What’s the Deal with FODMAPS?
I’ve always been awkward when it comes to social situations. I stress out before I even leave the house. Not because at times I can make inappropriate outfit choices, but because I’m concerned about where the location of the closest bathroom will be and its state of hygiene.
Why? Because depending on the food I consume when out and about, I may have less than a few minutes to locate one before my stomach implodes on itself. Having a suffered from an eating disorder in the past, my digestion never quite recovered post recovery. Therefore, somewhere in my early 20’s I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as a result of the disruption I had caused to my body during that time. This invisible illness has wreaked havoc on my social life ever since.
It causes me to go to the bathroom within minutes of eating. Not just once, but up to three – four times afterwards. It also causes me to feel constantly bloated and lethargic, and produce a large stomach that would otherwise not be there. Feeling icky all the time and overthinking about what to do in social situations is what started the anxiety. Unfortunately for me, my IBS symptoms worsen when I’m anxious.
Overtime other symptoms began to present themselves. Backache, stomach cramps, wind, constipation and diarrhoea. At one stage I was hospitalised for what the doctors thought was gallstones, however it turned out to be trapped wind as part of my IBS symptoms. That was when I decided enough was enough.
After having a serious chat with my doctor she suggested that I try the FODMAP diet.
Not knowing what the acronym FODMAP even stood for, I was hesitant about participating in a restrictive diet after I had finally learnt to eat with variety during my eating disorder recovery. However, after researching the science behind it and reading about other people’s success with it I decided that it was worth a shot.
So what are FODMAPS and how do they affect us?
FODMAPs are a collection of short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found naturally in certain foods or as food additives. FODMAPs include fructose (when in excess of glucose), fructans, galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), lactose and polyols (such as sorbitol and mannitol). While these carbs are not readily absorbed my most people, in some (those like myself with an intolerance), they lead to severe symptoms of digestive distress and affect the absorption of food nutrients.
FODMAP is an acronym that stands for:
F Fermentable – i.e., they are broken down (or fermented) by bacteria in the large bowel
O Oligosaccharides – “oligo” means “few” and “saccharide” means sugar. Thus, these molecules are made up of individual sugars linked in a chain. They are found in wheat, rye, onions and garlic as well as legumes/pulses.
D Disaccharides – “di” means two (so this is a double sugar molecule) and is found in lactose in milk, soft cheeses and yogurt.
M Monosaccharides – “mono” means single (so this is a single-sugar molecule) which is fructose that is found in honey, apples and high fructose corn syrups.
P Polyols – these are sugar alcohols (e.g. sorbitol, mannitol) found in some fruit and vegetables and used as artificial sweeteners.
When those with FODMAP insensitivity consume foods and/or drinks high in FODMAPs, these carbohydrates, which are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, pass through to the large intestine, where:
1. The FODMAPs are readily fermented by bacteria in the large bowel, leading to gas production and/or
2. The FODMAPs, which are highly osmotic (i.e., they attract water into the large bowel), alter bowel movements.
These two processes can trigger symptoms associated with “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” (or IBS) including excess wind, abdominal pain, bloating and distension, constipation or diarrhoea, or (the best) a combination of both.1
The Low FODMAP Diet.
Developed in Australia by Professor Peter Gibson, Dr Jane Muir and a team of dedicated dieticians at Monash University, this diet is an effective treatment for people who suffer from symptoms of IBS. This breakthrough research has been published in international medical journals and is now accepted and recommended both within the mainstream and natural health sector as one of the most effective dietary therapies for IBS.1
The Low FODMAP diet has two phases.
Phase 1: Elimination Phase
The goal of the elimination phase is to significantly reduce or completely resolve your IBS symptoms through lowering the total intake of FODMAPs you consume. The diet does this by removing certain foods that are high in FODMAPs.
Monash University recommends that you stay on the elimination phase for a 2 to 6 week period. This time period will give you enough time to adjust to the low FODMAP foods. Once your symptoms are under control you can then start the reintroduction phase with the guidance of your dietitian.
Phase 2: Reintroduction Phase
The goal of this phase is to develop an understanding of your individual tolerance levels to each of the FODMAP groups. You might discover that you can tolerate a little bit of some FODMAP groups, have no issues with other groups, and need to stay on the low FODMAP plan for certain groups. With the help of a dietician, you will complete 10 FODMAP challenges where you will eat certain foods that are high in FODMAPs for three days straight each week and observe and record the way your body reacts to them. By the end of the 10 weeks, you should have a clearer picture of which FODMAP groups are causing your symptoms and feel equipped with ways to avoid or lower these foods to ensure that you can manage your IBS symptoms moving forwards.
Although I found this diet difficult and trying at times, I can’t speak highly enough of the results. Not only do I have a better understanding of what triggers my IBS symptoms, but I am learning to eat in a more loving and thoughtful way to nourish my body. I am able to make informed choices when in social situations and order food that won’t have me running to the bathroom within minutes.
Thanks to the research team at the Department of Gastroenterology at Monash University, I am also able to make more informed choices when grocery shopping. With the help of a smartphone app, I am able to view recipes, shopping lists and a food guide that uses a traffic light system to highlight the different amounts of oligos, fructose, polyois and lactose in different foods to manage my symptoms (stay tuned for a review of the app)!
If you are concerned that you suffer from IBS or would like to know more about FODMAPs, seek medical advice from your doctor.
References (Check these out for more information):
1. The FODMAP Friendly Vegan. 2015. What are FODMAPs?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://thefodmapfriendlyvegan.com/what-are-fodmaps/. [Accessed 12 March 16].
2. Monash University. 2015. Low FODMAP Diet for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. [ONLINE] Available at: http://fodmapmonash.blogspot.co.uk. [Accessed 12 March 16].
3. Sue Shepherds. 2015. What are FODMAPs?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.sueshepherdfoods.com/fodmaps/#what-are-fodmapss/. [Accessed 12 March 16].
A woman with an ambitious heart and big dreams, Nicole’s mission is to inspire people to seek freedom from disordered eating and poor body image to lead an authentic and passionate life. Having suffered from an eating disorder for eight years, Nicole’s story of hope, freedom and recovery inspired her to found Life in The Aftermath, an online community for woman in recovery. Her stories of hope, mindful eating, positive body image, self-care, anxiety management and recovery will inspire and encourage you to love and accept who you are and make positive steps towards living an authentic life.