FODMAPs and my life
I know what you’re thinking – Is it really possible that a diet can change your life? Sounds like quite a claim eh? But let me explain.
I’d suffered with IBS for over 20 years, though it wasn’t diagnosed until just a few years ago. Over that time I’d learned to live with (or at least to cope with) all the embarrassing symptoms that IBS brings, plus the discomfort and embarrassment typical of the condition. However, a few years ago my symptoms became a whole lot worse!
When I say they became a whole lot worse you can be sure I’m not talking about a bit of extra bloating and discomfort. The pain had increased to a point where all I could do was to roll up in a ball on the floor in tears. This was pain that lasted for days and each time it lasted longer than before. Pain killers didn’t help and my G.P had advised me that some could even make it worse!
It goes without saying that I was taking increasingly lengthy periods off work. That was the point where I was finally diagnosed with IBS.
I’ll be honest; I wasn’t sure that the diagnosis was correct as I understood IBS to be a minor condition. What I was experiencing was a major problem! I’ve since learned that IBS is indeed a chronic and debilitating condition. But I also discovered that it’s one that can be managed very successfully through diet.
Introducing the low FODMAP diet
I can vividly remember the moment I first came across the low FODMAP diet. It was one of those light bulb moments – it just made so much sense. And it felt empowering! What I discovered was a science based diet that offered me the chance to take back control of my own health.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. These are types of short chain carbohydrates (sugars) which are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and as a result create an excess of gas and fluid in the gut. It is that which triggers the symptoms of IBS. By reducing the amount of high FODMAP food in the diet (those foods which are highly fermentable) we can reduce the IBS symptoms. As all foods (except meat and fats) contain FODMAPs this is about keeping the level low rather than excluding them entirely.
F = Fermentable. The food creates gas as a result of fermentation!
O = Oligosaccharides. This group includes Fructo-oligosaccharides found in wheat, onions and peaches (to name but a few) and Galacto-oligosaccharides which are found in pulses.
D = Disaccharides. Lactose has to be avoided though surprisingly not all dairy products contain high levels of lactose.
M = Monosaccharides. Fructose has to be avoided during exclusion though only where it is in excess of glucose. This group includes certain fruits, vegetables and honey.
A = and
P = Polyols. Polyols are found in sweeteners. As a rule of thumb, if it ends in ‘ol’ (such as sorbitol) it is a polyol.
The Two Stages of FODMAP
Not surprisingly, a low FODMAP diet requires a rather scientific approach on the part of the person following it. But I assure you it is very do-able.
During the first stage (lasting 6 to 8 weeks) you need to cut out ALL high-FODMAP foods to give your digestive system time to rest and recover. This stage is quite a challenge and worth preparing for so that you have all the ingredients you need to hand.
After this period you can begin to reintroduce excluded foods group by group while keeping note of how your body responds. (It may be that you can tolerate fructose but not lactose, for example.) This allows you to identify your ‘trigger’ foods. Depending on how your body responds, and to what extent, you may need to repeat the exclusion stage for a short while until your tummy has settled before re-introducing another food group. The aim is not to exclude all high-FODMAP foods long term but to find a balanced diet that you can enjoy without becoming unwell.
I heartily recommend the Monash low FODMAP phone app as it has a simple ‘traffic light’ guide to high and low FODMAP foods as well as some recipes to get you started. The revenue from the purchase of the app goes into further research by the department, and personally, I’m happy to help fund that. I should mention that, it’s recommended that you carry out this diet with the help of a dietician.
Is It Worth It?
Like I said at the top of my article, the low FODMAP diet has changed my life. Not only have I been able to come off the medication my G.P had prescribed but that awful pain is a thing of the past. I can’t say that my digestion is 100% as it could be but it is 100% better than it was. I also have more energy than I’ve had in many years and I feel like I can live, pretty much, an ordinary life. If you know the misery of IBS you’ll know it’s worth it.