Monday, July 20, 2015

Update on the IBS Food Challenge

I was recently reminded that I never really continued with my story about what I had learned, and how I had fared, on the IBS diet I had initiated last year.

If you recall, I had done some homework on digestive problems and found something called the FODMAP Diet. FODMAP is an acronym for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols”. Quite a mouthful, but basically: components found in many foods that commonly trigger IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) in a lot of people. Here’s a link to the article I wrote on the subject last April.

So what happened after Week 1 on the FODMAP Diet? 

I continued with weeks 2 through 6 and found that I felt better than I had in very long time. Clearly there was something behind this eating plan! Eating out was nearly non-existent because I had to maintain strict oversight of everything I was eating. I was preparing most of my own food and reading labels on the rest like never before.

I discovered early on that I was lactose-intolerant and cut out dairy entirely. This was perhaps the single toughest thing to deal with because I love dairy. But I did it for a while to give my gut a rest. It made a huge difference. Eventually though I would learn through more reading which dairy contained the highest amounts of lactose and just avoided those. Things like milk and soft cheeses (ricotta and cottage cheese, for example) were completely avoided. Hard cheeses like parmesan, pecorino, swiss and cheddar contain very low levels of lactose and I seemed to do alright eating these as long as I ate them in small quantities. Over time, if I wanted to eat or drink something that had higher levels of lactose, I’d take a Lact-Aid tablet which contains the enzyme my body lacks to digest lactose. Problem basically solved. That one was pretty easy to figure out. I still do all that to this day.

What was also a sort of no-brainer was that the usual suspects like beans and hard to digest vegetables were out.

What I also discovered, which took a little more detective work, were a variety of other vegetables and fruits I found I had trouble with. When I reintroduced them into my eating plan after the initial avoidance period, it became clear that things like broccoli, all members of the onion/leek family and asparagus created problems. Apples and stone fruit sat heavily in my stomach, while berries and bananas were much easier. Now I do the best I can to avoid the things I learned trigger IBS symptoms. Eating out makes this more difficult, especially because there are onions in just about everything! 

A list of the common IBS trigger foods can be found here.

This list was compiled directly by the creators of the FODMAP Diet but you can find other lists on different sites. If you just Google “FODMAP Diet Food List”, you’ll get lots of hits.

For you, if you’re suffering from IBS, the foods that cause you problems might be different from mine, but it’s a safe bet to start with "The List" and go from there. The important thing is to start and begin feeling better right away! 

After the initial avoidance phase comes the experimentation phase, where you start reintroducing a different common trigger food each week, and yes, this step takes discipline and commitment. But there is no other way for you to learn what makes you feel bad unless you tackle it like this. Your doctor cannot tell you what foods are doing this to you. Only you can find this out on your own by experimenting. Sorry, there are no shortcuts to doing the work.

Downing Pepto-Bismol, TUMS (or whatever else you’re taking) every day for the rest of your life is no solution. You are masking the underlining problem and ultimately you still have IBS. While there is no evidence that unresolved IBS will lead to colon cancer, stomach cancer, or anything like that, why tempt fate, and why be miserable? If it hurts, something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

Even if you don’t have IBS but you find that sometimes you have “tummy” problems, do an elimination diet like this one to uncover the culprit.

If you need help creating a customized food plan for yourself, seek out the assistance of a nutrition professional who specializes in FODMAP Diets. It will be money well spent to get back to feeling good. One dietician I’ve found whose site is easy to navigate and fun to read is Kate Scarlata’s, found here.

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