My adventure into a Low FODMAP diet:
A few years ago I was diagnosed with a hiatal hernia. I went to what felt like ten different doctors (ok, it was only like 3) who kind of chalked my tummy troubles up to “It’s not that bad…it’s all in your head…stress…blahdy blahdy BLAH”. One doctor even said, “So it sounds like what you’re going through isn’t really dangerous as much as it is annoying.” Well, Mr. Condescending McCondescender Man, sure, it’s not dangerous, but what I was going through was interfering with my every day life. I felt incredibly sick every day and it made me not want to do anything. I just wanted to lay down and not move. Finally a doctor decided to do an endoscopy and found something wrong- which, THANK YOU, I’ve been telling you that for how long now?!
Anyway, after I was diagnosed and put on meds I was also told to watch my diet in terms of fried and greasy foods. No problem! I could have fried chicken on vacation but maybe not greasy pizza on a regular basis. Easy enough. And my symptoms did get better but for the past couple of years I’ve still struggled with IBS related symptoms. There were days when I just didn’t feel well and I didn’t understand why. I thought maybe I was lactose intolerant. It seemed like if I ate ice cream or something with milk I would feel sick. So I cut out all dairy. And it helped! Until it seemed like it didn’t.
Finally I was able to get into a new doctor where, ugh, I once again left so frustrated. I don’t think I’ve ever met a gastroenterologist who was friendly or empathetic. Each one lacked even the slightest bit of bedside manner and talked to me like I was not only stupid, but just not important to them. This doctor did seem smart so I listened to what he said through gritted teeth, even though he asked me, “Do you know what a hiatal hernia is?” No, I’ve just been living with it for the past three years but I have no idea **insert sarcasm**. His response: “Well, what is it?”
BIGGEST EYE ROLL EVER. My response: “Well I’m clearly not going to say it as elequently as you would like so why don’t you just tell me”. BOOM. Mic DROPPED ON YOUR DOCTORS OFFICE FLOOR. In actuality, it was said in more of a mumble and probably sounded like, “I don’t know how to say it properly because I’m just a poor little girl without an MD and I’m dumb so tell me please Mr. Doctor of All Things Man”.
He didn’t sense my sarcasm or my irritation.
He told me to go back on the meds I was only taking as needed, and it did absolutely make sense, but on his way out the door he gave me a packet and said he wanted me to try this diet. No explanation. No encouragement to seek help from a dietician before starting it. No “This is going to be tough, but just try to stick it out for a month and here’s what you do after that”. He just gave me the paper and went on his way.
When I had time to look at the packet, I saw what I was supposed to be giving up: BASICALLY EVERYTHING! No wheat, milk, soft cheese, fruits with pits, certain veggies, onions, garlic, honey, on and on and on and on. Some of these things are easy- so many products are made gluten free these days. But do you know how many foods contain garlic and onions? BASICALLY EVERYTHING! It all started making sense, though. I cooked with garlic and onions almost daily. I would have a bad reaction after eating a baked good and just assumed it had dairy and that’s why I wasn’t feeling well. Turns out- it was wheat, ya’ll.
The first week was a rollercoaster of emotions. I felt overwhelmed with my lack of options. I didn’t know how to cook without my staples of garlic and onions and I was at a loss of what to make for my family that still tasted good but wasn’t bland. I cried some tears and got the heck over it. This was the new reality for at least the next month.
So I dove in. This diet is called the Low FODMAP diet. FODMAPS are Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols and they are molecules found in foods that people with IBS and IBS related issues can’t process properly. They are basically a feast for the bacteria found in the intestines where they ferment causing discomfort, constipation, reflux, and other gastrointestinal issues. If you don’t suffer from IBS then your body is able to properly absorb these molecules without problems. Here’s a great resource if you are interested: Shepherd Works Low FODMAPs
Luckily, we live in the world of Pinterest where recipes and resources are a plenty. I did some research. The point of this diet is to be a sort of cleanse but serve as an elimination diet. Basically you go cold turkey on all of the food items on the naughty list and then after roughly a month or so (depending on the severity of your symptoms- for me it was 1 month but can be as much as 2) you slowly reintroduce foods back into your diet. So I made some adjustments and was able to still make some yummy meals. It got really challenging to eat out or on the go, but I was starting to get the hang of it.
After my month was over I decided to try to introduce wheat back into my diet. Because, bread. I actually did this accidentally because we had chili one night for dinner and I used crackers (I completely spaced and wasn’t thinking). The next day I felt AWFUL. All of my symptoms came rushing back. So, that explains that. No wheat for me. My symptoms took a good week to go away and now I am hella nervous to try something else.
It’s a journey, for sure. I remember reading the book “Skinny Bitch”, which I only half recommend. They promote a very strict vegan lifestyle, which I just can’t get behind. Especially now that my options are even more limited. But one of the chapters that stuck with me is the relationship of people with food- the idea that food should just be a way to survive, not an indulgence, that our relationship with food has evolved into an unhealthy obsession. And while I understand where they are coming from, if you have to eat every single day, multiple times a day, shouldn’t it be enjoyable? And that’s why this diet has been so challenging- it’s been hard trying to find ways to still find food fun, comforting, and delicious. But that’s also why it’s great- it’s teaching me to be creative and learn about food.
Do you have tips for living gluten free? I would love to hear them!