This story goes all the way back to the beginning of the year, when my husband and I were doing Whole30. If you’re new around here, you probably don’t know what happened to cut that Whole30 short. I talk about it in detail here. The TL;DR of it is that when we were in the home stretch I had to be taken to the ER because of severe abdominal pain that was suspected to be appendicitis. It turned out to be something in my colon, leading to a possible diagnosis of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), which lead to a colonoscopy and EGD, which led to being treated for an infection and instructions to see a GI once we got settled in our new home.
Now here’s the part that most won’t know. I finally got in touch with a GI in late April and got an appointment for June. After hearing my full “tummy problems” story (which goes all the back to my childhood and includes cutting out gluten one month before my 18th birthday), the doctor and nurse practitioner decided to pull out all the testing stops. They did multiple labs and put me on a waiting list for getting another colonoscopy and EGD. Additionally, they advised me to eat a low FODMAP and dairy free diet for six weeks. I started this after we returned from our trip to Alaska.
What is Low FODMAP?
A Low FODMAP diet eliminates foods high in fructans, fructose, lactose, polyols, and galacto-oligosaccharides. This diet is typically prescribed to help alleviate IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms. Patients with IBS have trouble digesting food high in FODMAPS, which causes the abdominal discomfort, gas, and other ~delightful~ issues that come with IBS. The specific foods eliminated in a Low FODMAP diet include gluten, high-lactose dairy, stone fruits, certain vegetables, and high fructose corn syrup. Getting more specific, foods that I usually eat regularly that I had to eliminate over the past six weeks were onion, garlic, apples, mango, avocado, watermelon, asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, cheese, and most sauces and dressings. I already don’t eat gluten, so that wasn’t a hard one to continue to not eat. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gives you an idea. Eat this, not that lists for Low FODAMP can be found on reputable websites and in studies all over the web.
Why Did I Follow Low FODMAP?
I followed Low FODMAP for six weeks because my doctor directed me to do so. It’s important to be working with your doctor when you make the decision to drastically change your diet. They can help you evaluate where your health is at and whether or not you even need such a drastic diet change. Low FODMAP is not something I did for fun. Trust me, cutting out what felt like such random foods isn’t fun. It’s frustrating and I messed up sometimes. After every meal, I had to be attentive to how my body was responding to the food it had consumed. I was also taking medicine to treat an infection (yes, the same one I was on treatment for earlier in the year… it hung around). I had to keep a food diary (although it did spiral down into mental notes after the third week). It was not a game.
My doctor put me on a Low FODMAP (and dairy free) diet because my symptoms are typical of someone with IBS (inflammatory bowel disease). There are other possibilities for what’s going on, but confirming those requires further investigation. The point is, the dietary changes in a low FODMAP diet are fairly extreme, especially with the added elimination of dairy. If you have been experiencing symptoms of IBS and think low FODMAP might help, please visit your primary care physician or GI specialist and discuss it with them.
How Did It Go For Me?
My six weeks on strict Low FODMAP and dairy free were eye opening. In the first week I lost six pounds just from reduced inflammation. A friend recently noted that I look like I’ve lost even more since. I also became hyper-aware of what other foods were affecting me. Corn, rice, and potatoes are considered low FODMAP foods. However, I noticed that when I have a lot of any of those foods, I feel bloated. For example, for dinner last night I had fajitas in corn tortillas with a side of corn chips. Not my brightest move, especially with what I already know about how my body responds to starches.
I also discovered that my body digests certain foods better at different times of day. I found that my biggest meal should be breakfast (and recently it’s been a hearty meal of bacon, eggs, lemony kale, and either gluten and dairy free toast or gluten and dairy free waffles). Lunch and dinner serve me best as lighter affairs. My favorite (and most tolerated) lunch over the past six weeks has been lunch meat, a fruit, a veggie, and a small serving of rice crackers. The dinners I feel best after involve just a basic meat and veggie. My favorites recently have been anything I can make on our grill. I have to be mindful of any treats I consume, but shouldn’t we all? I should also avoid treats with dinner. If I want dessert, I should have it with lunch. I have found some dairy free ice creams and vegan chocolate that I’ve enjoyed, though!
Something else I learned is why I wound up in the ER twenty-something days into my Whole30. I was listing foods I can’t have on low FODMAP to a friend. My husband cut in and said, “Hey, that sounds like a lot of the foods we were eating on Whole30.” Yup. I literally ate myself into the ER on the healthiest diet possible. Just because a food is healthy, does not mean it is healthy for me. What my body can tolerate is what is healthy for me.
Will I Continue With Low FODMAP (and Dairy Free)?
The short answer is yes. It has been beneficial and I have noticed an overall improvement in my digestive health.
The long answer is slightly more complicated. I want the freedom to be able to enjoy good food on special occasions. Real ice cream, butter and garlic, gluten free pizza, and a Five Guys burger with bacon, cheese, and grilled onions. But I have to ask myself: is feeling cruddy on a special occasion worth the food that will make me feel that way? I don’t know. Some foods might be worth it. But others definitely won’t be. I will be using reintroduction to find that out. Is the occasional dairy food worth it for me? Maybe, but maybe not. I ultimately have to consider whether or not I can justify the tummy ache. I know that fresh, whole foods like mango, avocado, broccoli, and asparagus will be worth it on the occasions that I allow myself to have them. But ice cream? Cheese? Candy? I don’t know.
That’s probably not the definitive answer you were hoping for. Honestly, it’s not the one I was hoping for either. But one of the biggest takeaways from this whole ordeal has been that there aren’t always definitive answers. And that’s okay. You learn through trial and error (and with a doctor’s help) what does and does not work for your body, and go from there. For right now, I’m going to stick to low FODMAP (and my own discoveries about how my “day of eating” should go) as closely as possible. I am entering my future with the knowledge that I can make exceptions for myself when I want to. And I will. Today I’m meeting up with friends in Seattle and another friend for dinner. And I’m not going to stress out quite as much about whether or not what I’m ordering for lunch or dinner is low FODMAP. I’ll do my best to keep close to it, since I am at my best when I do, but I also know it’s going to be okay if I don’t.