Tips for Reading Food Labels

One of the toughest parts about starting the Low FODMAP diet is learning to navigate food labels. Food labels share a lot of information such as serving size, calories, nutrients, ingredients, allergens, etc. It can be daunting to read one, especially if you’re new to the practice.

More challenging still is learning to recognize some of the sneakier FODMAPs in ingredient lists and trying to understand if the amounts might make a serving size high FODMAP. You can find FODMAPs in unexpected places (garlic powder in ketchup?), so the more familiar you are with FODMAPs the easier it gets, but until then consider these top tips to guide you on your journey.

Five Tips for Reading Food Labels

Understand How Ingredient Labels Work

Ingredients are listed by volume with the highest quantity being listed first and the lowest quantity last. That’s why you’ll often see the end of an ingredient list indicate that a serving has “less than 1% of…” because the amounts of the items that follow are so miniscule. Something to keep in mind, since the Low FODMAP diet is not strictly ingredient based, but also quantity based, you may be able to have small amounts of something that contains a high FODMAP ingredient if the amount you’d have is still considered low FODMAP. For me, it was easier to avoid everything at the beginning until I had a better understanding of quantities and was more comfortable reading labels, but it does add an element of flexibility to the process once you’re more accustomed to it.

Eat Whole Foods

If you eat more unprocessed foods like fruits, veggies, meats, etc. then you have less food label reading to do to begin with! Keep those quantities in mind as you make a meal or prepare a snack, but know that while browsing produce you don’t have to scrutinize a list of unfamiliar terms to check for potential triggers.

Use Resources

There are several helpful apps out there you can utilize to study up on some of your favorite items as you’re navigating the FODMAP world and some that you can use to scan foods in the store as you shop that can help guide your purchases. 

The Monash app is of course the resource for all things FODMAP, but the Spoonful app can be helpful to navigate your local grocery store. I know when I first started the Low FODMAP Diet I relied heavily on both of these apps to stock my cupboard with compliant snacks and new basics such as low FODMAP flour and pasta.

Don’t Rely on Other Dietary Guidelines or Restrictions

Gluten Free does not mean low FODMAP. Unless you have a food allergy, there is no need to eat only allergen free products. So while it can be helpful to see something labeled gluten free or soy free there may be other ingredients in the product that make it high FODMAP. Remember that the low FODMAP diet will often still permit small quantities of high FODMAP foods/ingredients, so there is no need to strictly avoid gluten, dairy, soy, etc. unless you are already avoiding those items for different reasons.

Natural Flavors

Be wary of broad terms like “natural flavors” on food labels as they could be concealing FODMAPs. Generally if the ingredients are low on the list or make up only a small percentage of the overall item then you don’t have to be too concerned about getting a high FODMAP quantity of a potential trigger. Refer to your apps if you have questions or want more information about a product or many companies offer additional details on their websites or via their customer support options. Avoid it entirely if you aren’t comfortable with it. Our mindset plays a role in how our body reacts and if you’re nervous to eat something even if there are no FODMAPs you may trigger symptoms. (More details here.)

Getting to know food labels can be intimidating as they provide a ton of information that you may not be familiar with. They may also not provide all the information you’d like in the detail you want. The important thing is not to let the labels run your life. Always look at food labels carefully so you understand the ingredient and the serving size, but don’t become obsessed with them. If you can’t make sense of something, put it back for now and take some time to research it later so you don’t spend hours in the store (in my experience that only makes it all the more frustrating). Keep your trusty apps handy and make sure you feel confident in what you put into your body. Remember, we are better off if we work with our gut.

Learning to Breathe

If anxiety and stress trigger your IBS, then practicing deep breathing exercises is a great way to help manage symptoms. Taking a moment to slowly inhale and exhale a few times can give your mind and body the reminder they need to calm down and allow your Central Nervous System (CNS) to assess what’s really going on and recognize that the full life-saving response is overkill. This takes your mind and body out of “fight or flight” and allows them to enter “rest and digest” mode, which is much nicer for your gut. (For a detailed look into the specifics of this process, give this post a once over.)

