My Chronic Bloating Was Ruining My Life. Here's How I Got Rid Of It For Good
I’ve knowingly struggled with GI problems since college. My junior year, I was diagnosed with IBS, but truth be told, my stomach issues have probably been around for far longer than that. As a caesarean baby, I missed my chance of picking up much-needed gut flora by not exiting through the birth canal. Though I’ve lived a perfectly fine life, when that fact was paired with my lifelong dairy allergy and lack of probiotic food consumption growing up—why wasn’t kraut cool in the '90s?—my gut flora has taken a serious beating. Truthfully, it's no wonder that I’m still trying to find balance in my digestion and attempting to nip my dysbiosis in the bud as I type today.
Since discovering my IBS-C tendencies over six years ago and managing them with supplements, a gluten-free diet, and low-intensity movement like jogging, hiking, and yoga, I was doing a pretty great job keeping my symptoms under control—or so I thought. The occasional flare-up was normal for me. I would take a day off from the real world, detox my system, take it easy for a few days, and be on my way. That was my life...until the end of 2016. By January 2017, I was so bloated, it was debilitating. It got to the point where I woke up severely boating and I couldn't get through my day. There was a four-month waitlist to see a gastroenterologist at my medical center, so with a push from my mother (aren’t moms the best?), I went to urgent care one day and stayed there until they would refer me to a gastroenterologist.
How I finally found out about the low-FODMAP diet.
Many urine and blood tests later—including a pregnancy test (they actually thought it might be a scene from the show I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant), I got a referral to a GI doctor, and he had a last-minute opening that afternoon! An examination and emotional storytelling session later, he suggested I get a CT scan, upper endoscopy, colonoscopy, and ultrasound due to the colon cancer that runs in my family and the fact that my mother had a fibroid tumor when she was about my age. In addition to all of this, he gave me a couple of sheets on the low-FODMAP diet and said it might help.
Getting started on the low-FODMAP diet isn't easy.
For someone who was well-versed in the food allergy and wellness world, at that point in time, I didn’t actually know what FODMAPs were, let alone what a low-FODMAP diet entailed. From the get-go, it seemed pretty overwhelming and even more restricting than my current dairy-free, gluten-free, and corn-free diet. When I got home to research it, every site said something different from the paper forms he had given me. Could I eat nuts? How many sweet potato fries could I eat, or could I not eat sweet potatoes at all? Are bananas allowed? How about plantains? Does nut milk count in my nut quota? The mind-gut connection is huge, and the more I stressed about food, the worse my symptoms were even though I was eating "OK" low-FODMAP meals. The best advice I was given was to find just one source and stick to it. This eliminates the stress of deciding whether individual foods are OK. I downloaded the Monash University app and stuck to it like it was my food bible, and I was on my way to de-bloat.
How to make the low-FODMAP diet easier.
It took a good month for the diet to take effect. But after about four weeks, I experienced a massive decrease in bloat, significantly less pain (I would say a 75 percent reduction), and a lift in my overall mood and spirits. The low-FODMAP diet wasn't easy in the beginning, but if you're in a similar place with your digestion, I'd highly recommend trying it out. Here are a few tips to make the process more streamlined than mine was:
1. Embrace technology.
Find one low-FODMAP guide that works for you and stick with it. I recommend the Monash app. It’s easy to navigate and pull up at the grocery store.
2. Try new foods.
This diet is pretty restrictive, so it’s important to make it feel as expansive as possible. Your normal go-to’s may not be low FODMAP, so take this time to explore new ingredients!
3. Cook at home.
This will save you money, but it will also help you have fun with food and see it as your friend, not your enemy.
4. Eat often.
Sometimes it's hard to choose a food that's low-FODMAP approved and you may be tempted to skip meals or snacks. My advice would be to avoid this. Instead, brainstorm a few low-FODMAP snack combos before the week begins and have them waiting for you in your kitchen. My favorite low-FODMAP snack options are:
- Carrots and sunflower butter
- Red bell pepper and deli turkey with mustard (just watch for no carrageenan and other weird additives in the turkey)
- Kabocha squash smoothies
5. Remember, it's not forever.
The most important thing to remember is this isn’t a way of life. Unfortunately, this was something I didn’t realize until I started seeing my functional medicine doctor four months later. As a creature of habit, I got a little stuck in the low-FODMAP world. I stayed on the plan because I didn’t want to go back to bloat central. But the fact of the matter is that after two months, you should start reincorporating higher-FODMAP foods into your diet. Add them slowly, one by one, so that you can identify your own personal bloat triggers. Mine personally were beets, apples, and watermelon, all of which I used to eat all the time! Keep in mind that yours will be different, and you have to be patient and methodical about the process. The good news is that it's well worth it to finally feel like yourself again.
Learn more about the low-FODMAP diet here.