Irritable Bowel Syndrome/Moving on


Dear Heather,

I started applying your dietary suggestions 4 years ago as I was suffering with the classic symptoms. The more I read about the diet, possible triggers and the desperate tales of others with the condition the more anxious I became about symptoms worsening and the more restrictive I became. I have suffered significant emotional upheavals and trauma and I feel this has been the real cause of the IBS symptoms, along with the inflammation and unusual antibodies in the gut I was subsequently diagnosed as having.

However, I feel I have 'taken on' the belief that 'I have IBS' and 'IBS is an incurable condition.' Despite my latest tests showing physical improvements I have barely been able to leave the house in the last 3 months because all my time is spent measuring, preparing, cooking and baking. I prepare everything I eat from scratch and measure fat to the half a degree. I don't eat anything raw and long for salad and muesli and to be able to go somewhere, without my entire life being dictated by food. I'm a particularly diligent person and when someone says be careful, I am careful to the tiniest degree. So, your dietary advice has not freed me in the way it seems to have done for so many, but instead I am imprisoned and quite at a loss for how to get free. I was hoping you may be able to offer me some encouragement in believing my body can cope.

Even though I feel the stomach pains and bowel irregularities are caused by emotions and not food, (I still have physical problems when stressed, but a lot of the stress is from the demands of the diet!) I still have this real fear of my body reacting terribly to foods outside the limited few, and know that this fear will keep repeating the cycle. I have taken on these beliefs from your good intentions and I'm hoping you can now release me from them, as this is clearly not what you had in mind!

Thank you.

IBS Hypnosis Program
IBS Hypnosis Program  
Hi Maisie - thank you so much for sharing your story. I am really sorry for what you have been going through.

IBS is medically defined as a brain-gut disorder. You are absolutely right - stress, emotions, trauma, etc. can all absolutely - no doubt whatsoever - trigger, exacerbate, and prolong IBS symptoms. Literally anything that stresses the body, even in a good way (excitement about a big event like a wedding) - or exterior ways, like hot humid weather - will affect the serotonin levels in the gut. This in turn affects IBS.

Does this mean IBS is just all in your mind and if you would just relax already you'd be fine? No - IBS is not psychosomatic. You're not imagining this, you're not causing this, IBS is not a mental disorder. It is is physical. But it is physically a dysfunction of both your gut and your brain, and the way the nervous system of your gut (called the enteric nervous system) interacts with your brain.

There is a whole lot of interesting information about this here

Now, having said that, if you are so worried about diet causing symptoms that the stress from this worry triggers IBS symptoms, then you are definitely caught in a vicious cycle. And you should not have to be spending so much time, work, and worry to manage your diet for IBS.

When someone gets to this point with IBS, I think the absolute best way to break the cycle, stop the stress/anxiety component, and physically get the function of your brain-gut interactions back on track is gut-directed hypnotherapy. It is one of the best-researched, most successful treatment avenues for IBS, period. It also tends to be a treatment of last resort, which is just terrible. IBS researchers in both the US and the UK have actually called for gut-directed hypnotherapy to be the first avenue of treatment for IBS, because the results are so impressive.

The really good news is that the UK is the leading center of IBS-specific hypnotherapy. It was pioneered in England, and has been so officially incorporated into IBS treatments now that many gastroenterology medical centers have hypnotherapists on staff.

I'm going to send you here so you can read all about this option. Just follow the links through - you can choose in-person hypnotherapy, where you'll visit the doctor for several months, or you can do an at home program that you listen to on CDs.

Interestingly, the best at-home program available is by Michael Mahoney - who has a practice in the UK. Michael Mahoney holds a private practice in Cheshire, England, and sees NHS (National Health Service) patients at Guardian Medical Centre, and is also currently on staff as consultant therapist at Hollins Park hospital ( formerly Winwick Psychiatric Hospital). He's been focusing on IBS patients since 1986.

If you can see him in person, please do so. If you can't, you can use his at home program. You can listen to samples and actually order it here

There is so much great research on gut-directed hypnotherapy it's a little overwhelming - check here

Please hang in there. You are not alone, and you are not even in a situation that is all that unusual for people with IBS. The brain-gut disorder is not imaginary, or your fault, or something you should be able to just overcome with will power. It's not likely to get better and just go away on its own, as it is a physical problem. But - you can directly affect it, probably dramatically, and put it into the background of your life and your body through gut-directed hypnotherapy.

Please let me know how things go.


Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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Heather Van Vorous


I can address questions regarding diet, cooking, recipes, and non-pharmaceutical supplements (soluble fiber, herbal, probiotics, etc.) for IBS. I can supply information sources about diagnostic guidelines, symptoms, and the medical pathology of IBS, but I cannot give a diagnosis or analyze test results a patient has obtained. I would prefer not to answer questions about prescription drugs and diagnostic tests. PLEASE DO NOT TELL ME YOUR SYMPTOMS AND THEN ASK ME TO DIAGNOSE YOU!


I'm the founder and CEO of, an organization dedicated to serving people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. My goal is to offer education, support, and help that allows people with IBS to successfully manage their symptoms through lifestyle modifications.

I'm the author of Eating for IBS, the only explicit dietary guide and cookbook for people with bowel disorders. Eating for IBS then led to my second book, The First Year: IBS, a comprehensive view of the disorder and every way to successfully manage it. Together, these works have become the two best-selling, best-reviewed IBS books in America.

My writing has led to an ongoing Canadian clinical research study of the groundbreaking dietary guidelines for Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Eating for IBS; this work also led to my inclusion in the 4th edition of Who's Who in Medicine and Healthcare. Today's Dietitian has featured my IBS dietary guidelines, and my work has reached gastroenterologists and internists. I'm the author of "Heather's IBS Newsletter", which is free to subscribers and is published twice monthly. As a result, I've become recognized as the foremost patient-expert on IBS in America. I've personally had IBS since age 9.

I now teach classes on managing IBS through lifestyle modifications, I developed the Heather's Tummy Care line of organic medical foods for the dietary management of IBS, and I'm planning to work with corporate HR departments to offer employee IBS education programs. I host Heather Cooks!, the Seattle television cooking show for good digestive health, which is now available on DVD and also on the HelpForIBS YouTube Channel.

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