As some of you already know, I’ve been dealing with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for many years now. In my teenage years I got diagnosed with IBS and for the years after that I wasn’t even aware that there could be a solution to it. Nobody had told me. So today I’d like to share my experience of following the FODMAP diet, as a dietitian.
How I Started Experimenting With Diets
When I was 18 years old, I started my Nutrition and Dietetics education. During these 4 years of studies, I learnt everything about the human body, healthy nutrition and many different nutrition related diseases. During these years, it didn’t even occur to me that IBS could be treated with nutrition. And also, they didn’t teach me about it.
So 4 years later when I graduated and became a registered dietitian, I still had IBS symptoms. Everyday I would go to work, bloating would build up, cramps would arise and when I came home the toilet was my best friend for the night. When I went to parties I would always have cramps and bloating, and was happy when I got home and could finally take those damn tight pants of!
In the following months, I started seeing some clients who also had IBS and decided to dive deeper into the matter. This wasn’t how life was supposed to be, right?
IBS solutions I’ve tried
During my research of IBS solutions, mostly diet-related options came up. Nowadays I know that lifestyle and stress can also play a critical role, but the knowledge was different then. Because I was well educated regarding healthy diets I was confident to start playing around with diets, and do this in a nutritionally balanced way. I would not recommend to just start following some diets if you don’t know how to keep your diet balanced on an elimination diet. If you want to try things, please contact me and we can talk.
In the following months I tried many things. For a while I tried cutting out gluten, this didn’t work for me (and as I know now, only works in specific cases). I cut out lactose, which was a damn tragedy because I love cheese and dairy! But this also didn’t do much for me. I went vegan for a while, but still no improvement.
Then I came across the FODMAP diet, with the promising evidence it has, this soon became my next trial. I read up on the diet, followed a FODMAP dietitian course, downloaded the Monash University FODMAP app, and created a plan. As I had already tried lactose, I didn’t exclude that from my diet. Also, it became clear that many FODMAPs mostly lead to diarrhea and/or bloating, and my main symptom was constipation which resulted in bloating. So I had the luxury to start out with a partial FODMAP diet, and only eliminate fructans and GOS.
The fructans and GOS group are one of the bigger FODMAP groups that include grains, vegetables, fruits, garlic, onion, and pulses. So even though it was not as restrictive as a complete FODMAP diet, it still was pretty hard. I soon found out that I literally ate garlic and onion every day, had multiple daily servings of bread (like a real Dutch person…), and realized that many of my favorite fruits and vegetables had become a no-go.
My FODMAP Diet
When I had decided to do the elimination of FODMAP fructans and GOS I started out by checking every ingredient label in the house. Checking them on high FODMAP ingredients, and if they contained them, setting them aside for now. Back then, I still lived at my parents, so I instructed my mom on how to do groceries and be alert on fructans.
In the first 2 weeks I already felt a difference! I literally noticed my intestines started to move and my stools started showing up daily! Yay! This was already such a big relief. So I continued on.
In the weeks that followed my belly stayed mostly calm, and my stools kept coming. It was very difficult to maintain the diet when there was a party planned, but I told literally everyone what I was doing (no shame here) and they did try to help me out. This did not always go without mistakes, but was nice nonetheless! It did mean that parties still meant stomach aches though…
After about 4 weeks I started reintroducing. This went pretty smoothly. It turned out that vegetables and pulses were not a problem. Grains, I could tolerate as long as I didn’t eat more than 3 slices of bread or low-quality bread (for some reason). Fruits were a bit of a trigger and garlic and onions were the bad guys!
Although this was nice to know, still having to avoid garlic and onion was pretty hard. When I went to festivals or restaurants, no one could ever tell me what was in their sauces and marinades. And even though it could be worse, this really did make me feel bad. Sitting next to my friends who got to eat my favorite foods, but not me.
This went on for a couple of years. I tried reintroducing the fructans every few months, but it never seemed to go well for long. And onions and garlic kept giving me hard time.
The more I learned about our gut health and the microbiome the more I started to realize that the sensitivities that I had could most likely be reduced. I had already been working on a good sleep schedule, stress relief, healthy physical activity and yoga, but now it was time to start training my gut!
In the months that followed, I started to slowly introduce more and more fructans in my diet. Slowly and steadily I let my microbiome get used to it. And this supported the growth of the bacteria that are capable to digest fructans. To give an example, I started adding small amounts of the white parts of leek and scallions to my dinners. Had small amounts of blueberries regularly and made sure to have a fiber-rich and healthy diet overall.
This all went well, and after a couple of months I ate everything except the infamous garlic and onion. It was time to introduce onions (very) slowly and steadily. And to my surprise (!!) this also went well! By now I had gained a load of confidence and went on to introduce the garlic.
Unfortunately, garlic was no good. About 24 hours after the garlic my stomach started to hurt, horrible pain pangs came up and I got constipated. Because of these symptoms, I had a horrible night of sleep and it took me about 4 days to feel good again. It was clear to me that now garlic was the only culprit of symptoms. I’m not even sure at this moment if it’s fructans or something else in garlic that is causing it. There are stories online about a garlic allergy, but unfortunately, there is no evidence for that.
Even though I concluded my rebuilding of the tolerance levels with a couple of days of IBS-symptoms, at least I got the point where I only have to pay attention to garlic! And that is such a relief already!
A couple of weeks ago, for the very first time in many years I ate my long time favorite cheese-onion bread. (drool)
It was amazing.
So right now I’m happily eating everything except garlic. I must say food has reached a new level of excitement again. With this story, I want to show you that even a gut health dietitian can still have IBS-symptoms and needs to go through eliminations and rebuilding periods to get better! Don’t get discouraged, I also found it scary to add onion and garlic back. And even though I can still not eat garlic, the fact that I can eat onion again is worth the effort!
Food freedom is the ultimate goal.
What is your experience with the FODMAP diet, or any other gut health diet? Did you manage to build up your tolerance? Or would you like to? Let me know in a comment below. (give me a shout if you want some help!)