If you’re not careful about how you breathe, you could actually trigger more symptoms. Breathing to influence your gut-brain axis is not the same as simply getting air into your lungs. It is a more conscious act. If you are breathing in an exaggerated manner like a cartoon gasping for air, then your gut-brain axis might actually think there’s a reason to be sounding the alarm and stopping your gut from functioning properly. If we’re breathing like this, it usually means something is wrong—like we’re trying to escape the terrifying clutches of a vicious predator and we need all the oxygen we can get to fuel our muscles to defeat them or flee. If we’re trying to convince our gut-brain axis to relax, then we have to breathe into the belly, not into our chest. For that we may need to take a moment and re-learn how to breathe.

I remember learning to breathe in high school choir. My education really began in middle school—when I first joined the school choir—but it didn’t truly click until a year later. I had never put much thought into singing or breathing before that time. I sang along to the radio, but until I was engaged in musical performance, I never thought twice about when to take a breath or how to maintain a strong, supported note.

Our director always talked about filling our bellies with air, but this didn’t make sense to me. Didn’t he know that when you take a deep breath you suck in your belly and puff up your chest? I managed to get through 8th grade, but the following year a new director actually took the time to show us the difference.

“Take a deep breath.” We all did.”Think about how that felt.” We contemplated, confused.

“Put your hand on your belly and take a deep breath.” We did.

“Did your hand move?” The younger students slowly shook their heads, some of the upperclassmen nodded. Our teacher turned to the side and showed us how to push our deep breath into our belly and had us try a few more times. We took deep breaths and felt our chests rise and fall, but eventually some of us made our bellies move instead. This was revolutionary.

I didn’t get it right every time that day. Or the next day. I’d had a lifetime of never thinking about breathing to combat, but as we practiced this more and more, I got better and my singing improved too. I was able to support my sound and while I’m no Mariah, I held my own as a suburban high school soprano for several years.

When I read about how deep breathing can be a way to calm anxiety (and therefore reduce anxiety-induced IBS symptoms), I was transported back to high school choir and knew exactly what to do.

If you’re having difficulty breathing into your belly, try singing! Singing by itself can make you calmer and happier by boosting your mood and helping you to engage your body in a specific way.

The more you practice singing or deep breathing, the better you’ll be at defaulting to those deep belly breaths. If you find that you’re struggling to really connect the dots, lay flat on your back with one hand on your chest and one hand on your tum. Practice a few deep breaths and see which hand moves and what it feels like when your belly moves up and down vs. when your chest does. Focus on that tummy movement to really establish some muscle memory.

One of the most useful aspects of deep breathing is that it can be done anywhere, anytime. You don’t need any equipment. I find it helpful to straighten my spine so I have full belly expansion potential. Some people may experience lightheadedness during deep breathing exercises, so it’s a good idea to be sitting or laying flat until you know what to expect. 

As soon as you notice your thoughts starting to spiral out or your to-do list getting too long, take a few breaths. Hand on your belly if you’re still getting used to things, breathe a few seconds in and a few seconds out. Establishing this habit as a response to stress and anxiety is a great way to feel more in control and better manage your symptoms.

What breathing techniques do you use? Have you ever tried singing to manage symptoms? After reading this, do you feel like you need to re-learn how to breathe? Share your thoughts below!

Flare Up Menu

I have a better handle on my IBS symptoms than ever before, but I still experience the occasional flare up. I know that eating anything tends to trigger more symptoms during a flare up, but I also know that I have difficulty not eating throughout the day. To make matters more complicated, when I’m not feeling well I seek out comfort foods. I crave meals I can rely on to warm my heart and soul. I had this same experience when I went through the reintroduction phase as well. After testing a FODMAP, the symptoms would set in and despite my severe discomfort and prolonged pain, my body still needed food and my heart craved the familiar.

My biggest question on days like this: What can I eat when I am still hungry but having a flare up? I’ve rounded up some of my favorite meals and snacks for flare up days below. I tend to stick to Low FODMAP foods on flare days, just so I can avoid giving my gut any fuel for more symptoms. I eat plainly and give my gut time to work through the flare with (ideally) no additional complications. But I try to comfort my heart and soul a bit in the process too. The important thing is to stay nourished if your body needs food and to balance those sick cravings with food that will let your gut get through the flare up.

