Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Ew.
Don’t run away just yet. I promise this isn’t going to be some graphic medical blog post with too much detail about bodily functions. I don’t enjoy reading these types of things, so I definitely don’t want to be caught writing one myself. I am, however, going to give you an abbreviated idea of what it is and explain how my diet has changed because of the diagnosis.
IBS is a disorder that affects the large intestine and causes everything from cramps and bloating to diarrhea and vomiting. Its main triggers are certain foods and stress, though other causes have been documented as well. It can also indicate or cause an imbalance in your gut bacteria, or microflora, which is a whole other topic for another post. The bottom line is it sucks and it’s uncomfortable and it has to be managed throughout your life. For further medical details, start here.
I first developed IBS during a very stressful season in my life. My primary symptoms are cramping and stomach pain, and I can tell within minutes of eating if there is a problem. The symptoms came on gradually during this time, peeking just as the stressful life circumstances resolved themselves. On a Friday, I went to lunch with a friend of mine. Two bites into a delectable mushroom bisque, I knew something was wrong. I’m glad to say that is the only time my IBS has been bad enough to cause vomiting. I was in bed the entirety of the next day with no energy whatsoever. By Monday, the cause of my stress was alleviated and my stomach quickly returned to normal. Since then I have had reoccurring periods of discomfort, usually stress initiated but not always, and never as severe as the initial onset. It took me about a year to finally sit down with my doctor to discuss the issue, but he made the diagnosis quickly. He handed me a packet of information and told me to do some research. And thus I was introduced to the FODMAP diet.
FODMAPs are sugar alcohols and short chain carbohydrates found in food. These components have been proven to irritate the digestive track which results in IBS and it’s associated symptoms. Following a low FODMAP diet aims at limiting those components to alleviate the symptoms of IBS. For more scientific info, take a look here.
The best resource for combating IBS is a comprehensive list of the foods that are safe to eat, those that can be consumed in moderate portions, and those that should be avoided altogether. This chart has been especially helpful, as it includes which problematic component the food contains. I appreciate that information, as I know fructose and fructans are the components to which I am most sensitive (I avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague). Knowing these things gives me an idea of which foods I should definitely avoid and which I can incorporate in small amounts. I have noticed a few small discrepancies between low FODMAP lists, but any foods that show up on the ok list one place and the avoid list another place, I assume are foods that can be consumed in moderation.
Now, if you’re looking at this list and you know me at all, I’m sure you’re wondering how I’ve managed to give up some of the naughty foods. And I’ll be honest, I cried when I saw garlic and onions in the Avoid column. I see 1/2 an onion in the recipe and I throw the whole thing in. And garlic? I don’t measure in cloves, let’s just put it that way. One clove equals half the head in my book. My momma raised me right. Mangos?! What is this conspiracy? Apples?! What am I supposed to do in the fall? Cauliflower?! You shush your face! Yes, it was an emotional struggle. But pain can be a powerful motivator, and I have noticed direct correlations between my eating choices and my physical comfort. That said, depending on the recipe, I will use much smaller portions of both onions and garlic if I feel the recipe won’t be the same without them.
One thing the low FODMAP diet suggests is going gluten free. I am not going this route for several reasons. First, I am already giving up so many other foods (we will cover the rest in a future post). Second, I’ve never had an issue with gluten and my observations have been that it isn’t a trigger for my IBS symptoms. And finally, I recently underwent the test for allergies and, as I anticipated, I am not allergic to anything. So don’t mind me as I continue my love affair with carbs.
I have done some research on gluten, the recent gluten-free fad, and Celiacs disease. There is a documentary out there (I found it on Netflix) called What’s With Wheat. It looks at the history of wheat and wheat products, gluten, and how we consume both. It definitely gave me some food for thought, and I would suggest it if you are interested in more information on Celiacs, Gluten Intolerance, and general nutrition.
I’ve watched many documentaries and read many books on diet, nutrition, and various food related topics. While I can honestly say every one has given some nugget of knowledge, I am going to make a point of only recommending those that I feel meet certain criteria as a whole. They have to be educational and based on scientific information and academic research, and they have to be presented professionally and as unbiased as possible. There’s a lot of controversy about certain nutrition documentaries recently, and while I agree with some of the fundamentals of the information presented, I feel they were done poorly and the bias is palpable. I won’t recommend those, even if I did walk away with a tidbit here and there.
I do want to throw out a disclaimer, as I feel it is wise: I am not a scientist. I am not a nutritionist. I am not an expert in anything (some contending topics are coffee or tea, kitchen improvisation, and sarcasm). I have done research to my own satisfaction and come to my own conclusions. I am offering what I know, my experiences, and a few opinions for good measure. I will always encourage you to do your own research and make up your own mind about things.
Up next will be some information about the Whole Food Plant Based diet, which I discovered while researching IBS and the low FODMAP diet. I’m hoping these two topics will explain the types of recipes and ingredients you will see in my posts. I’ll try to give ingredient substitutions for most diet types, but if there is anything specific you want me to address, I’m happy to take suggestions.
Hello! I'm Whitney and this is my home for all things food and life.