Living with IBS can be frustrating at the best of times, particularly in the early learning stages of management. I believe making the decision to begin a low FODMAP diet is the first step of an empowering journey. There is no better feeling than enabling yourself to gain back the quality of life that your IBS has likely impacted. So why not determine IBS triggers immediately?
Taking the first step of the FODMAP challenges
Some of us absolutely love change, and others don’t like to steer far from the status quo. Making that first step of beginning the low FODMAP challenge can be both an exciting and confusing life change.
For a successful management journey, it is important to carry out each step of the challenge correctly. This allows us to carefully identify which specific FODMAPs need avoiding. We each have our own unique gut bacteria, so every person will have different trigger foods and FODMAP thresholds.
Ready to get started?
Knowing you might potentially only need to avoid 1 or 2 specific FODMAPs probably sounds like music to your ears. So I definitely couldn’t blame you for wanting to dive nose-first into your challenges. However, for optimal IBS management, it is important to stretch before you dive!
Why the elimination stage runs for 4 weeks
You may already be aware that week 1-4 of the FODMAP challenge are the elimination stage. This is where you eliminate FODMAP-containing foods (trigger foods). This 4 week duration allows enough time for IBS symptoms to settle, to correctly identify which FODMAPs are problematic during the challenge stage.
So why is the challenge stage important?
During the challenge stage, a different FODMAP is reintroduced every week. Reintroducing each FODMAP in isolation is crucial for investigating which FODMAPs our gut doesn’t agree with.
For example…let’s say you have experienced little-to-no IBS symptoms following the elimination stage, and try eating onion as your first challenge. If that tasty roast onion you enjoyed with your dinner comes with no gut consequences, it is likely you are able to eat onion fructans (que celebrations). However, if said tasty onion results in an unhappy stomach, it is likely onion fructans are a FODMAP you may need to avoid.
Does it really matter if I go straight into my challenges?
If you dive straight into the challenge phase, symptoms triggered by previous food consumed might not have completely settled. This makes it harder to recognise which specific FODMAPs are friend or foe. Think of it like starting a clean slate and finding out who your friends are, versus those you don’t get along with.
Carrying out the elimination stage for 4 weeks is also important to ensure no other factors are provoking gut symptoms. For example…if there has been little symptom improvement after the elimination stage, it could indicate other factors are involved. Gut upsets can occur for many reasons, such as stress and various health conditions which may require further investigation.
If my symptoms have improved after the elimination stage, why can’t I just continue with a strict low FODMAP diet?
There is a common misconception that a strict low FODMAP diet is for life. I want to emphasise that this is definitely not the case, thankfully!
After the elimination stage your IBS symptoms should ideally be minimal. Now it may seem easier to cut out FODMAPs all together, but it is important for your long-term health that you don’t.
FODMAPs are natural pre-biotics, meaning they promote growth of good bacteria in the gut. If you eliminate all FODMAPs long-term, it can lead to poor health outcomes in the future.
Different FODMAPs are good sources of different nutrients. Some goodies commonly found in FODMAP-containing foods include fibre, calcium, and various vitamins/minerals. Unnecessary FODMAP restriction can therefore result in nutritional deficiencies, which impact our health.
As well as possible health risks, following a strict low FODMAP diet can be hard to manage. It can also take the fun and variety out of food…and why restrict things you love if you don’t have to?!
I wish those of you beginning the low FODMAP challenge the best of luck in taking control of your IBS management. They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…and I hope this first step is leads to a healthier and happier you!
Start feeling better now! By signing up to The FODMAP Challenge you will receive meal plans, recipe ideas, and regular support with other resources, such as a private Facebook group, to make this as easy for you as possible.