I was first introduced to the low FODMAP diet last year when diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a disorder that affects 10 to 15 percent of adults in the U.S.
The low FODMAP diet limits foods that have been shown to cause IBS symptoms. FODMAPs are carbohydrates that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut and can trigger bloating, gas and pain in people with IBS.
Managing IBS can take many forms, but for myself, a combination of diet, supplements, and keeping stress under control help me combat the uncomfortable (and sometimes embarrassing) side effects of IBS.
The low FODMAP diet is designed to be followed for two to six weeks. after that, a re-challenge phase brings FODMAP foods systematically back into your diet. Once that is complete, you will have an understanding of which FODMAPs are triggers for your symptoms. The third and final phase is the adapted diet where you may be able to eat some high FODMAP foods with less difficulty.
Starting any kind of diet can be overwhelming, so here are five tips to help you navigate a low FODMAP diet.
When is the last time you were at your local library? When I started looking for low FODMAP recipes, a quick search at the library turned up tens of titles of cookbooks and beginner-friendly guides. Although there are plenty of low FODMAP recipes to be found online, books can provide a good starting point.
Before starting any kind of restrictive diet, I find it best to plan out at least a week’s worth of meals and snacks. Stock up to ensure your cupboards, fridge and freezer are full of staples you will need to be successful. While it is possible to eat out on low FODMAP, eating at home during the first week or so does make it easier to control the ingredients in your meals. If you do go out to eat, you should look at menus ahead of time. Generally speaking, restaurants are more than happy to accommodate special requests.
When grocery shopping for low FODMAP products, it is helpful to reference an app like the Monash University Low FODMAP Diet App (available on iPhone and Android). This app is useful because it clearly shows how much of a certain food is safe, using green, yellow and red symbols to indicate tolerable portions, or if a food is high in FODMAPs at any serving size.
2. Find Support
I worked with a registered dietitian to go through the low FODMAP and reintroduction phases, something that I highly recommend if you can afford it. Your health insurance plan may even cover the costs. However, if you are not able to work with a dietitian or find one who specializes in low FODMAP and IBS in your local area, there are various resources available online.
Personally, I found that a dietitian was able to help keep me on track, and give me ideas for snacks and meals that I may not have considered on my own. She was actually the one who recommended I join a Facebook group for additional support. As someone who isn’t very active on Facebook, I was hesitant to take her advice, but is a great way to find new recipes and support. Group members also post photos of ingredient labels to get feedback on whether they are safe.
Though low FODMAP is only restrictive temporarily, it can be isolating if you are the only one eating that way among your friends and family. Joining a group can help you feel much less alone and can be a great resource for discovering new foods.
3. Track Your Progress
If you are already in the habit of a daily journal, this tip may be an easy one to follow. Tracking your food intake and symptoms is an important part of the process of both the elimination and reintroduction phases of low FODMAP. Whether you use an online journal or a paper notebook and pen, it is important to be as detailed as possible. Make sure to include the portion sizes of each food consumed and the time, how much water you have had to drink, and how you feel.
A food diary is critical when you are working with a dietitian, who may ask to see your notes at each session to help narrow down foods that may be triggering IBS symptoms.
4. Get Creative – But Find Your Go-To Meals
One of the perks of changing your diet is it opens up so many possibilities for trying new recipes and ingredients. For me, one of the hardest parts of low FODMAP was eliminating onions and garlic, two major staples in my cooking. This restriction forced me to get creative when it comes to seasoning my meals. You can use fresh and dried herbs, lemon and lime juice, green and red chili, and the green tops of spring onions to add flavor without causing IBS symptoms.
My dietitian recommended that I find one or two options for breakfast and lunch. This made it as easy as possible to follow during the day when I am more rushed and prone to mindlessly snacking or skipping meals altogether. This tip also gave me more energy to try new recipes at dinnertime when I could take my time.
5. Just Get Started
There will never be a right time to begin the low FODMAP diet, but you may want to look at your calendar and try to plan around major events like a wedding or a vacation. When I went through the first phase it was over the summer months, and while at first it was incredibly challenging, it is helpful to remember it is only a temporary state. Once you begin re-challenge phase and figure out which foods are triggers, you will be able to go back to a much less restrictive way of eating.