Breakfast: Oatmeal

Oatmeal with a low FODMAP milk or plant-based milk alternative is the way to go for me on flare up days. You can sweeten your oatmeal with maple syrup to stay Low FODMAP. Not feeling inspired? Check out my favorite recipe ideas for Low FODMAP oatmeal.

Morning Snack: Lactose-free yogurt (170g)

Make sure there are no sneaky ingredients that could trigger more symptoms. I like to get a plain variety that I can add flavor to myself so I always know it’s a green light to eat. You can add fruit, nuts, seeds, or spices if you crave a little flavor. 

Lunch: Simple Protein and Grains

Eggs with toast (traditional sourdough or another low FODMAP variety), rice or quinoa is my go-to flare up lunch. Eggs are great in a variety of different formats, so no matter what kind of egg you like, you can put together a filling lunch pretty quickly.

Depending on my mood or the severity of my symptoms I will either keep it simple with just these two items, or add a little more to my meal, like low FODMAP serves of canned chickpeas (42g) or black beans (40g) to add a little more protein and texture. You can also top with nutritional yeast (16g) or kimchi (47g) for a little extra flavor.

Snack: Grapes with Cheese

You can’t go wrong with a few grapes (150g) as an afternoon snack, and what better to pair them with than some cheese! There are many options for Low FODMAP cheese (40g) like cheddar, Havarti, brie, feta, camembert, mozzarella, gruyere, or goat and all make the perfect match to a bowl of grapes.

Dinner: Flare-Friendly Mac & Cheese

To me, macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. I ate it all the time as a kid and it remains one of my favorite meals well into adulthood. While in the elimination phase of the Low FODMAP diet, I ended up getting the flu and all I wanted was comfort food. After some digging, measuring, and a touch of creativity, I came up with a low FODMAP friendly cheese sauce option that I could put over low FODMAP noodles to indulge in.

Low FODMAP noodle options: Miracle Noodles has several Monash approved options, quinoa pasta (155g cooked), gluten free pasta (145g cooked), chickpea pasta (100g cooked), potato gnocchi, brown rice pasta, etc. 

Cheese Sauce:

Ingredients
  • 1 ½ Tb butter (19g)
  • 2 Tb Low FODMAP Flour (I like this one)
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ⅛ tsp. pepper
  • Dash of paprika
  • 1 ¼ C Low FODMAP milk or plant-based milk alternative (I typically use oat milk (½ c) or soy protein soy milk (1 c))
  • 1 C Low FODMAP cheese or cheese blend of your choice 
Directions

Note: You will need about ½ lb pasta for this recipe, but you can always double it and save the rest for another time or share with a friend!

  1. Prepare the pasta according to package directions, while you make the cheese sauce. (Reserve some pasta water to add to cheese sauce if you prefer a thinner texture. You can add a tablespoon of pasta water at a time until you reach the desired consistency.)
  2. Melt butter over medium heat.
  3. Whisk flour, salt, pepper, and paprika to the melted butter.
  4. Continue to whisk constantly over medium heat for ~3-4 minutes.
  5. Whisk in milk and continue to whisk constantly for ~15-20 minutes until the sauce thickens noticeably.
  6. Remove from heat, and add cheese blend. Stir until the cheese has melted and the sauce is creamy and smooth.
  7. Top the drained pasta with your cheese sauce and enjoy!

Dessert: Fruit with Whipped Cream or Chocolate

There’s nothing like a bowl of fresh fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth. There are plenty of Low FODMAP fruits you could finish your day with. I like to go with a bowl of mixed berries: blueberries (40g), raspberries (60g), strawberries (150g).

For an extra treat, grab some fresh whipped cream (60g) and add a few dark chocolate chips (30g)!

And let’s not forget fluids! Drinking plenty of water throughout the day will help your body immensely. You can also have some peppermint tea to soothe your stomach and help manage symptoms during your flare up.

