The thought of signing up to a 3 month (or longer) dietary program can seem very daunting! What makes it easier? Hearing from people who have been through it before!
To help allay your fears, I asked two of my wonderful clients (known now as ‘A’ and ‘B’) who went through the process of determining their FODMAP triggers some of the FAQs I get asked!
What made you want to determine your triggers of IBS?
A: I had cut out gluten 7 years ago, and experienced a dramatic improvement in symptoms. However, not a compete improvement. I still experienced painful bloating and cramps all the time, even when I knew I hadn’t eaten gluten, so was sure there must be other foods which I could not tolerate. I had no idea where to start however, as the stomach aches and bloating appeared to be sporadic and at times completely random. These constant symptoms, indicating something was triggering my IBS in addition to gluten, made me want to figure out what I should be avoiding.
B: I always thought that I had a reaction to a type of food. In the past I had gone through phases of cutting out breads and pastas. My thinking was that I had a gluten intolerance. Different types of bread would make me feel unwell. However, nothing was making me feel 100% normal.
I have to cut so much stuff out…Will the food be delicious?
A: The food IS delicious! Sure you have to take more time to prepare meals, as pre-prepared food is pretty darn likely to contain one if not more FODMAP ingredients. However the effort is worth it for the result. The meal plan contained super tasty meals, which are pretty easy to make, even for someone like me who is not great at cooking.
B: Being vegetarian I was quite hesitant. However, the meals were wonderful and easily adapted to any other food intolerances/ restrictions that you might have. There were also plenty of vegetarian options that I could pick from. Or I could easily change any meat based meals to vegetarian, swapping out for lentils or tofu.
I don’t have heaps of time to prep food, will I be stuck in the kitchen?
A: I don’t think preparing low-FODMAP meals takes any longer than preparing the ‘normal’ meals I used to prepare. I do struggle a bit, as I am a person who used to buy my lunch every day, so there is extra time involved in preparing lunch to take to work, or else I end up walking from café to café trying to find a quick meal that doesn’t contain any of the trigger foods. However being required to prepare my lunch provides two extra benefits. I am probably eating a bit healthier, and I am saving time and money by not going out and buying my food during my lunch break!
B: All the meals were very easy to prep. Having a meal plan meant that I could plan for the week ahead, and do all of my shopping on the weekend. Meals rarely took me more than 30 minutes to prepare.
What about socialising? My birthday is coming up… I don’t want to miss out on cake! Or wine! What should I do? I am worried it will be a nightmare.
A: Well, I still drink wine…. Just in moderation. Sort of. But Gin is low-FODMAP, and has other health benefits! (Chloe, you have a separate blog on this, right?!). It can be hard passing up on the cake (although after 7 years gluten free this is the norm for me), but worth it the next day when you are symptom free. Also interestingly, I have found that if I follow the low-FODMAP diet properly in the lead up to any event, then I can actually tolerate a small amount of food that may contain a FODMAP that I react too. It’s all about making sure you stick to the MODERATION requirement.
B: I found this was a great opportunity to try different foods (within reason) to see what the trigger points were during the challenges.
Did anything make the process easier for you?
A: Being prepared going shopping to make sure I bought the necessary ingredients to make cooking the meals during the week go smoothly, definitely made the process easier. If I had loads of low-FODMAP foods in the fridge and cupboard I never went hungry, and never felt like I was missing out on eating foods.
B: Ongoing support; knowing I could ask Chloe questions at any time and she’d get back to me really quickly was great.
I keep hearing that I should ‘work out my triggers’. Do I really need to bother?
A: Oh my god yes. If you are anything like me and stuck to a gluten free diet but STILL had constant stomach aches (albeit less then when eating gluten) and even things like brain fog and unexplained fatigue, then you will feel the frustration of constantly feeling sick, but not knowing why. Working out these additional triggers, which for me were things like chickpeas and lentils, garlic, onions and lactose is SO satisfying. I know now that these foods trigger the stomach aches and bloating, so I am able to actively avoid them, and feel So. Much. Better.
If I slip up and accidently (or sometimes purposely –hello vanilla milkshake) eat these foods, at least I now know why I feel sick, instead of just being constantly frustrated that it seems like all food makes me feel ill. Knowing what I can eat, and that I don’t need to avoid all food, is super liberating.
B: As I said originally I thought I had a gluten intolerance. By working out what my triggers were, I have found out that I have an intolerance to onion and garlic. Without working out the triggers, I would not have been able to find this out.
What advice would you have for people wanting to determine their IBS triggers?
A: My advice would be – take The FODMAP Challenge seriously, to the best of your ability. At the end of the day, it’s really to your benefit to work out what your triggers are, and then after that, you never have to worry about it again!
Don’t stress too much about the eating plan. Find out which meals you like and are easy for you to prepare and then add them to your regular cooking repertoire. For example, the bolognese was super delicious and super easy to make (in my opinion), so I just made huge batches of that, and when I didn’t have time to cook dinner or make my lunch, I had that ready to go – all with the knowledge I was getting a low-FODMAP, healthy meal (albeit for the 4th time that week 🙂 ).
Also, if you slip up during the week, and muck up that week’s challenge – again don’t stress, you can always make that challenge up in your own time at the end of the ‘formal’ FODMAP challenge. I got FODMAPed at work events twice during the challenge, which saw me being unable to properly do the elimination for those two weeks – not a worry though, I just moved on to the next week’s challenge and then, for example, when the week came up to introduce gluten, which I already knew didn’t agree with me, I slotted in a week I had previously missed. Piece of (GF) cake!
B: Initially, I found the process to be really overwhelming- I was worried about ‘what if there were not enough food options’ or if I didn’t like something. Having the support of an amazing dietician, Chloe was such a wonderful resource. I would advise anyone to give it a go!
I hope that has answered some of your questions about what following the low FODMAP diet, and doing the challenges is like! Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions yourself!