A few years back I chose to cut out tomato products and a few other items from my regular diet as a result of a health issue that had cropped up. Even though tomato products are all over the place, it’s still very possible for an otherwise-omnivore to enjoy social gatherings without making a pill of oneself.
Now, all of that has changed.
My fellow foodies, I have a confession to make:
I have become what I once despised: a picky eater.
What happened to make this once adventurous eater now reticent to accept a dinner invitation? It all comes down to three little letters that have been causing me a whole lotta trouble:
I. B. S.
No worries, I’m not going to go into any graphic details about the whole thing, just understand that what used to be a minor inconvenience had been escalating over the last few years, to the point I didn’t even realize how sick I was was.
My family, at least my father’s side of it, kind of jokes about the “family stomach”–we all seem to have some form of tummy troubles on a regular basis and when you grow up hearing that, you don’t really think much about it, you just deal with it as a matter of course. It is what it is. And my other, known, health issues could also explain some of my issues, so we just went with it and worked around it as much as possible.
Only, lately, it’d been getting worse. Since June, 2012, I’d been pretty much sick more than well, though thankfully not to such an extent that it stopped me from doing what I needed to, it just made things damned inconvenient and uncomfortable.
And then, in November, I heard about 6 other letters that might just mean a return to normal:
Research out of Australia’s Monash University has shown that FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, and Monosaccharides And Polyols–in English, certain short-chain carbohydrates) may act as symptom-triggers in up to 75% of IBS patients due to varying levels of intolerance or malabsorption. And all it takes to find out if it works is to cut out a few (okay, a lot of) key ingredients from your diet for a little while.
I found out about FODMAPs from a guest post on Fooducate written by dietitian Kate Scarlata. That led me to Patsy Catsos’ site and book: IBS: Free at Last (insert “I Have a Dream” joke here). While it really is a good idea to seek out and work with a dietitian familiar with the FODMAP program that can guide you through the process while still insuring you get a well-balanced diet, if you have trouble finding one Catsos’ book will walk you through the Elimination Phase and subsequent challenges step by step.
After talking it over with Todd and doing quite a bit of research, we started the Elimination Phase (a minimum of 2-weeks without any of the identified FODMAPs) the week after Thanksgiving.
You might guess that since FODMAPs are carbs, wheat would be included in high-FODMAP foods, and you’d be guessing right. Lactose (the naturally occurring sugar found in milk) is another common culprit and I already knew I was lactose-intolerant, so that wasn’t a huge change for me. Fructose can be tough for many people to digest if it’s not balanced by glucose, so this free-range fructose as I like to call it counts as a FODMAP–no more honey for my tea, no HFCS (though I try to stay away from it in general, anyway), but also no apples or pears or anything sweetened with their juices, just to name a few. Fructans, the FODMAP found in wheat, is also found in garlic, onions, and certain other vegetables, which was probably the hardest change for us to make, as well as Galactans and Polyols (sugar alcohols) which meant no beans or legumes.
In the challenge phase you test one FODMAP group at a time, with breaks in between to let your body return to normal (FODMAPs are believed to work en masse–which is why you can eat something one day and feel perfectly fine, but eat the same thing another day and get sick–it’s a critical mass thing). If you experience symptoms, you know that group of FODMAPs might be an issue for you. If not, you’re probably in the clear for that group.
The good news is that even if you “fail” a challenge, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to never have whatever it was again. It just means that you can choose. FODMAPs aren’t allergies–it’s not life-threatening and you won’t die if you accidentally or intentionally eat something that you challenged and reacted to, you might just not feel too great–but they are intolerances, and if you continue to eat them on the regular, you may continue to feel ill in whatever way that these foods affect you.
Unfortunately, for me, I reacted to everything. According to Catsos this could point to an underlying gastro issue that effects rate of digestion (which my previous diagnosis does) so it makes sense for me to be more careful.
For me, it’s worth it. Not everyone experiences a night-and-day difference pre- and post-FODMAPs, but I certainly did. A week and a half into the 2-week Elimination Phase I felt better than I had in probably 3 years–definitely better than the last 6 months. So good, as a matter of fact, I almost didn’t want to do any of the challenges because WHY would I want to go through feeling bad again? And I did feel bad. Several times. Broccoli, for instance, will not be reappearing on my plate for a very long time. Which is a shame, because I liked broccoli, but I now know it doesn’t like me.
And why do we want to eat things that aren’t good for us? I’m not talking about the occasional junk food indulgence. A bit of fried this or that. And there may be times when I choose to eat an otherwise high-FODMAP food for nothing other than I really want to, and I’m willing to accept the consequences.
But for the most part, I’ll be living the low-FODMAP lifestyle for the foreseeable future because I’ve felt fabulous since I made this change. I still have to be careful of my other health issues. I still can’t eat huge, non-FODMAP meals–it’s not like my gallbladder grew back or anything. And I need to be careful that I’m getting enough variety in my diet when so many things are now ingredient-non-grata.
It means more than a little research before going out to eat, and careful consideration when I’m invited to a party or other gathering. But it’s still up to me to have the right attitude, to take responsibility for my diet and not expect others to cater to me, that will keep me (I hope) from being the type of picky eater I dislike so very much.
And with that, we’re back to our usual blogging schedule here at Nibbles ‘n Bites! If you read Nibbles on another site or through a feed reader, you might want to click through to see some of the site updates that were made during our month away–we’ve been busy little monkeys! You may also want to sign up for the monthly Helper Monkey Network News, to keep up with all the sites in the network in a handy, once-a-month package (see the sidebar for the sign-up link).