I spend a lot of time thinking about food. What to eat. When to eat. What may trigger me. What may not. How much is a green serve. Am I stacking FODMAPS? Some days I get tired of thinking about food at all. It’s too much of a burden. Having a few reliable options that I know will fill me up and won’t hurt my tum makes a tough day feel more manageable and less stressful.

Keep in mind as you are making your choices throughout the day to avoid FODMAP stacking as well. Please note, all amounts listed are green serving sizes according to Monash, but not necessarily suggested serving sizes. As always, avoid any trigger foods you know you have. You can find more snack ideas here.

What do you like to eat on flare up days to help ease your symptoms and keep your belly full? Comment below!

The New Normal (Hear Me Out)

After a year that changed our lives and turned everything we thought we knew on its head… What will “normal” look like? 

As the US vaccine efforts have improved over the last several months, I find myself looking forward to things again. Celebrating holidays with friends and family. No longer being so afraid to leave my home. Getting a long overdue haircut. I’ve recently received my second vaccine and while I’m feeling better about the idea of going out into the world again, I still plan to continue wearing a mask and social distancing per CDC recommendations.

There are many things I’m looking forward to, but if I’m being honest, there are some things I will miss about this past year and the specific experience I have had. I have been extremely privileged and I know that. Not only did I keep my job, but I was able to work from home without issue. My home is a safe space and I do not have to fear being here. My loved ones took this seriously from the start so I didn’t have to worry about convincing people to make safe choices. I wasn’t evicted. I was able to easily navigate booking a vaccination in my area when I was eligible. The list goes on and on and I am very aware of the incredible fortune I’ve had during this time.

The benefits of having a better handle on the pandemic as a nation far outweigh any of my personal experiences. The point here isn’t to say that I wish things wouldn’t change, because that’s simply not true. What I hope to do here is acknowledge what I’ve learned about myself through these extreme circumstances and how I can take this new understanding with me as we slowly return to a life that looks more like it did before March 2020.

I know that I’m not alone when I say though, that some parts of the pandemic, especially the social distancing, have made the IBS part of my life less complicated. 

When working from home, I’m always near a toilet I like where I have the resources I need when I’m struggling. If I experienced a flare up in the last year and didn’t want to do anything but curl up on the couch with a hot water bottle and cup of peppermint tea, I didn’t have to stress about excusing myself from a social event or canceling plans, or going through with plans and feeling like I might burst at the seams. There were no activities at all for a time and even after there were, I refrained due to the pandemic. While I advocate for sharing your truth and not being ashamed of IBS, I also understand that you may not always want to tell everyone that you’re canceling plans because you need to be near the bathroom until further notice. Simply removing the pressure of having that conversation over and over again was a game changer for my mental health.

The daily commute became a relic of a different time. I didn’t realize how much my daily commute impacted my mental health until I no longer had to deal with it. Not only have I not had to sit in traffic or even drive at all most days, but I was also able to put this reclaimed time to use by walking my dog in the morning and doing yoga in the evenings, both activities that help me manage stress.

When restaurants closed down, we started ordering takeout occasionally to support local businesses. Normally, I would have had to ask all sorts of questions about the food and potential trigger ingredients, but since we were just at home eating anyway, I didn’t worry as much if something might trigger me because I was in my safe space. I didn’t have to consider what I was wearing and if I might be bloated for the rest of the night if I ate something that might not sit right. And since I didn’t worry as much about food, I didn’t experience as many flare ups as I might have if I’d had to be concerned about the impact of eating something.

When I think about how much being home more often has benefitted my gut, I start to feel a creeping anxiety about living a life that departs from this cozy space I’ve carved out in the world in the last year. I recognize that I feel my home is safe. At times I felt it was the only safe place to be. I wasn’t just excited to spend a night in, I was terrified to leave my home where I knew the air wasn’t carrying the virus that had stopped the world in its tracks.

It is in these moments of creeping anxiety that I try to think about the good parts about returning to my old life.

We’ve all had to learn new ways to cope with challenges. We’ve all shared in grief and fear. It seems that so much of our health has been much less taboo since the start of the pandemic. We’ve all struggled with mental health issues like anxiety and burnout during this time and more conversations about these themes can help us remove some of the stigma associated with them. You might find that your peers are more open to hearing about and sympathizing with your chronic condition. 

