This is a topic I take personal interest in. Starting about six years ago, I began to have a nice array of digestive issues. For a while, I assumed it was due to a lactose intolerance. So of course, I decided to cut out dairy items from my diet. It had helped for a bit. But, as time went on, I noticed my symptoms getting more severe. Last year I began to wonder if maybe gluten could be the culprit. I decided to cut gluten out of my diet and see how I felt. Still wasn’t feeling great… awesome.
I had pretty much given up hope on feeling “normal” again after noon. My symptoms always got worse as the day went on. I had been referred to specialist back in the States, who offered no real answers or solutions. I had decided to just get use to feeling miserable most afternoons and evenings. Yet, on our last vacation, my husband pointed out that I should really speak to a doctor over here. I was already frustrated with being bloated everyday on vacation and looking semi-pregnant on the beach, so I figured why not? I strongly doubted my doctor here would have any new insights.
I made my appointment and went to my local GP with as open a mind as I could have. I had done a bit of research before I went to see her and had begun to wonder if it could be IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Pleasant right? In all seriousness, who doesn’t diagnose themselves with an illness after going on WebMD? They give such broad list of symptoms you could easily have half of the things listed.
I sat down in the doctor’s office and began to tell her about my symptoms. She listened and then reconfirmed what I had already been thinking… IBS. Yay- I won the digestion lottery!!! At least this time she offered some suggestions for treatment. A summary of our conversation is listed below. Although I did not say too much, my thoughts are in bold and italics just for your enjoyment.
Dr: Shannon, from what you have told me it sounds like you are suffering from IBS
Me: Ok *Thanks for telling me something webMD already has. I guess it is still more than my other doctors offered*
Dr: Although there really isn’t any cure for IBS there are things you can do to significantly help your symptoms
Me: alright… * I’m listening Doc, please share your wisdom*
Dr: Have you ever heard of the low FODMAP diet?
Me: the low what?
Dr: FODMAP is an acronym that stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Many people who suffer from IBS have a certain level of intolerances to one or all of the categories.
Me: uh huh… *she just told me it a second ago and I cannot tell you what a single one of those letters stands for*
Dr: I suffer from IBS and I cut out garlic and onion from my diet and my symptoms are almost completely gone. Those seem to be common triggers for most people.
Me: Garlic and onion?? *Shocked that my Dr. suffers from IBS. What did I think Dr.s were immune to things like this?*
Dr: Yes. Do you eat much of them?
Me: (laughing) yes, I eat one of them…just about everyday
Dr: Cut them out of your diet and look up the low FODMAP diet. Try it for a few weeks and record how you are feeling each day. We will schedule a follow in a couple of weeks and see if we need to refer you for further testing.
Me: Ok, sounds like a plan * (thinking about what I have been eating) Yep, I put garlic in that and well that too. Yep, that sauce has garlic and onion in it. WTF am I going to be able to eat!?*
Dr: (writing) Here is the name of the diet and a great website to take a look at.
Me: ok, thank you *Thank God she has better hand writing than most doctors because there is a good chance by the time I get home I will remember all of- none of this. EXCEPT for the fact that I may no longer be able to enjoy garlic or onion*
So I came home and started researching this whole low FODAMappy thing. I am by no means a medical expert who understands medical jargon. So this is going to be a condensed, hopefully clear, explanation of the ideals behind the low FODMAP diet. For starters, FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. I can, maybe pronounce two of those things. The important thing, is that they stand for different categories of sugars/carbs that are found in different foods and drinks. For someone who suffers with digestive issues, mainly IBS, our bodies have a difficult time breaking down these sugars in the small intestine. This can lead to those wonderful feelings of gas, bloating, and well just plain discomfort.
There are certain foods that are high in FODMAPs. Some examples are certain dairy products, apples, onions, garlic, and wheat. After learning this, I decided to continue researching and even downloaded some really fun books to read on my nice long flight to Seattle. I learned about the elimination diet. This is when you eliminate pretty much all high FODMAP foods from your diet. You do this for two weeks. You keep a daily recording of the foods you eat and how you feel after eating them. Next, you slowly proceed into the reintroduction phase. You slowly reintroduce one FODMAP group at a time. For example, you may add dairy back into your diet and see how it affects you. Different people may react to different categories. What may bother one person may not bother you. The goal is to see what types of food your body can tolerate.
I still wasn’t completely sold on this idea. But, I figured I had suffered long enough, I may as well give it a try. After only 3 days I was officially sold! I have been following the elimination diet, to the best of my abilities, and what a freaking difference. It is possible to make it through the day without suffering from pain. The only thing that could have made this better, is if one of my other doctors had made me aware this existed a long time ago. In their defense, the idea of the low FODMAP eating is still a fairly new concept. In fact, it is more widely used in Europe and Australia as a treatment option. Although, America is starting to get on board.
I have not officially made it through my elimination phase, which means I haven’t started to reintroduce certain foods. I am excited to learn what foods my body can tolerate and at what amount. I am continuing to learn more about this new lifestyle and about the community of others who also suffering from IBS and digestive issues. As I learn, I have seen some common themes come to light. First off, the feeling of “what exactly am I allowed to eat?” Next, since about half of your veggies and fruit are categorized as high FODMAP, how can you eat a low-fat diet and still live a healthy and nutritional life? Last, it is hard to find healthy, yummy looking recipes. There are some out there, but not a ton.
I want to end by saying that although many times eating a low FODMAP diet may mean being wheat free, dairy restricted, no garlic or onion it doesn’t mean it has to be flavor free or enjoyment free. My goal is to come up with some low FODMAP recipes that I enjoy eating and can share with you. I will be adding a new section to my recipe index just for this purpose. It is going to be a challenge and a learning process, but I hope you enjoy taking it with me.
If you have been through a similar experience I would love to hear your story. Please leave a comment or reach out to me directly at [email protected].