If you have severe IBS symptoms, then a FODMAP diet could be the answer for you. It eliminates winds, bloating and cramping by severely restricting the ‘sugars’ that ferment in your gut and cause these symptoms.
It’s a therapeutic diet, not one meant for standard health improvement because it excludes too many healthy foods. Changing to a FODMAP diet is something you do if you have a very real problem. If you’re one of the people who suffering with serious IBS, it’s a lifesaver, or at the very least a social rescue.
How the FODMAP diet works
If certain types of sugar, short chain carbohydrates, don’t get properly absorbed in your small intestine, they can reach your large intestine where they ferment and they become food for bacteria. These bacteria eat them and give off gas. Between your food fermenting and the bacteria’s gassy emissions, you now know where your gas comes from. Sometimes the gas is smelly, sometimes it isn’t, and that is a clue to what bugs are overgrown.
If you don’t eat the foods that can ferment or feed your bugs, then the gas and other symptoms aren’t produced.
FODMAP pros and cons
Pros are felt almost immediately. Being gas and pain free is a relief that makes the strict eating worthwhile initially.
Cons are felt over the long term. It’s a very restrictive diet and the food you eat is plain and simple, which does get boring. Like all clean eating, it takes a lot of planning and can make you high-maintenance when socialising. The big problem is that a diet this restrictive could result in nutritional deficiencies, so it’s probably best to ensure you take a good quality multivitamin and mineral. Careful though because they can also exacerbate your IBS symptoms.
FODMAP and socialising
The impact of having severe IBS, particularly the smelly gas kind, cannot be understood by someone who hasn’t experienced it. I haven’t, but I’ve lived in close proximity to someone who had it, so my understanding grew. She’d had part of her colon removed which was the reason for her digestive difficulties. I’m not sure what was worse for her, the pain of the cramps, the discomfort of the bloating, or having a house that smelt so bad from her bug-fumes that she was embarrassed to allow anyone in. She burnt candles, sprayed air freshener and nothing helped. She drifted outside for long periods on cold winter nights to ‘express’ her gas and habitually refused to participate in family outings.
Then there was the diarrhea – when it hit, it hit. She had no choice, she had to rush to a toilet immediately. Everything had to be planned to avoid potential embarrassment. What did she do if she had to go shopping and needed the toilet? What happened if she eventually agreed to go out to a meal and there was someone in the toilet when it hit? What happened …? Life shrank to her access to toilets and eventually narrowed even more to what was happening hour to hour with her bowels. They became her world and conversation eventually shrank to the same. It’s a life with very few pleasures.
Twenty years after her symptoms started, Monash published the FODMAP diet. It took a couple of years to filter through to us as a solution for her, but once it did, we changed her diet. It made a huge difference. For the first time she was truly symptom free, with none of the bloating she suffered from so long as we were completely rigid with every single ingredient that went into the food. That’s not as simple as it sounds when you’re cooking for a family and she’s one of five, not the only one.
What I’m really getting at here is that I understand the difficulties of living on a FODMAP diet, but
I also understand the restrictions of not doing so or the price you pay for ‘cheating’. My suggestion is that you control your environment from the beginning to manage these potentials issues. Tell your social circle you’re on a medical diet for an extended period but you don’t want to miss out on your friends and family because of it. Ask them to please still invite you, but you’ll bring your own food. If they tell you their menu, you can bring along something similar. Make them understand that as people they count more than the food at their party.
If they want to understand more, refer them to the MONASH site, being a university diet it has credibility that will save you explanations.
By doing this you repackage your high-maintenance lifestyle in a low-maintenance way.
I don’t even have IBS myself, but just shopping and cooking for someone who else me semi-obsessive. The consequences of getting it wrong are real, this isn’t a fad diet. It became too big a part of what I was speaking about all the time, my own conversation started becoming limited. If you have IBS and are living the symptoms and the diet, you are more susceptible to being obsessed that I ever was. Make rules for yourself up front about how avoiding anything more than the most general or practical comments about your eating lifestyle in public unless asked.
Support for a FODMAP diet
It’s a well-researched diet, but is still relatively new in the blogosphere, so there isn’t a lot of interesting support like tons of great recipe sites for it yet.
FODMAP forever or is there life after FODMAP?
Eating a FODMAP diet is the key to managing your symptoms, not the key to actually healing your gut. If you have physical damage, you might not be able to heal much, but you still want to be the best you can so that you can be a little more flexible in what you eat. Healing means rebalancing gut bacteria and is both an art and a science. It’s a combination of understanding how to kill off unwanted, overgrown bacteria, how to add in bacteria that is more useful, and the science of knowing what those bacteria are. It’s best to work with a therapist who understands the microbiome to do that.
You can do other things to support a healthy balance of bacteria, and it’s in lifestyle choices. You should exercise, get eight hours of sleep at night, go into nature and touch the rocks and the plants, and read up about supporting your skin and mouth microbiome as the entry-points into your body. Those will all support any healing you undertake. Lets get real though, if you’re fodmapping, you’re doing a lot more cooking and planning around food than others, so take on these projects in baby steps. Be kind to yourself.
This quote is used a lot, but there’s a good reason for it:
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”