It’s hard to believe it’s been 365 days since I first began the FODMAP diet for IBS. What a weird yet tasty journey! Back in May 2014, I’d never heard of the low FODMAP diet, and was surprised to find so much information, recipes, and support out there! This diet went from troubleshooting to experimentation to lifestyle. It truly has changed my way of eating, living, and my way of thinking about food. I reflect on the diet that I had for over 30 years, and now it’s so obvious why it wasn’t working for me. Eating bread 3-4 times a day, eating high fat, high sugar sweets after every meal, reveling in garlic-filled EVERYTHING, etc etc etc…no wonder I felt like garbage most of the time!
I actually enjoy the diet now and have decided I’m not going to try the LEAP diet at this time. Between the LEAP restrictions and my FODMAP restrictions, it felt too confining, and for the the most part, I’m very happy with how my body responds to the FODMAP diet.
Here are some things I’ve learned since making the change to low FODMAP:
1. Just because it’s healthy, doesn’t mean it’s for you
This was one of the biggest “HUH???” moments for me when I started the diet. How could I be so sick? I eat broccoli, brussel sprouts, onions, garlic, pomegranates, and watermelon! I only consume low fat dairy! I stay away from most sugary drinks! When I eat chocolate, it’s dark chocolate! I only eat whole grains!! For one thing, as noted above, I tended to overindulge, even in the good things. For another thing, not everything that is healthy or a “superfood” is FODMAP-friendly. It went against everything I learned about health, digestion, and wellness. There are many, many healthy things a person can eat in abundance on a low FODMAP diet that are just as good for you, and that helped clear some of the confusion for me.
2. Plan and prepare, ALWAYS
I feel pretty fortunate that for the most part, if I wasn’t able to prepare all my meals for the day, I could usually find something at my job that was low FODMAP appropriate. But what a pain that was at times! Preparing and planning meals in advance was incredibly helpful. It helped me stay on the diet, and it helped me eat! My issue can be that if I don’t plan, and I have nothing to eat, I just won’t eat until I go home from work. Or if I didn’t plan dinner, I just ate eggs…again. While I love eggs, I don’t love eating them for dinner every night. Make a shopping list regularly, make time to go to the grocery store, make time to meal prep. This doesn’t all have to be done in the same day! It can be spread out over several days to feel less overwhelming. Eating well and eating enough are very important things, make time for them!
3. Stuff just kinda sneaks in
I’d be eating something that I’d had several times, with no issue. But suddenly, the food baby would start to grow, and I’d be horribly bloated and distended. Sometimes, things aren’t “safe”. And just be prepared for that! Carry your debloating, degassifying things with you. Things I made at home would be safe, but I can’t always control what a restaurant puts in their burger. I would assume it was safe, and then find out it wasn’t. Don’t feel bad if things just kind of sneak in on you, just prepare as best you can and take care of your body.
4. It’s OK if it’s not perfect
I did the entire FODMAP elimination process wrong. I found out that my rice blend that I used for sides and stir fry had barley in it, a big “no no” in FODMAPS. This entire time, I consumed barley. My elimination process wasn’t perfect, but I still did the best I could and eliminated a lot of triggers. I stopped eating the offending rice blend, and bought new rice. Problem solved! This is a very restrictive diet, and it is hard to get elimination absolutely perfect. Try you best and do what you can.
5. Gluten free is not a savior
My experience with gluten free goods started out like an exciting new romantic relationship from summer camp: I felt carefree and happy at first, then I was kind of getting sick of it but still enjoyed their company, and then I couldn’t wait to part ways with them by the end of summer. Gluten free helps many FODMAPpers eat baked goods, pasta, and other food items again, which is wonderful. I just happen to hate the way most gluten free items taste. I’ve tried baking my own items, and I still think gluten free food is just too heavy, too dense, and too crumbly for me. I can also attest that a gluten free diet DOES NOT guarantee weight loss. I did not lose weight when I went gluten free for the FODMAP elimination, or since then. A product with calories is a product with calories, plain and simple. I was less bloated as a gluten free person, but I did not lose any weight. Also, one of the most wonderful (and yet tricky) things about being low FODMAP is that you can have gluten, just not wheat, rye, or barley. Of course, that’s a challenge in and of itself: find a wheat free, gluten filled product. I’ve had a lot of luck with spelt bread and sourdough bread. I love that I can eat a bread product again!
