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What the FODMAP? and other FAAQs

FAAQs: Frequently Asked and Anticipated Questions. A lot of folks have never heard of FODMAPs, so I get a lot of questions.

What is a FODMAP?

FODMAPs are fermentable short-chain carbohydrates that are not easily absorbed by the small intenstine. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols. Because they are not easily absorbed, they can aggravate the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), including cramping, bloating, nausea, gas, constipation and diarrhea. Here’s a useful handout if you’re curious to know more.

So FODMAPs are bad for you?

No. FODMAPs are good for you. They contain prebiotics, which are beneficial for your digestive health. But if you have IBS, limiting them can help manage your symptoms.

What can/can’t you eat on the low-FODMAP diet?

These things.

*follows hyperlink and reads list* Whoa, whoa whoa. Isn’t this a little extreme?

Yes, and not to be undertaken lightly.

But I thought this blog was supposed to be about food- and body-positivity. And now you’re saying you follow an exceptionally restrictive diet? Isn’t that a little…ironic? Perhaps even a bit hypocritical?

It is, yes, totally ironic, and maybe even a bit hypocritical.

The thing is, for me, IBS symptoms were one (although not by any means the only) reason I developed an eating disorder. I was always certain that I was eating “too much” because I felt so intensely bloated and stuffed after I ate, and the feeling would sometimes take a half day or more to dissipate. Even after I was recovered from anorexia and back to a healthy weight, that stuffed feeling caused me a ton of anxiety. Now that I minimize FODMAPs, I actually eat more than I did before because I have considerably less anxiety and a bigger appetite.

It’s also important to note that one does not follow the low-FODMAPs diet forever. You follow it very strictly for 2 to 6 weeks and then start re-introducing things, which is what I’m currently doing. I recently re-introduced garlic to great success (*knocks on wood*) which will make my life so, so much easier. Peaches, on the other hand–not good. So much for my former favorite fruit. Then again, they’re only in season for about a month, so it could be worse.

See, what J. Alfred Prufrock did not tell us is that he was in the re-introduction phase of the low-FODMAP diet. T. S. Eliot was definitely ahead of his time when it came to digestive health.

eat a peachIsn’t this just another fad diet?

Not by any definition of “fad diet” that I would use. The low-FODMAP diet was scientifically developed at Monash University for the treatment of IBS. You wouldn’t call a gluten-free diet for someone who has coeliac disease a “fad diet.” It’s a medically necessary accommodation. The low-FODMAP diet is like that–an accommodation.

There are admittedly a few differences between the low-FODMAP diet and say, the gluten-free diet. The low-FODMAP diet is newer and not uncontroversial. It’s more difficult to diagnose IBS than it is to diagnose coeliac or a food allergy, and the consequences aren’t nearly as dire. But I will personally attest to the fact that it is both real and very unpleasant.

So you’re gluten intolerant?

No. I do largely avoid wheat, which means I eat a lot of “gluten-free” products. But gluten is the protein that’s in wheat. It’s the carbohydrates in wheat, called fructans, that bother some folks with IBS. (All FODMAPs are carbs.)

But…you just ate a cookie!? I thought you said you couldn’t have wheat.

You can cheat on the low-FODMAP diet. The worst that can happen is you’ll feel like crap for a while. I just wouldn’t recommend doing it during the 2-6 elimination phase.

That said, I don’t “cheat” very often because I don’t like feeling like crap. So please don’t be offended if I turn down your delicious-looking homemade cookies. It’s nothing personal.

Are you a good example of how to implement the low-FODMAP diet and/or manage IBS?

No! I’m just a gal who’s dealing with these things and writing about it.

In fact, I’m a pretty bad example of how to implement the low-FODMAP diet. For example, I didn’t re-introduce FODMAPs for a long time because I was scared to. I don’t see a doctor who specializes in this stuff because I don’t have the time or money or resources to find one, and the gastroenterologist I did go and see didn’t believe me, which means I should get a second opinion, but I haven’t yet, for which I have no good excuse except that I’m busy and I don’t like doctors.

If you have IBS, go find a few specialists who know what they’re talking about. But then come back here and share your thoughts and insights. I’m here for moral support (and sometimes could use a little myself.)

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  1. this is so informative because I literally had no idea of what a FODMAP was! Makes sense now, thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks, Rachel! Yeah, it’s not very common, but I think it’s an important thing for folks to be informed about.

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