January 2021

4 Tips for Living with a Digestive Disorder


Digestive disorders can be uncomfortable, but they don’t have to control your life. Follow these tips to ease your symptoms and manage the condition. A few simple changes can make a big difference.


1. Know your nutrition needs

Dietary changes can help ease the symptoms of many digestive disorders. For some conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, nutrition is a very important part of managing the disease.

Different digestive disorders have different nutritional requirements:

  • For gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Avoid eating or drinking things that make heartburn worse. Common culprits include coffee, spicy foods, alcoholic beverages, and high-fat foods.

  • For celiac disease: It is crucial to avoid foods and drinks with gluten. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, and wheat. Always check the ingredients on food labels.

  • For Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis: Your healthcare provider may recommend a special diet, such as a lactose-free diet, depending on your symptoms. He or she may also recommend supplements if you have trouble absorbing nutrients.

  • For irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Large meals can trigger cramping and diarrhea, so eat small meals throughout the day. Also, gradually add more high-fiber foods to your diet to help with constipation.


Talk with your provider or a dietitian to learn which diet changes could help you.


2. Keep a food diary

Writing down what you eat can help you learn which foods cause you trouble. This is especially helpful for disorders such as IBS and Crohn’s disease, for which certain foods can trigger or worsen symptoms. A food diary is also a key part of diagnosing food allergies.


In your food diary, write down everything you eat and drink during the day. Record how much you consume and at what time. In the same diary, write down what symptoms you have and when they occur.


Share your food diary with your healthcare provider. You may need to cut out foods that cause you problems.


3. Stop smoking

Smoking contributes to many digestive diseases, including cancers of the digestive system. Here are a few ways smoking affects digestive diseases:

  • Smoking increases the risk for heartburn and GERD. That’s because smoking weakens the muscle that keeps stomach acid from backing up into the esophagus.

  • People with Crohn’s disease who smoke tend to have worse and more frequent symptoms.

  • Smoking damages the liver’s ability to process medications, which can affect the dose needed to treat a digestive disorder.


Ready to quit? Go to Smokefree.gov to create your quit plan and learn about managing cravings.


4. Partner with your Healthcare team

Work closely with your healthcare provider and specialists to get the best care possible. Tell your provider about all your symptoms, even if you think they’re embarrassing. And make sure all your doctors have a full health history, a list of all the medicinesyou take, and all your test results.


Together, you and your healthcare team can help manage your digestive disorder so that you can live a full life.


Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Williams, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2020
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.