7 Things To Know Before You Start A Low FODMAP Diet

Photo: Constanza Caiceo

If you’ve been suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or another functional gut disorder and the associated symptoms of bloating, abdominal distension, excess wind, and unpredictable bowel motility (in other words, constipation and/or diarrhea), then you may have considered trying a low FODMAP diet. On the other hand, if you’re scratching your head wondering what the heck a FODMAP is, then read this post first for a lovely overview and breakdown of the diet.

But if you have gut issues, it's likely that the low FODMAP diet is on your radar. If you're thinking about giving it a go, there are a few things you need to know before you dive in. Here's what they are:

1. It's a temporary diet.

After completing the elimination phase of the diet, the goal is to avoid (or reduce) only those foods that trigger your symptoms while adding back in all of the others foods that don’t trigger symptoms. It’s not about eliminating all high-FODMAP foods forever. Many of the foods high in FODMAPS include nutritious foods such as veggies and fruits that should be a part of a long-term healthy diet, as long as you tolerate them.

2. There are three distinct phases.

To get the most out of this diet, it’s necessary to implement all three phases. Many people get caught up in the first phase but then neglect to move along to the second and third.

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Elimination phase.

For the first two to six weeks, all high FODMAP foods are restricted. The point of the elimination phase is to get gastrointestinal symptoms under control and to assess whether or not these foods might be contributing to your symptoms.

Reintroduction phase.

Each group and subgroup of high FODMAP foods are methodically tested one at a time and in varying portion sizes to see which ones might be potential culprits. You may discover that you can handle a small serving size of some foods, but a larger quantity triggers symptoms. The good news is that it's not uncommon to find that only one or two categories of FODMAPs are the root cause of your digestive issues.

Personalization phase.

Based on your findings, in this phase you can customize your diet to your unique needs and preferences. Once you know which foods trigger your symptoms, you can continue to either eliminate them or modify their portion size. Since FODMAPs have a cumulative effect, you may be able to eat small amounts of your "trigger foods" as long as your total overall FODMAP load is low.

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3. Food quantity still matters.

When following this diet, it’s not enough to just eat from a list of low-FODMAP foods and avoid lists of high-FODMAP foods, because in many cases the portion size matters (not to mention many food lists that you’ll find on the internet are outdated). Some foods that are considered low-FODMAP can be triggering when eaten in larger quantities, just as some high-FODMAP foods can be considered low-FODMAP (and enjoyed) in a smaller portion size.

A great reference guide for portion sizes is the Monash University Low FODMAP Diet app that can be downloaded to your smartphone. I always recommend it to my clients who are following this diet or some variation of it, as it’s continually being updated with the latest research, and it’s a handy tool to have at your fingertips when grocery shopping.

4. It's just one piece of the digestive health puzzle.

While some people experience a significant reduction in their symptoms when following this diet, there may still be other factors that need to be considered alongside a low-FODMAP diet such as overall diet quality, eating behaviors, hydration, stress, intestinal infections, and other potential non-FODMAP food sensitivities.

5. It's not necessarily the first place to start.

There's no denying that this diet can be quite restrictive. And that's why other factors like overall diet quality and eating behaviors should be addressed first before jumping into this diet. Changes in these other areas can sometimes provide significant relief—without having to be so restrictive from the get-go.

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6. You don't have to do it alone.

If you’re seriously considering following this diet fully, at the very least download the Monash University app as mentioned above. Better yet, consider working with a certified/registered nutritionist or natural health practitioner who is well-versed in this diet and can guide you through each phase while keeping you accountable and support you through the process.

7. It's a tool—not a life sentence.

This last point might just be the most important one to keep in mind. Consider the low-FODMAP diet an information-gathering diet—one that can ultimately arm you with the knowledge to feel empowered about your food choices and in control of your symptoms.

A little sacrifice and work up front uncovering the culprits could mean freedom over the long term, reaching a point where you can enjoy as much variety in your diet as possible without having to police every bite. It’s also worth mentioning that your tolerance to certain foods can change over time. This is especially true as your digestion improves and the microbial landscape of your gut changes.

Questions about FODMAPS? mindbodygreen class instructor Dr. Vincent Pedre has answers here.

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