“I don’t mean to brag, but I have irritable bowel syndrome.” – Jeremy Jamm, Parks & Recreation
During the past five years since my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) diagnosis, I have experimented with ways to manage my persistent mal à l’estomac through diet. While my gastroenterologist at the time prescribed an omeprazole to treat symptoms, the drug did little to allay my Stomach Troubles and the side effects (racing chest, sore hips) made me feel even worse than I already did.
And so, I weaned myself off the medication and turned to researching ways to manage IBS with diet. This research led me on a journey of discovery, understanding, and acceptance.
Discovering FODMAPs (Not a Geography Term)
I saw a pattern of stomach upset that started when I was a senior in high school (lo these many years ago) and only worsened through the intervening decades. I certainly had issues over the years with certain comestibles (milkshakes, onions, peanuts), but these foods seemed unrelated to each other and not linked to any allergies.
But they are related because these three foods – my first and worst IBS triggers – are all FODMAPs. Zut alors!
This quest led me to reading about FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols; le sigh). These short-chain carbohydrates (read: sugars) are difficult to digest and upset the stomach (le sigh encore). This fancy acronym turned out to be the key to my Stomach Troubles.
Understanding a FODMAP-Friendly Diet
Now that I knew FODMAPs were the culprit, I got serious about eliminating them from my diet. Attendez, FODMAPs are sugars, and sugar lurks in beaucoup de foods (not just that of the processed or junk varieties).
Common FODMAPs include:
- Fructose: certain fruits, honey, high-fructose corn syrup
- Lactose: dairy (my milkshake!)
- Fructans: wheat, garlic, onions (I knew it!!)
- Galactans: beans, lentils, and legumes (peanuts!!!)
- Polyols: sweeteners, stone fruits (e.g., avocado, apricots)
I don’t know about you, but I love a good café miel (latte with honey), so I find this list pretty depressing. But I started reading about these and other FODMAP foods, eliminating them from my diet where I could, making adjustments and substitutions, and … enfin … feeling a little better.
Accepting a Low-FODMAP Future
Early days with IBS were frustrating. I spent a lot of time focusing on what I could not eat, not what I still could eat, often feeling sorry for myself and marooned on a sad, lactose-free island. But there are so many things I can still eat and enjoy, and also many more resources available online and in bookstores for IBS and FODMAP diets today than in 2015.
A quick internet search for “FODMAP diet” revealed a new slew of websites and books for people struggling with IBS symptoms. A lot of websites and newsletters have popped up since I started working on my diet hardcore, but Monash University in Australia leads FODMAP research and has a great website. I also like IBSDiet.org’s FODMAP chart.
As for eating and enjoying, a FODMAP diet is a work in progress. Preparing food at home is easy, but what about when I have to actually go outside into the world? What about dining out, work, travel? What if there isn’t anything I can eat on the menu? What if my Stomach Troubles flare up?
As I continue my research, I am testing certain foods in my diet, reading and comparing IBS diet tips, and compiling my own FODMAP guide (based not just on what I’ve read but can actually eat). Future posts will include my ultimate FODMAP chart and tips for eating out, travel, and cooking at home, such as my recipe for a FODMAP-friendly chicken power salad!
Merci for reading!