The FODMAP Diaries - Part 2
Updated: Nov 6, 2020
After much longer than I anticipated, I’m back with part 2 of my foray into FODMAPs. For anyone who hasn’t already, check out part 1 first which explains a bit about what FODMAPs are, and what The FODMAP Challenge is and how it all works. I took a little break from The FODMAP Challenge over the Christmas holidays (after checking with the dietician who runs the program) to to basically make my life easier with all the travel and social occasions, so I only finished the final week of the Challenge Phase in February. Since then, I’ve gone into the Re-introduction Phase (aka the rest of my life), and I’ve only really just gotten to the point where I felt like I’ve learnt enough to be able to sit back and reflect on it all to do this post.
I want to start by saying that everyone is different - not everyone is going to react to the same FODMAPs, or the same quantities, or they may not react to any at all. Personally, I did find a few triggers and I luckily didn’t react to every FODMAP, but I am now no longer friends with lactose (but can tolerate very small amounts), mannitol (RIP cauli rice and sweet potato fries), wheat fructans (goodbye big bowls of pasta), and fructans in onion (and garlic in big quantities).
Looking at this list now, it’s no mystery to me why I probably had some of the gut symptoms that I did prior to going low FODMAP. Onion and garlic were in literally every single meal, I loved munching on huge amounts of celery with peanut butter (don’t judge it ’til you try it) and I could smash a loaf of bread like it was going out of fashion. The good news is that I can still eat most of these things in small quantities, and the eventual goal is to be able to build up tolerance levels to these foods over the long term, so it’s only good-bye for now!
Finding out that I do have reactions to some FODMAPs, and what they actually are, has helped me keep moving along my quest for managing my IBD and IBS. Having the knowledge now that I do have these intolerances has been a huge game-changer for me. It means that I can make decisions about the food I eat with a fairly good idea of whether or not my body will hate me for it later, and that in itself is actually pretty empowering. My gut symptoms were the best they’d been in a really long time, I felt better, had more energy and generally saw some pretty good physical benefits once I’d started. I got to try new foods and new recipes (like delicious one pictured above) that I never would have without going on the Challenge (I didn’t even know what a swede was and had to Google how to cook it).
There’s no sugar-coating it - 14 weeks of sticking to a fairly restrictive diet, even though it was for purely medical reasons, was tough. The first 4 weeks of eating strictly low FODMAP to essentially get a clean slate for your gut were challenging in their own way - learning what was high FODMAP and totally out of the question, what foods were still able to be eaten in “safe” serving sizes, and just wrapping my head around it all was overwhelming at times. In the last few weeks of the Challenge, I felt like my resolve and determination were fading at times. I definitely had a few, er, indiscretions, possibly involving some high FODMAP serves of chocolate among other things (which is obviously totally okay).
Sometimes I did feel a bit restricted and like I was missing out on things, which is not something you want to be feeling in the long-term. But like I mentioned in my first post, strictly low FODMAP is not something you follow forever and it’s not a weight-loss diet, so reminding myself that I was doing this for medical reasons and keeping sight of the end goal were pretty important.
So the big question is, was it all worth it? Absolutely. For me, the good things outweighed the bad. I think even if I had no reactions, I still learnt so much about food, digestion and gut health that it was worth every minute. I also learnt quite a few lessons, some the hard way, so I’ve put together my top tips to help anyone who might be looking at starting The FODMAP Challenge or any sort of low FODMAP protocol. All of these tips are pretty transferrable to the Re-Introduction phase and going forward into every day life, especially where you did react to FODMAPs and have identified your intolerances.
Download the Monash University FODMAP Diet app before getting started - it costs about $12 as a one-off purchase, but I promise it’s worth it! It was an absolute lifesaver for me when trying to work out the low FODMAP serving sizes of certain foods, and what foods to avoid completely during the Elimination phase. Perfect for when you’re out and about and need the info on the fly.
Get some qualified advice and guidance. It seems like it’s simple but like all major changes to your diet it’s important that you’re getting correct info from reputable sources who are experienced with FODMAPs, and are making sure you’re not inadvertently making yourself nutritionally deficient which is easy to do if you wing it on your own.
Get rid of temptations - at least temporarily. Don’t buy or keep high FODMAP foods around while you’re doing the challenge. It’s only temporary as strictly low FODMAP isn’t forever, so for the time being instead stock your fridge and pantry with low FODMAP fruit, veggies, grains and pantry staples and focus on all the things you can add to your diet.
Try to start a low FODMAP challenge when you know you don’t have many social events on and can avoid eating out as often. It’s definitely not impossible to have a social life or go out for meals, but it does make life easier if you can prepare your own food so you know exactly what’s in it. If you do have these types of occasions, I found it easier to bring my own food or snacks (e.g. low FODMAP crackers and cheese to a picnic, eating my own dinner at a friend’s house).
Always keep FODMAP friendly options on hand for when the snack attack hits. I was caught out many a times, usually going out for food or to an event where there were no FODMAP safe options, so keeping things like low FODMAP fruit, nuts, crackers, muesli bars, popcorn etc in your bag in case of a hangry emergency. You’ll thank me later.
Being prepared is also part of this - planning out your meals in advance, buying the ingredients you need, meal prepping if that’s your thing, ringing the restaurant ahead to check that they can cater for you are all going to make your life easier.
Be as flexible as you can. Despite being organised and prepared (see points 5 and 6), there will be times where things are outside of your control and all you can do is make the best of what you have. It’s not the end of the world if you eat something that is high FODMAP, you just give yourself enough time for any effects or symptoms to pass and go right back to where toy were.
While I definitely had some success with pinpointing some intolerances to FODMAPs, cutting them out and avoiding them for good is definitely not the magic cure to all gut issues. I still get some form of abnormal symptoms most days, but there’s been a definite improvement in how often or how bad my gut plays up. My quest for good gut health is still a work in progress, and having IBD and IBS means that it will probably be a life-long learning process. FODMAPs are only part of the puzzle. Things like managing stress, not eating overly large meals, getting enough sleep and looking at other types of food intolerances are all part of the puzzle that I’m excited to keep trying to put together.
I’ve been referred to see a dietician who specialises in gut health, so I’ll hopefully be able to do another post in the near future about where that takes me and keep sharing my gut health journey.