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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Inflammatory Bowel Disease

General Guidelines for Managing Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Lifestyle changes play an important role in controlling symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. The main steps that you can take to help manage this condition are:

Avoid Foods That Trigger Attacks

Foods that trigger attacks are different for each person. In a notebook, keep a list of the foods you eat and any symptoms that occur or worsen after eating these foods. Discuss the findings with your doctor or dietitian.

Dairy foods commonly trigger attacks. This is believed to be due to intolerance to lactose (milk sugar) in dairy foods. If dairy foods are a problem for you, ask a dietitian to help you make substitutions or recommend supplements to ensure that you get enough calcium and other nutrients. Nondairy foods rich in calcium include:

  • Calcium-fortified foods, such as orange juice and soy milk
  • Canned salmon or anchovies with bones
  • Dried figs
  • Turnip greens

Other foods that commonly cause attacks include:

  • Highly seasoned foods
  • High-fiber foods
  • Alcohol

Take Nutritional Supplements When Needed

If there are many foods that you must avoid because they trigger reactions and/or cause diarrhea, you may not be meeting your nutrient needs. Your doctor or dietitian may suggest high-calorie supplements to provide additional nutrients and calories, which are needed for healing.

Manage the Stress in Your Life

Although stress does not cause inflammatory bowel disease, as in many illnesses, increased stress may play a role in making symptoms worse. Seek out emotional support from your family and caregivers. There are many support groups for people with inflammatory bowel disease, and these groups may have helpful suggestions for how to manage the challenges of this disease. In addition, you may benefit from stress reduction training and relaxation therapies, like meditation. Getting regular exercise and adequate sleep can also help.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if you develop the following:

  • Fever
  • Bleeding
  • Worsening abdominal pain or diarrhea

Crohn disease in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated May 16, 2018. Accessed December 21, 2018.

IBD. American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: Accessed December 21, 2018.

Living with Crohn's & colitis. Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America website. Available at: Accessed December 21, 2018.

Ulcerative colitis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated October 26, 2018. Accessed December 21, 2018.

Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardDaus Mahnke, MD  Last Updated: 11/20/2020