Healing isn’t linear. If you have IBS or IBD, and you are working to restore and heal your gut, setbacks are part of the process. Just when you thought everything was going swimmingly, bam! You get hit with a flareup of diarrhea, bloating, gut pain, bleeding, cramping, fatigue, change in stool, and/or frequent bathroom visits.
If you’re experiencing a gut flare, this post is for you. I created this little reset for my clients to calm inflammation and pain and regulate stools and digestion if you’re in a flare. If you have Crohn’s, colitis, diverticulitis, or any inflammatory gut-related issue that causes flares, you can use this reset.
This 3-5 day plan incorporates limited and easy-to-digest fruits, protein, and vegetables. You can do this plan anytime you experience gut pain or a flareup of symptoms. Get creative as to how you want to prepare the foods, but I’ve given you suggestions and two recipes below.
Before we get going, you might be wondering what causes a gut flare? Unfortunately there isn’t a black and white answer (that’s code for we don’t really know), but here are a few main causes:
- stress, which raises cortisol levels and can affect the terrain of the gut or trigger diarrhea
- food sensitivities or a change in diet
- trigger foods (common with GERD or gastritis)
- certain strains of gut bacteria growing out of balance
- NSAID drugs: Aleve, Advil, aspirin
How to Calm a Gut Flare Up: Foods to Eat
The goal is to eliminate foods that can trigger flares, are inflammatory, or are harder to digest. You’ll be focusing on a very limited number of easy-to-digest and lower FODMAP foods. The FODMAP foods contain starches that can irritate the small and large intestines. (read more here)
- Bone broth (if you don’t want to make your own, buy this brand. Fast shipping!)
- Shredded chicken, ground meat (turkey, chicken, beef, bison) or wild salmon
- Eggs (provided you do not have an egg sensitivity)
- Smoothies made with limited ingredients like bone broth protein (this one is dairy free) and banana. (note that cold smoothies may worsen diarrhea in some people)
- Banana, blueberries
- Spinach or Swiss chard (lower FODMAP option), potato or sweet potato*, cooked carrot, zucchini
- Grated fresh ginger (add to smoothies or make a tea)
- Peppermint tea (anti-spasmodic), slippery elm
- White rice
- Canned pumpkin, which soothes diarrhea
*potatoes will not work for everyone and may worsen IBS if you have SIBO.
Foods to Avoid
- Anything not mentioned above
- Grains, dairy, soy, sugar, processed food
- Coffee, alcohol, any caffeinated tea
- Raw foods
- High FODMAP foods, especially onion, garlic
- Cruciferous: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts. Kale may be ok if well cooked, as it is low FODMAP.
- Starchy foods (sweet potato may be an exception)
- Nuts & seeds
- Thickeners, additives, guar gum, carrageenan (major gut irritants, found in canned coconut milks & almond milk)
How to Calm a Gut Flare Up: Good Habits
- Drink lots of water and herbal teas that work for you
- Use glutamine powder: Try this one, 2 scoops per day
- Take a probiotic if appropriate for you (avoid if you have SIBO) several times daily + saccharomyces boulardii if diarrhea
- Consider a digestive enzyme
- Practice stress relief and sleep hygiene (many flares are causes by a surge in stress hormones)
- Try water kefir or gut shots (the probiotic liquid in krauts and ferments)
- At the end of your reset, reintroduce foods slowly
- For watery diarrhea you can take 2 activated charcoal caps daily with 8oz water. Make sure to take these away from food and other supplements or meds.
How to Calm a Gut Flare Up: Example Menu
Use limited spices: sea salt and black pepper only. Oregano and thyme may be OK. NO garlic or onion powder, spice blends, or any spices with heat.
Note that you can adjust this however you like. Some people do meat patties with hard boiled eggs for breakfast and gut healing soup for lunch and dinner. The worse your flare, the more limited ingredients you want. Decreasing vegetables and focusing on meat and broth only may be the best option for some.
Breakfast: Smoothie with bone broth protein and/or collagen protein, banana (use green tipped which is a lower FODMAP option and great for diarrhea), additive-free coconut or almond milk, frozen blueberries. 2 hard boiled eggs with sea salt if you need additional protein.
Lunch: Turkey burgers with roasted carrot (drizzle chopped carrots with olive oil; sprinkle with sea salt; roast about 30-45 minute in a 425F degree oven).
Snack: mug of bone broth with sea salt
Dinner: gut healing soup (see below for recipe) with shredded chicken, zucchini, spinach, carrot. Add sweet potato if you can have potatoes, or use white rice, which is easy to digest. ➡️Jump to Recipe⬅️
Breakfast: 2-4 scrambled eggs with sea salt and spinach or chard. Smoothie if needed.
Lunch: leftover gut healing soup
Snack: smoothie or mug of bone broth
Dinner: leftover turkey burgers with roasted carrot and white rice
Breakfast: smoothie with 2 hard boiled eggs
Lunch: gut healing soup
Snack: leftover turkey patty
Dinner: bunless beef burger with roasted carrot or carrot puree + sauteed chard and/or white rice
- GI Revive or glutamine
- Herbal teas: especially ginger, peppermint, slippery elm
- Probiotic and saccharomyces boulardii
- Digestive enzyme
Gut Soothing Smoothie
- 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
- 1 banana frozen will make this smoothie creamier and thicker
- 1/2 cup almond milk, more or less for desired thickness no additives or gums
- 1 scoop collagen or bone broth protein
- Add everything to blender and blend.
Note that sweet potato or potato may worsen symptoms in some people.
Gut Healing Soup
- 1 tbsp coconut or olive oil
- 1 chicken breast or a couple thighs, shredded can use leftover already cooked
- 2 carrots, shredded
- 1 sweet potato, diced
- 1 bunch spinach or Swiss chard
- zucchini, sliced or use zucchini noodles for zoodle soup
- 4 cups bone broth or chicken stock
- Heat oil in large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, then add chicken. Season with a little sea salt. Saute meat until browned; remove from pan. Skip this step if you're using leftover cooked chicken.
- To the same pot, add carrot, potatoes, and stock. Bring to simmer and turn heat to low. Simmer till vegetables are tender, about 15-20 minutes, and season as needed.
- Add greens and/or other veggies or zucchini noodles. Simmer til tender, about 5 minutes.
- Add chicken back to pot. *If adding already cooked chicken, add it at this stage.
- Add spices: sea salt, thyme, oregano, etc. Simmer til flavors come together. This is just a base-- add whatever veggies you have on hand, but stick to low FODMAP. I like a dash of tamari too.
If you’re experiencing a gut flare, a 3-5 day reset is exactly what you need to calm your system. There are many ways to customize your reset, but be sure to include gut soothing foods and eliminate the harder-to-digest and inflammatory foods. Supplements help also. You could also consider a 3 day bone broth fast, especially if your symptoms are severe, but consult your doctor or get support if you are underweight.
Let me know how your reset goes!
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.