Things may never return to the “normal” as we knew it pre-pandemic. We’ve all been through trauma and as it continues to rage in communities around the world, we cannot let ourselves believe it is over until it is truly contained everywhere. What we can do is take what we’ve learned about self care and mental health back into the world with us. We can care for ourselves and each other in new ways by letting others know what we need and asking how we can support one another. We can make caring for others and speaking up for ourselves the new normal.

8 Good-Mood Foods for Living Well with IBS

Guest Post: To mark IBS Awareness Month we welcome Gemma Harris, UK-based health and wellness blogger and founder of The Gut Choice. Read on to find out more about her favorite go-to foods to improve your mood!

Ever had the urge to reach for cookies when you’re feeling low and then uh-oh, before you know it, you’re doubling up with stomach cramps because it has triggered your IBS? This certainly wouldn’t make anyone feel cheerier. This used to be me… until I bought Rachel Kelly’s The Happy Kitchen cookbook and learnt one of the most important lessons of my five-year IBS journey – what we put in our mouths can actually impact the way we feel. Research shows the gut-brain connection is real and that certain foods can boost our mood which in turn can have a positive impact on our IBS symptoms. Here are my top good-mood foods for living well with IBS:

When you need mental clarity

From personal experience, when my mind is clearer, I’m calmer and my IBS symptoms are more under control. If you can relate, you might want to start adding these mind-blowing foods to your diet.

  • Beets – This brightly colored root vegetable is proven to be good for cognitive brain function. Bonus – they are high in fibre which is beneficial for digestive health. Just be sure to stick to two slices of cooked beetroot for a low FODMAP addition. One of my favorite breakfasts is Deliciously Ella’s sweet beet overnight oats. Get the recipe.
  • Pukka Revitalise organic tea – described as a tea ‘to wake you and invigorate you,’ this certainly does what it says on the box. Not only does it taste delicious with a spicy burst of cinnamon, ginger and cloves, plus hints of spearmint and green tea, but it helps me feel more alert and provides a sense of peace. This is my go-to at the beginning of a busy week. Cardamom is also a key ingredient that has been used for thousands of years to help with digestion.

For when you’re feeling low

Instead of reaching for the ice cream tub next time you’re down in the dumps, try nourishing your body and mind with healthier options that are more than just a short-lived fix for lifting your spirits, unlike their sugary counterparts. At the same time, everyone needs a pick-me-up now and then and a little bit of what we enjoy is good for the soul. Our stomach shouldn’t have to suffer afterwards either. Making smart choices is key here.

  • Dark chocolate – one for the chocolate-lovers. As a self-confessed chocoholic, I NEEDED to find a variety my stomach could deal with and thank goodness for dark chocolate. 70%+ cocoa is best if you’re sensitive to lactose, like me. Plus, our gut microbes ferment chocolate into anti-inflammatory compounds that help keep us healthy.
  • Avocado – this fruit is definitely worthy of its superfood status. Not only is it packed with nutrients and high in healthy fats, but it can also help us feel happier! Avocados are a good source of folate and, although the connection isn’t yet fully understood, research suggests low levels of folate are linked with depression. Think you have to cut avocado out if you’re following the low FODMAP diet? That’s a myth; just keep your serving small – 1/8 of an avocado is low FODMAP.

When you need an energy boost

Fatigue and tiredness are common symptoms of IBS, but what can help with this? Listed below are just some of the foods that can increase and sustain energy levels. Number two is so simple yet so effective.

  • Fresh ginger – just the smell of fresh ginger is refreshing and by adding a small amount to recipes throughout the week, I notice that I feel more awake and alert. Plus, it helps to relieve nausea and intestinal cramps associated with diarrhoea. Add it to a smoothie like this one for an invigorating way to start your day.
  • Hot water – it’s no secret that staying hydrated helps us to feel more energized, but it also helps us to have more mental clarity and feel happier. A happy mind = a happy tummy. I also find a mug of hot water great for relieving stomach cramps.