6. Be prepared to explain your diet to others
Many people I encountered had (and still have) no idea what the FODMAP diet was. It’s not very popular (yet!!) in the US. Many people assumed I had an allergy to dairy and wheat (I don’t), or that I had celiac disease (nope). And in explaining, I had to explain A LOT about myself and my IBS. More than any stranger or acquaintance probably ever cared to know. It helped people understand why I couldn’t eat something they’d made or that sometimes, I need to leave a restaurant immediately due to stomach discomfort. A little bit of TMI went a long way for me.
I love to cook, so I was kind of excited to cook new items and learn different ways of preparing food. It wasn’t fun all the time, but it taught me a lot about different ways to season food and how to substitute ingredients. This is a diet where you will have to cook and plan to cook (see item #2). If you’re not much for cooking, look at the things you do make and go from there. Do you enjoy making breakfast food? Start there and move to lunches and dinners. If you have someone who cooks for you, help them figure out how to cook low FODMAP so you’re more involved in the process and developing your own cooking skills.
8. Be ready to get multiple opinions from multiple professionals
I’m so thankful that my GI diagnosed me with IBS, and suggested the low FODMAP diet, but I haven’t always been this lucky with medical professionals. I had to seek out a lot of different opinions before any doctor suggested a diet change that wasn’t just “eat more fiber”. And even after working my GI, I had to seek out a dietitian to address how to challenge eliminated foods, as my GI didn’t do that. It’s OK to get different opinions, this is your health and your body we’re talking about!!! You are the only one who lives and experiences your body on a daily basis, so if something doesn’t seem right, ask questions or seek another opinion before making any significant changes.
9. If you want to cheat, do it well
I usually plan to “cheat” and eat my trigger foods. It involves planning how quickly I might have to get home, bringing my heartburn medication, planning what I eat up to cheating, and how I eat after. This holds me accountable for staying on track and staying on the diet with a few deviations here and there. In the past, I would “cheat” and then decide I might as well keep “cheating” because I’d already ruined my eating for the day. That is not a great situation for a FODMAPper, because eating poorly all day can mean flare ups for hours if not days. Don’t deprive yourself, but don’t use it as an excuse to go hog wild. Be mindful of how you want to feel for the rest of the day and week. I have had “cheat” moments where I did it well, and I’ve had MANY moments where I did it wrong, and paid the price.
10. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want
This is something I still work on. I have a really hard time asking questions about my food when I go out to eat or go to a farmer’s market. I am afraid the server or farmer will think I’m annoying, “one of THOSE people” who probably doesn’t even have an allergy. The latter part is true, I don’t have an allergy, but I do have digestive discomfort and have a right to decide if I feel like consuming onions today or not. So ask if the guacamole contains onions, and then decide if you want to eat it. Go ahead and ask if that scone is gluten-free or if the coffee house has a nondairy milk for cream. If it has stuff you can’t eat, then you can say no.
11. Get involved!
When I started the diet, it felt like a fun, new adventure, but I also felt overwhelmed at times. I found a lot of amazing support on Instagram, Pinterest, and blogging. Meeting others who are experiencing the same challenges was really validating, and it’s inspiring to see how others are cooking and planning their low FODMAP meals. Whenever I see a great meal on Instagram, I’m always more inspired to cook. Other FODMAPpers had great suggestions for recovering from flare ups, how to cook with gluten free flours, and what dietary books to read. So join a community, get involved, inspired, and supported! You can find me on Instagram (myfoodandmymood) or Twitter (lowfodmapfood). I’d love to connect with you!
If you follow this blog and are a FODMAPper, what are some things you’ve learned in your journey?