For years, I battled with undiagnosed gastrointestinal issues. I was told I had severe acid reflux when I was 16. I was tested by specialists as my symptoms became so diverse and debilitating that I wasn’t able to get out of bed for days at a time. I was given pills to manage my symptoms, but no tests came back with a definite diagnosis.
I decided it was time to take control of my own health when I ended up in the ER my freshman year of college. My sickness, whatever it was, was getting in the way of my schoolwork, friendships, and happiness. I was done trying to keep track of every pill I had to take and always planning escape routes in case I became sick in public.
I have always eaten pretty healthy. I rarely eat meat and don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I never thought my diet could be negatively affecting my health. When I started doing research on my symptoms and came across the low FODMAP diet, I was skeptical but willing to give it a try.
FODMAPs are sugars, specifically Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides, and Polyols. People with disorders that affect their gut tend to poorly absorb these sugars due to a lack of enzymes in the gut. This can lead to fermentation and can trigger symptoms. The diet classifies foods based on their chemical components.
The goal of a low FODMAP diet is to eliminate all FODMAPS for two to six weeks, then slowly add one type of sugar back in at a time to see which are badly absorbed by the body. The purpose is not to eliminate all FODMAPs for life, just to see which cause a reaction and need to be avoided.
So what foods actually contain FODMAPs? It’s complicated to explain since you can’t just look at a food and identify what kind of sugars are hiding inside. And it’s not all processed sugars. Some examples of foods that are high in FODMAP sugars are rye, wheat, cow’s milk, cashews, apples, watermelon, onions, garlic, corn, legumes, and honey.
I used the guidelines set by Monash University. They have an app that allows me to check what foods have high levels of FODMAPs and which kind of sugar is in them.
The strict 2-6 week elimination period was hard for me. It’s hard to find recipes that don’t contain wheat, beans, nuts, garlic, onions, and all of the other seemingly random foods on the no-no list. If anything, I learned that most of my favorite dishes are made with garlic and onions.
I’m not perfect when it comes to avoiding foods that I know make me sick. I say I control my symptoms with my diet, but I also say I take “calculated risks” with food. My problem is that a little ice cream won’t kill me, but a lot will have me in bed for days. And as I’m sure you know, when it comes to ice cream, sometimes that line is hard to find.
But when I avoid the foods I know I react to, I have no acid reflux, frustrating constipation, bloating, nausea, or other symptoms that need to be controlled by medicines. This “me” is a lot happier than the “me” that was left wondering why I was sick every other day for years. So even when I do take “calculated risks,” I am grateful that I discovered the low FODMAP diet.
#SpoonTip: Always consult with a doctor or specialist before starting a diet like this in order to monitor your specific nutritional needs.