Whether you’re about to start a low FODMAP diet, have already started a low FODMAP diet, or are still in the contemplation stage – chances are, you may be a little unsure of what to expect. This is totally normal. I mean, when you first hear someone say FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharide Disaccharide Monosaccharide and Polyols… you start to question if they’re still speaking English!
So given the low FODMAP diet may be quite foreign to you, it isn’t surprising you may have a few questions about what to expect. Here’s what to expect when starting a low FODMAP diet.
1. Commitment is key
To undertake a low FODMAP diet properly, there needs to be commitment. The elimination stage of the diet usually goes for 4 to 6 weeks. This means 4 to 6 weeks (4 weeks using our online program) of strictly eating low FODMAP. It isn’t like a fad weight-loss diet where you can ‘cheat’ or fluctuate in compliance. If you don’t stick with a low FODMAP diet intake for most of the elimination stage, it is harder to later identify triggers. This is because the goal is to get IBS symptoms as minimal as possible so that when you proceed to the challenge phase, you’re able to correctly identify specific triggers and thresholds. Now I said stick with a low FODMAP diet for MOST of the elimination stage because we are all human, and sometimes slip-ups occur. However, it is important to try and avoid letting this happen regularly (if at all).
2. Prepare to read a lot of labels
Learning to read food labels is important, especially when undertaking a low FODMAP diet. Why? Because the ingredients list will often reveal hidden FODMAPs you wouldn’t expect to be in that particular food. It may be a product that doesn’t appear to contain FODMAPs, but then find the ingredients list states it contains onion powder, for example. If you aren’t confident with reading food labels or need a refresher – check out our resource on reading low FODMAP food labels here.
3. Get your learning cap on
Learning about each specific FODMAP, what foods contain FODMAPs, and what the low FODMAP thresholds are is critical to effectively carry out the elimination stage of the diet. Understanding low FODMAP portion sizes is particularly important, as low FODMAP foods can easily become high FODMAP in slightly larger serves. The Monash University low FODMAP mobile app is a valuable resource to help learn about low FODMAP foods and portions. You can also find our low FODMAP food list here.
Additionally, there are various things which can trigger symptoms that are not FODMAPs. Some of these include caffeine, alcohol, dietary fats, and stress.
4. Symptoms can worsen before they improve
Some people find their IBS symptoms flare-up after commencing a low FODMAP diet. So, if you find this happens, don’t stress – this means you’re on the right track and symptoms will soon subside. It is important to be persistent and continue with the low FODMAP diet, even if you do experience a worsening of IBS symptoms. Not everyone will experience this flare-up, so if you don’t then you’re one of the lucky ones!
5. Organisation is key
Gone (temporarily) are the days where you can just grab whatever food you want on your lunch break or on the way home from work. There needs to be a lot more organisation when it comes to planning meals when following a low FODMAP diet. To play it safe, its always good to prepare and bring your own lunches and snacks for work during the week. Try planning out your dinners at the start of the week before doing grocery shopping, so that you have everything you need ready to cook. If you’re going out for a meal, look up the venues menu ahead of time to check if there are any suitable options. I also suggest carrying an ‘emergency’ low FODMAP snack with you – whether the emergency be hanger prevention or as a back-up for when there are no low FODMAP options available.
Remember low FODMAP meals don’t need to lack flavour! In need of some tasty low FODMAP recipes? Check out our list of recipes developed by our team here!
6. It is a big (temporary) life change
Many people newly diagnosed with IBS have previously gone their whole life eating whichever foods they wanted. So understandably, finding out you can no longer eat sooo many of your usual (and favourite) foods is a bitter pill to swallow. There is no beating around the bush – it is a pretty big life change to make. Needing to change your whole diet and put so much more effort into choosing what you eat is not an easy task. It also means eating out is a lot harder, as is going to functions and social events.
The key thing to remember here is it is temporary. To carry out the low FODMAP diet properly, including the challenge phase, takes 12-14 weeks. You can do this through our online program by signing up here, or you can seek help from your local Accredited Practising Dietitian.
Once you have completed the low FODMAP diet, you will have identified your triggers and be able to enjoy a much more flexible modified low FODMAP diet. For many people, a modified low FODMAP diet only means avoiding 1-2 FODMAPs which they identified as triggers. This is known as the reintroduction stage of a low FODMAP diet. To help guide you through this stage, we have developed an e-book you can purchase here.
If you are about to start your journey with the low FODMAP diet, good luck! Well done on taking this first step to control your IBS, identify your triggers, and get your quality of life back. It isn’t always easy, but it is certainly worth it!