The Low FODMAP Diet: Advice Welcome

Life is funny, isn’t it? You expect it to go one way and all of a sudden you realize you’re living a very different life than you expected. It’s been a week, ya’ll.

In my early 20s, I was diagnosed with IBS after a particularly bad day found me on the floor of my aunt and uncle’s downstairs guest room where I lived during a work internship. After dropping to the ground in pain and realizing I couldn’t straighten myself out, I crawled to my nightstand and called my aunt upstairs to help me. A quick trip to urgent care later, I had my diagnosis and a prescription for an antispasmodic to relieve intestinal spasms. Awesome.

I’ve had ups and downs since that day but it’s been generally relegated to an annoyance, flaring up when I’m stressed or eat too much fiber or happen across a dish loaded with onion. Not great but manageable. Since then, I’ve completed several rounds of Whole30 which taught me that 1) there was more than onion on that list of foods to avoid and 2) the advice to “eat more fruits and vegetables” had some caveats when it came to my body. People tell you that increasing your fiber causes upset for everyone until the body adjusts but what happens if the body doesn’t adjust?

Fast forward to 2020 when a pandemic started and the world went to shit. Unfortunately, my body went with it. Since March of 2020, I have experienced more frequent episodes of pain. I had a very short stint (one visit) with a natural doctor who maybe practices Chinese medicine (I don’t know) and paid hundreds of dollars in supplements that you can’t get anywhere else before realizing I’d not quite exhausted all other options. I called my primary care physician (PCP) and talked to her about the supplements and the pain and the things I’ve tried before. She suggested that I look into a low FODMAP diet, told me that she didn’t think it wouldn’t hurt to take the supplements, and suggested that when I was ready to look into the food approach, she could refer me to a nutritionist.

Now, listen… I’m an incredibly stubborn person. I fully own that. And I realize now that I should’ve jumped on this low FODMAP train at her first mention of it but the holidays are coming up. Halloween just passed. I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner. Christmas dinner! I. love. food. I love it. I thought I would just maintain a little longer and then go all in after the holidays. The thing with chronic illness, you see, is that we’re used to being uncomfortable. Used to being at some level of pain or discomfort pretty much all of the time. It’s also one of the reasons we feel ridiculous succumbing to the pain. People see us day in and day out and we look normal. I pride myself on being able to function well with over a decade of stomach issues and chronic fatigue. I feel like a burden when concessions need to be made for me. I often convince myself that eating things I know will upset me is fine because I know what symptoms it will cause and that I can handle them.

Ha ha ha… bitch, you thought.

It came to a head this week. Monday morning, I had to go into work late after waking up with intense pain that doubled me over. An antispasmodic and some Ibuprofen later, I went into work. Uncomfortable but present. Tuesday I was scheduled for a flight to our facility in Massachusetts. I debated cancelling but decided to wait until the morning to see how I felt. I rallied and honestly, I had a blast in MA. Wednesday, I couldn’t get out of the fetal position until the evening. I spent the day with antispasmodics, a ton of water, very little food, a heating pad, my roommate (thankfully!), and several Marvel movies in release date order (which my sister tells me is the only way to watch them so I can experience it the way everyone else did). I started the low FODMAP diet. I hadn’t shopped for it and we missed our weekend shop this past weekend so pickings were slim but I ordered a food journal and some books about the diet and I downloaded an app. My husband made a quick stop at the grocery store for some basics on his way home from work and I went to bed feeling like I was starting to gain back some control.

I woke up Thursday morning with the intention of going into work until I doubled over onto the dinning room rug while my kids ate their breakfast. There’s something quite humbling about having your children stare down at you on the floor asking if you’re okay while you roly-poly your way into a defensive position and grit through pain and nausea (queue the mom guilt because why not). I called my PCP and they sent me for a rush X-ray where I assumed I’d learn what everyone already knows: I’m full of shit (*jokes*). Turns out, that wasn’t the case and honestly, I cried. Results: normal. But I didn’t feel normal. It hurt to straighten up, hurt to walk, hurt to sit down. I wanted an easy answer but, as most of my friends with GI issues will tell you, that’s not typically how this journey goes. So I spent yet another day with antispasmodics, a ton of water, a heating pad, and several Marvel movies. I also read a ton about low FODMAP foods and tried to educate myself on this new elimination diet.

I’m a rule follower by nature so Whole30 is easy; the rules are very defined. The low FODMAP diet is different. Food is categorized into low, medium, and high FODMAPs. Some low FODMAP items can become high based on how much you consume. Some food items that you think of as “good” like broccoli, cauliflower, and apples can be “bad” and some food items that you steer of while eating clean like jam and butter are totally acceptable. I need to relearn some things.

Today is Friday. My food journal and my books have arrived (Side note: Did you know there’s a medical chart on the consistency of shit? It’s called the Bristol Stool Chart and it is equally repulsive and fascinating. You’re welcome.) and I’ve been eating only low FODMAP foods for 2 days. I’m happy to say that I’m upright this morning which feels like a huge win. I also reached out to a friend of mine who fully revamped her diet to tackle health issues for encouragement. She gave me some good advice and helped me realize that I’ve been focusing on how my issues impact other people rather than focusing on how they’re impacting me. I’m wondering if any of you have experience with this. What resources helped you out? What recipes do you love? What words of advice do you have for something just starting out?

I’m all ears!

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