If you are feeling stressed

Stress is a part of everyday life but, unfortunately, it can be a major trigger for an IBS flare-up. It’s all about learning how to cope with life’s stress and some foods can help with that. Check them out…

  • Fish – here’s some fin-tastic news (see what I did there). Eating fish can help to fend off stress. Fatty fish in particular, such as tuna, mackerel, sardines and salmon, are a great option because their omega-3 fatty acids may help ease depression. What’s more these omega-3s play an anti-inflammatory role within the body. Top a cracker with avocado and sardines for a tasty, calming mid-afternoon snack.
  • Nuts – The B vitamins in nuts make them a great stress-busting snack. Just be sure to limit servings to a handful per day as nuts are high in calories. Low FODMAP nuts include macadamias, peanuts and pine nuts.

Share your thoughts

Have you tried any of these good mood foods? Let us know how it went in the comments!

Meet Gemma

Gemma is a freelance journalist and health blogger with a passion for health and wellness. She founded thegutchoice.com to help people make positive choices for their tummies and have a safe space to discuss gut issues as well as to provide a hopeful outcome for others. Check out her blog at the link and find her on Facebook and Twitter: @TheGutChoice as well.

April is IBS Awareness Month

Happy IBS Awareness Month everyone! This is a time to learn about IBS and encourage people who suffer from gut symptoms to make an appointment with their healthcare provider. Many cases of IBS go undiagnosed for years before people realize their symptoms are part of a pattern, not just normal discomfort. In 1997 the IFFGD declared April IBS Awareness Month and it is officially recognized on the U.S. National Health Observances calendar.

If you have IBS you probably already know a thing or two about it, but let’s take a look at the basics.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a collection of symptoms experienced in the gut that can cause pain and discomfort. The exact cause is unknown and most of the time a diagnosis is based on the presence of symptoms that don’t lead to a diagnosis of another gut disorder, such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD0, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, etc. There is no single IBS test, so diagnosis is often a process of elimination.

Symptom severity varies for each individual and even within an individual’s own experience. There is no known cure for this chronic condition, but most people with IBS can improve their quality of life through symptom management techniques including diet, lifestyle, or behavioral changes.

Subtypes

  • IBS-C (Constipation predominant)
  • IBS-D (Diarrhea predominant)
  • IBS-M (Mixed)
  • IBS-U (Unspecified)
  • PI-IBS (Post-infectious – when IBS is induced by a gastrointestinal infection, this can often clear up with time, but not always)

Symptoms

  • Abdominal pain, cramping, discomfort
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Constipation/incomplete evacuation
  • Diarrhea
  • Alternating Constipation/Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion

IBS Fast Facts

  • About 10-15% of adults around the world have IBS
  • On average, those with IBS restrict activities 73 days out of the year
  • On average, it takes more than 6 years from symptom onset to diagnosis
  • Many people go undiagnosed because they are too embarrassed to visit a healthcare professional or because they don’t realize that their distress is abnormal.
  • IBS impacts more women than men
  • More than half of people with IBS are over the age of 50
  • Roughly 20-40% of all visits to gastroenterologists are due to IBS symptoms

Symptom Management

You can learn to manage your symptoms better through a variety of options including dietary changes, such as the Low FODMAP diet or limiting gut irritants like alcohol and caffeine. Stress management techniques, such as these, these, or these may also be helpful as they work to calm your gut by calming your brain. 

Many people find that one of these techniques works best for them, others find that a combination helps their IBS. Every gut is different! Try different methods and learn what works for you and your gut.

How to Celebrate IBS Awareness

My number one recommendation for what to do for IBS Awareness Month is to share your story! The more we normalize IBS the less stigma we will face as a community. So many of us are ashamed or embarrassed about the way our body functions (or doesn’t function) because we live in a culture where it’s taboo to discuss such things openly, but there is no reason to feel this way and dealing with the stress of hiding your condition can sometimes exacerbate symptoms as we know there is a link between stress and symptom severity.

For more ways to get involved, check out the resources on the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD)’s IBS Awareness page!

What are you doing this IBS Awareness Month? Comment down below or send me an email to share your story, what works for you, or any other thoughts you might have.

Remember: Work with your gut, not against it.

