The FODMAP Diaries - Part 1
Updated: Nov 6, 2020
Since getting diagnosed with UC earlier this year, I've been fumbling my way through figuring out how it fits in my life, how to live with it, and how to manage it. So far the meds I take every day have kept me out of a flare (huge thumbs up there), but still the same old pain, same old bloating and other usual symptoms have pretty much still been a daily event.
My gastroenterologist had told me I needed to have a look at my diet as well as taking the medication as a way to control my symptoms, but I guess I'd always eaten what I had considered to be a pretty "healthy" diet, and didn't really think anything I was eating could potentially be a problem. Still, a few months later things hadn't improved and I was pretty fed up with feeling so awful, so I decided it was probably time to stop dragging my feet and knuckle down on the food front.
I first went and saw a dietitian about my ongoing symptoms, which was when I was really properly introduced to FODMAPs. Rather than trying to explain what FODMAPs are, where they're found and how they can trigger IBS symptoms, I suggest checking out the Monash University resources on their webpage (https://www.monashfodmap.com/). This is a good little excerpt from their website:
"FODMAPs are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut, which can trigger symptoms in people with IBS. FODMAPs are found naturally in many foods and food additives."
After getting advice from the dietitian and deciding I would start with trialing a low FODMAP diet, I went and signed up to "The FODMAP Challenge" (https://fodmapchallenge.com), an online course specifically designed to help determine gut triggers (both FODMAP and non-food related). The course runs for about 14 weeks through 3 different stages - Elimination, Challenge and Re-introduction.
The Elimination Phase runs for the first 4 weeks, during which time I ate strictly low FODMAP foods to reduce any gastrointestinal symptoms I've been experiencing. I've tended to think of it as like starting from a clean slate.
The Challenge Phase then runs for the next 8 - 10 weeks where I've been testing a designated FODMAP group each week while still eliminating other FODMAPs. Once you finish the week challenging that particular FODMAP, you go back to eliminating it until the end of the phase. I've been guided by The FODMAP Challenge program as it clearly tells you how to complete the challenge each week with suggested foods for each challenge group, recommended serving sizes to test with and even recipes that incorporate the challenge food.
Finally, the Re-introduction Phase is where I will go back to a relatively normal diet, but now avoiding or reducing the foods that contain FODMAP groups I've reacted to.
Throughout the whole process I've been recording everything I eat, symptoms, stress levels and any reactions on the Monash University FODMAP Diet app, which has been pretty tedious but I've managed to turn it into an almost-habit by now. The app has actually been incredibly helpful on the challenge so far as it has a feature where you can search almost any food and see if it's high FODMAP or not, what FODMAP group it belongs to and the recommended low FODMAP serving size.
Obviously I'm no expert (and definitely not qualified to give any advice) but I thought sharing my own personal experience with the FODMAP diet could be useful for anyone else out there who might be wondering about what it's actually like to do practically, and if I've found it useful or not.
The biggest and most important things I learnt very early on were that:
1. Healthy food doesn't always equal what's best for your "health";
2. FODMAPs are in foods I never even knew could potentially cause issues; and
3. Eating low FODMAP is actually a medical diet that isn't followed forever.
Also, it is HARD. Extremely thankful it's not a diet you follow for life because I promise you, limiting yourself to only 20 grams of chocolate and other delish high FODMAP foods requires superhuman mind control!
That being said, I'm currently on week 9 and can definitely see some benefits already. So far I've challenged fructose, lactose, onion, garlic and mannitol, and have confirmed my long-held suspicion that I'm lactose intolerant in anything above a small amount (sad face), and onion is not my friend (also sad face). Good news is garlic passed the test, so garlic bread will still be on the menu at this stage!
I still have some really awful days that are just part of life with a chronic illness no matter how well I stick to the FODMAP diet, so it's been tricky working out if I'm reacting to the food or it's the IBD to blame. But I have noticed a difference in the reduction of my symptoms (when I'm not challenging), so I'm actually looking forward to seeing what the rest of the challenge brings.
I'll follow this post up with a Part 2 once I've finished the Challenge Phase in about 5 weeks with some tips, what I've learnt so far, and the good and not-so-good parts of this lifestyle change - to be continued!