Fearful of fibre? 4 simple ways to retrain your gut

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By The Gut Health Doctor Team

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At The Gut Health Doctor we’re all about the power of plants – but what if you’re one of the millions who suffer from a ‘sensitive’ stomach and feel like plants don’t agree with you? Good news: you can help train your gut to embrace plant diversity again.

Are you fearful of fibre?

Over 30% of adults experience a sensitive gut at some point in their life, whether that be constipation, burdensome bloating, IBS or even stomach upset from a bug or course of antibiotics.

In clinic, we find that many people with gut symptoms will often strip a lot of high fibre foods out of their diet (such as veggies and legumes) when their gut flares up in an effort to reduce gut activity. The issue is that many then tend to feel frightened about adding it back into their diet in case their symptoms pop back up. We get it: it can feel safer to stick with low-fibre foods such as meat, fish and refined carbs. But the thing is, restricting your diet in this way means that you’re unlikely to get enough of your gut microbes favourite nutrients such as fibre and other plant chemicals. The science shows that both you and your gut needs these in your diet daily to be your healthiest and happiest self.

If you have a condition such as IBS, you may have even been advised to limit a group of carbs packed with fibre called FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols), which are found in many plant foods. And while it is true this diet can be beneficial** in the short term for sufferers, it should only be followed for a maximum of eight weeks with the goal to give your stressed gut some downtime. In fact, our research team at King’s College London have shown that cutting FODMAPs out longer term can reduce some beneficial anti-inflammatory bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria. Even if you’ve been advised to eliminate certain foods, it’s not advisable to cut them out for life (the exception of course is a diagnosed allergy or coeliac disease).

We want everyone to enjoy the benefits of a deliciously diverse diet, so here are our 4 steps to get you started with training your gut…

1. Slow and steady

So how do you retrain your gut to enjoy fibre? Think of it like going to the gym! If you avoid exercise for a long time and then suddenly hit the gym too hard, you’re going to feel the repercussions i.e sore muscles. The same goes for your fibre intake: going from a low-fibre diet to a plant-rich one is likely to cause unwelcomed bloating, gas and changes to bowel

 movements. When welcoming fibre back onto your plate it’s better to enjoy small amounts

 at each meal that you then build up slowly over the course of a few months, instead of an all-or-nothing approach. This gives your microbes time to adapt to the increased nutrient load and figure out which enzymes are needed for the most efficient fibre digestion.

2. Little by little

If you find a particular plant food triggers your sensitive gut, try re-introducing it gradually and in small portions. Take legumes (beans and pulses) for example: start with half a tablespoon daily for the first week; and then in the second, increase to one tablespoon. You want to feel a little gut activity — that fizzing and popping sensation is your microbes celebrating this new way of eating — but if there’s too much, reduce it to one tablespoon every second day.

  1. And breathe….

For a relaxed gut, we need a relaxed mind. When we are stressed, this message is relayed to our gut and vital energy is moved away from digesting your food, often resulting in trapped gas. That’s why on some days you’re fine with a particular higher-fibre food, but on other, stressier days, it’s instant pain!

This explains why a 2017 study by the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany showed that two weekly sessions for 12 weeks of gut-directed yoga were as effective as the low-FODMAP diet for reducing symptoms such as bloating in people with IBS.

Another easy option is ‘box’ breathing. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold for four, then slowly breathe out through your nose for four seconds, and hold for four. Repeat this for a minute or two.

  1. Get some support 

The stress of dealing with a sensitive gut alone can lead to a cycle of even more stress. Sharing your concerns through working with a registered dietitian can help you develop an easy-to-follow plan that suits you. At The Gut Health Clinic, we have a team of specialists who can support you through your journey and provide you with a personalised gut retraining programme.

Illustration of a shopping basket containing a pumpkin and aubergine with a women alongside reaching for a heart


The long-term benefits of retraining a sensitive gut are worth it: according to a 2022 study by Bergen University, adding more plants into your daily diet can add an extra decade to your life. Trust your gut microbes, as with a little time and patience, they’ll get you back to enjoying the increased energy and array of flavours that plant diversity brings.


**For a less restrictive approach to the low FODMAP diet which is considered a medical diet given under the support of a FODMAP trained dietitian, we have developed the ‘FODMAP-lite’ approach, that you can try at home. Check out the IBS chapter of Eat Yourself Healthy for our step-by-step plan.

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Are you burdened by bloating?

Dr Megan Rossi’s (PhD, RD) Bloating Masterclass will guide you on a journey to better master your bloating. Combines virtual training with guidance, tools and expert resources to support you to feel more confident, comfortable and in control of your bloating.

For all enquires please email [email protected].


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