Coming soon: Gemma Harris of thegutchoice.com will be offering her take on some good mood foods. Read more about Gemma below and follow the links to check out her blog!

Gemma is a freelance journalist and health blogger with a passion for health and wellness. She founded thegutchoice.com to help people make positive choices for their tummies and have a safe space to discuss gut issues as well as to provide a hopeful outcome for others.

Avoid These 5 Common low FODMAP Mistakes

If you have IBS, there’s a good chance you’ve been told to try the Low FODMAP diet and been very confused by it. Many people share a similar experience of their doctor recommending the diet, giving them a list of some foods to avoid (but not much else in the way of guidance), then being sent off on their own to make sense of things. 

It can be difficult and confusing at the start and just when you feel you’ve gotten the hang of it, you learn you’ve been overlooking something. Feeling like you’ve made mistakes on the diet can lead to undue stress and as we all know, stress is an important trigger for symptoms.

Avoiding these 5 common mistakes can help you navigate the Low FODMAP diet and set yourself up for success.

FODMAP Stacking

You may have no trouble sticking to low FODMAP serving sizes of individual foods or ingredients, but maybe you’re forgetting that FODMAPs in a meal add up and too many green and yellow serves can add up to a yellow or even red total, making your meal high FODMAP. (See Monash for guidelines and 3 color system.)

Portion Size

Portion size is key! We know that eating too much of a trigger food or FODMAP group can cause symptoms. But did you know that eating too much at once (even if low FODMAP) or eating too fast can also cause symptoms like bloating and gas? It’s not just what we eat but HOW we eat and how MUCH that can make a difference in the hours after a meal.

Sneaky Ingredients

It can be easy to think that we know what’s in our food, but there are any number of unexpected ingredients in packaged foods especially. Condiments, snacks, and sauces are notorious for having unexpected ingredients listed. Not reading the ingredient lists on packaged food can mean that you’re getting high FODMAP items or experiencing FODMAP stacking if it’s something you might eat throughout the day. Keep an eye out for things like sugar alcohols, apple-based sweeteners, and chicory root just to name a few common offenders. Take your label reading game to the next level.

Being on the Diet for Too Long

Following the low FODMAP diet long term may feel like the right thing to do, especially if you experience symptom relief trying it out, but it’s very restrictive and doesn’t allow for the full variety you need in a healthy diet for the long term. It’s meant to determine sensitivities, not act as a forever solution.

Follow the guidelines below for each stage, and work with your healthcare team to make adjustments specific to your needs.

  • Elimination = 2-6 weeks
  • Reintroduction = 6-8 weeks
  • Modification/Personalization = long term elimination or limitation of only the foods that trigger your symptoms

Forgetting to Take Care of Yourself on This Journey

Being too hard on yourself is common when you’re working your way through the low FODMAP diet. It’s a tough process and pretending like it isn’t challenging doesn’t do anyone any favors. Remember to forgive yourself if you miss a sneaky ingredient or otherwise “mess up” the diet. It won’t ruin the process for you. Just learn from the mistake and move on, forgive yourself and keep going. You can do this and you are worth it!

The Low FODMAP diet can be a successful way to manage symptoms for many people and is worth trying if you’ve been diagnosed with IBS. Roughly 75% of people who try the Low FODMAP diet experience symptom relief through dietary changes/by discovering triggers and learning to limit or avoid the foods that cause symptoms.

If you’ve been caught up in some of these easy-to-make mistakes, consider giving the diet another try and keep these tips in mind to set yourself up for success.

As always, consider consulting a healthcare professional before attempting the diet again to make sure that you are armed with all the information and support you need to work with your gut.

Low FODMAP Friendly Valentine’s Day Menu

With Valentine’s Day coming up, you may be thinking about what to do for dinner. If you’re following the Low FODMAP diet, planning a meal you can enjoy with your partner can be tricky. Share a good gut meal with the one you love using the following menu. (Please note that all provided serving sizes come from Monash and are provided in the Low FODMAP quantity, so if these foods don’t trigger you, you can indulge a bit more. You know your body best!)

