Content warning: contains discussion of dietary restrictions
You know when you’ve been putting something off for so long that you just can’t ignore it any longer? That was me and FODMAPs. There were so many reasons I couldn’t do it: it’s complicated, it’s expensive, I don’t have the brainpower, I can’t cook (!). A few weeks ago, I finally reached the tipping point where my desire to not be in constant, crippling abdominal pain overwhelmed all these reasons, and I gave the low-FODMAP diet a go.
You’ve probably heard of the low-FODMAP diet before. It’s an evidence-based intervention developed by researchers at Monash University, aimed at reducing symptoms associated with IBS. The reason it’s been so popular is because it works! Monash research suggests that up to 75% of IBS patients experience symptom reduction from a low-FODMAP diet program.
Patients initially follow a restrictive elimination diet low in all FODMAPs, followed by food challenges which are designed to reveal which (if any) specific FODMAPs produce symptoms. Patients are then free to follow their own, modified FODMAPs diet to best manage their symptoms. (Staying on the low-FODMAPs elimination diet long term is inadvisable due to health risks.)
Being skeptical that FODMAPs would do anything for me, I was pleasantly surprised with the results. Almost immediately, my abdominal pain ceased, and my stomach deflated like a balloon. (This is not a weight loss thing, and I’m working extra hard to eat adequate portions so I don’t lose any weight, cos the low-FODMAPs portions are really fucking tiny.) Although these symptoms have come and gone since, at their peak they are still a fraction of the intensity experienced pre-FODMAPs.
I’ve even noticed some reactions when I’ve inadvertently eaten high-FODMAPs food, which tells me I’m on the right track (who knew there was onion and garlic powder in gluten-free frozen fish?).
Of course, it’s not quite that simple (is anything?). This diet is not easy. Nor is it fun, or healthy. It’s confusing and restrictive and really fucking hard work. The Monash Low FODMAP Diet App has been an immense help in understanding what I can and can’t eat, but sometimes I’m there at breakfast weighing my bananas and strawberries so I can eat 1/2 portions of each and not overload on fructose and it all seems too much, you know?*
The good thing is that the strict elimination phase of the diet only lasts 2-6 weeks, then I can start the equally strict rechallenge phase which lasts 10 weeks. During the rechallenge phase, I test my tolerance to each FODMAP using precisely portioned challenge foods. The idea of conducting a carefully-framed scientific experiment on myself does have some appeal, I must admit! And it will be interesting to know exactly what my triggers are, and go back to some semblance of a normal diet afterwards.
I’ll keep you updated, but for once it is such a relief to try an intervention that actually works.
This is where I should add a disclaimer before I become one of those wanky bloggers who starts promoting potentially dangerous medical interventions under the guise of “health”. Low FODMAPs is not a healthy diet, nor one that should be followed long term. It is essential that other possible causes of GI distress be eliminated before starting a low FODMAPs diet, as the diet can mask the results of tests determining said causes. So, if you haven’t been tested for coeliac disease, get those bloods and endoscopy sorted before trying FODMAPs.
I didn’t consult anyone before beginning this diet due to health reasons. So do what I say, not what I do, and consult an accredited practicing dietician who is FODMAPs certified for guidance – especially if you have a history of disordered eating, as there is a possibility this restrictive diet could encourage the development of such behaviours.
*50g of unripe banana and 70g of strawberries, if you’re wondering.