of such a day may be filled with stomachache, headache, irritability, gas, bloating, lethargy, diarrhea, or constipation.
Have her write down how she feels after indulging in these foods. If it’s in her own handwriting that she made seven bathroom trips after eating pizza and ice cream, she may be more likely to believe it two months down the line when she is tempted by pizza.
Keep a kid’s food diary to connect symptoms and triggers
When your child isn’t doing avoidance and challenge testing, keeping a food diary can help him make a connection between food and his physical and emotional symptoms. Depending on age, your child can keep a paper diary, an electronic one on his computer or cellphone, or put all the facts on a big chalkboard.
Younger children can use happy faces, neutral faces, or sad faces to illustrate how they feel after eating various foods. You can even make a game out of collecting happy faces in your child’s food diary; he feels like he’s winning at something, and you know he really is winning because he’s eating more safe food.
Keep in mind that younger kids may not be able to make the connection between food and symptoms, even with a food diary. You may have to explain that what your child eats may be what’s affecting his body.