Updated: Apr 17, 2021
Shortly after college, I started to have stomach aches. Not a normal stomach ache, but one that would last for days. One that would make it difficult to comfortably sit, stand, lay (or even exist - HA!). After 3 or so days, the ache would be gone and I would have a few days of relief before another stomach ache hit me. The stomach aches left me feeling bloated, and pained with every movement.
And the kicker... I was healthy - eating fruits and vegetables with every meal, sticking with lean protein, limiting gluten and dairy, drinking a lot of water, and working out with a personal trainer. I was doing all the right things, but I was still so sick. I knew that there were common food intolerances that could cause similar distress, but found no relief when cutting out gluten or dairy entirely.
As an avid home-cook, I was making most of the food I was eating. I often get really enthusiastic about one ingredient and put it in everything. For a few weeks, it was caramelized onions. I put them on sandwiches, in omelets, on pizza and tacos.
Around this same time, I had a stomach ache so intense and painful that my fiance found me laying on the floor, not able to move. It was this series of events that led me to the internet, where I googled, "Can you be allergic to onions?" My search led me to Reddit, of all pIaces. There I found discussions of people unable to eat certain foods, and when they did, they experienced the painful bloating stomach aches that sounded exactly like mine.
I recall this day vividly, as I finally connected with people who could relate. I spent the next few weeks learning everything possible about a diet developed by Monash University in Australia, the low-FODMAP diet.
FODMAP is an acronym for:
Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Disaccharides, Polyols
and is defined by Monash University as:
"Put simply, FODMAPs are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut, which can trigger symptoms in people with IBS.
FODMAPs are found naturally in many foods and food additives." (1)
There were phases, food lists, apps, blogs and recipes. It was all very overwhelming. What was most overwhelming - the healthy foods that were on the list of "No's" for this diet. Like carrots and hummus, one of my favorite healthy snacks. Due to the chemical make-up/natural sugars in a chickpea (used to make hummus), and the way they interact with your digestive system, it can cause major problems. And, not surprisingly, onions are also main trigger for many that turn to this diet for relief.
The low-FODMAP diet was my answer and I knew it, I had a *gut* instinct. HA. I made an appointment with a GI doctor so I could safely start the diet with oversight.
During the first few weeks of the elimination phase, I made some errors and got frustrated. I constantly consulted the Monash app to see what I could and couldn't eat. Often being surprised - I can no longer add craisins to my salads? My favorite black bean and quinoa bowl was out? It was a lot to take in. I read every ingredient of every label. I felt sad about not being about to cook and eat my favorite foods. It was hard. But when I settled in, I felt immediate stomach pain relief and started to gain confidence in my food choices. Those around me could tell a difference too, I was more energetic and in a better mood. I truly don't mean to be dramatic, but the diet changed my life. By eliminating all FODMAPs from my system, I was a different person.
The low-FODMAP diet is very restrictive and is not meant to be followed long-term. It's simply meant to eliminate FODMAPs from your system, to set the stage for reintroduction of foods with control. A food can be considered high-FODMAP but it's possible that it won't affect everyone, based on the type of FODMAP it contains.
Even more challenging than the elimination phase is the reintroduction phase. Any doctor will tell you that you must start to re-introduce foods, and asses your body's reaction, so you don't risk nutrient deprivation.
But this is a struggle. How do you willingly choose to eat something that might make you sick, when you just started to feel great? For me, it was the goal of being able to eat out again. When you're eliminating all FODMAPs, I took comfort in knowing exactly what I was eating, down to the ingredient. I stuck with whole foods (like chicken breast, carrots, grapes) so eating out felt nearly impossible. I couldn't be sure what the chicken was marinated in, or what a certain sauce had in it. Store-bought ingredients caused me stress with long ingredient lists and a chance I might miss something. Because the FODMAP diet is not yet prevalent in the USA, like a gluten free diet, very few products are marked. In the grocery store, there are aisles dedicated to gluten-free items and it's often listed prominently on the label. We aren't there with FODMAP yet. (Some places are, like Australia and UK.) Quick shout out to Kellogg's...next time you pick up a box of Frosted Flakes, check out the top flap for the FODMAP logo/certification.
I started reintroduction of foods hesitantly and it certainly wasn't a time I look back on fondly. But knowing what foods you can't eat (and should continue to avoid) and knowing those that you can add back into your diet is so satisfying and necessary.
Because FODMAP has been a part of my life for a few years, I've made it to the FODMAP personalization phase. I know what foods I can't eat, what foods I need to be cautious of (or eat in small quantities) and what foods I can eat freely.
My main triggers are onion, garlic, most legumes (like beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans) and high fructose corn syrup (in sauces, juices). I don't need to cut out dairy, which is an important part of my diet as a female. My food choices feel instinctual now, and I rarely need to look up what I can and can't eat. Because I normally feel just peachy and don't have a high level of FODMAPs in my system, a slip-up (or let's be honest, a cheat meal - this girl loves a burger) doesn't mean days of pain, but rather several hours of not feeling great before I'm back at it.
Nearly everything I cook at home is FODMAP-friendly. I'm no longer actively trying to cook that way, it's just our normal. My old recipes have been adapted to remove triggers and they taste like I always remember them. I don't miss garlic or onions. (Quick challenge: grab a few salad dressings/salsas/spice mixes from your the kitchen and check the label for garlic/onion powder. 99% of store bought items like this will list it. Garlic is in EVERYTHING.)
I do occasionally "find" a new thing that triggers me. Just a few months ago, I ate too many chia seeds (in chia pudding) on consecutive days. Not doing that again. But chia seeds in the FODMAP-approved amount of 2TB. are just fine.
I write about my experience to share a success story. I know many people struggle with stomach issues and there are a lot of solutions out there. If you haven't found your solution yet, research this diet and mention to your doctor. It might be worth a try with their guidance.
(Going forward, I'll be sure to note if a recipe I post if FODMAP-friendly.)
As proven by these photos, FODMAP-friendly food does not have to be bland. One of my favorite dinners is a salad bowl, this one has: pulled pork, tri-color quinoa, roasted carrots, spicy cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese and diced pineapple.
*I am not a licensed dietitian, nor a medical doctor. The purpose of this blog is to share my experiences with the low-FODMAP diet, healthy eating and life in general while offering a little entertainment along the way. Before starting any diet or changes to your eating, consult with a doctor.