Appetizer: Cheeseboard

Main course: Salmon, Veggies, and Quinoa

  • Baked salmon – Pick up enough salmon for 2 and rub your favorite simple spices on it
    • I like to use a little salt and pepper, oregano, garlic infused olive oil, rosemary, and thyme). Wrap it in foil, skin side down and pop it in the oven at 350°F/175°C for about 25 min or until cooked through.
  • Steamed veggies
    • Chop a few of your favorite veggies and steam for a delicious, nutritious side to add to your salmon. I like to squeeze fresh lemon juice on my steamed veggies and the following make a great accompaniment to salmon.
      • Broccoli 75g
      • Carrots 75g
      • Zucchini 65g
  • Quinoa – Steam some quinoa in a rice cooker or on the stovetop, using 1 part grain to 2 parts water. Be sure to wash the quinoa first to remove the bitter coating. Compliment your spices based on what you selected for your salmon. I like to add the juice of about half a lemon, thyme, salt, and pepper for a bit of added flavor without overwhelming anything.

Dessert: Berries & Cream with Chocolate Shavings

  • Choose your favorite berry (or mix it up!)
    • Strawberries 10 med, chopped/150g
    • Blueberries ¼ C/40g
    • Raspberries 30 berries/60g
  • Top with whipped cream
    • 1/2c/60g
    • Note: Recommend making your own whipped cream so you can be sure there are no sneaky additives
  • Chocolate – add some chocolate shavings on top for a little extra decadence
    • Milk 20g
    • Dark 30g

Drinks

  • Red, White, and Sparkling Wine (5 ounces/150 ml)
    • Pay attention to sparkling wine and how your body reacts because carbonation by itself may trigger symptoms.
  • Remember, alcohol is naturally an irritant, so again if you know this is a trigger for you try something that won’t give you a flare up so you can focus on enjoying your time together.

Avoid FODMAP stacking throughout this meal, especially if you know your triggers. All the quantities listed are Low FODMAP, but be sure to stay within your own limits for what’s too much to eat as well.

Most importantly, don’t let your nerves get the best of you this Valentine’s Day. Share a gut-friendly meal with your partner and focus on your relationship, not the fear of having a flare up on a romantic occasion.

Stress Management Techniques, Part 3

Stress management techniques that you’ve never heard of

Welcome to the third and final installment of our January Stress Management Techniques series to kick off 2021!

We’ve already reviewed some techniques that you’re probably familiar with as well as a couple you might have heard of, but never really tried to deal with stress when it comes up. The last category is about lifestyle changes you can make to avoid stress in the first place.

The less time you dedicate to your stressors on a daily basis the more your time will free up for things you actually want to do, including giving you time to incorporate some of those other techniques like establishing a regular exercise routine or carving out space to meditate.

Plan Ahead

The goal here is to shift your time around to set yourself up for success instead of spending the week feeling like you’re drowning in responsibilities.

Set Aside Time

Once a week (or once a month, whatever works for you) decide what needs to be done and space it all out. There’s no reason you HAVE to clean your whole place all in one day. You could dust on Mondays, vacuum on Tuesdays, take Wednesdays off for your weekly happy hour with friends, etc. You’ll keep up with your responsibilities and you won’t constantly be trying to remember things you need to do which will free up your brain to focus on other things and allow your gut to go from fight or flight to rest and digest.

Meal prep

This is HUGE for IBS sufferers so let’s get right to it: 

  • Identify your trigger foods and find replacements for them
  • Have snacks on hand that don’t trigger symptoms
  • Write down meals and ingredients to make things at least one week ahead. Shop once.

To help you plan out your week, make sure you set aside some time to select a few meals and prepare a grocery list for the ingredients you’ll need to make it all happen. Write down the meals you’ve decided to make (I use a magnetic whiteboard on our fridge, but even just a note on your phone would be helpful) so you know what to make when and where to find the recipe. This little reference will help keep you from staring into your pantry at dinner time trying to remember what you planned out a few days ago.

Create systems

Take some time to think about what in your life causes you stress and make changes in how you approach those stressors to help manage symptoms. These should be positive changes that allow you to create systems that work for you instead of scrambling to get everything done day after day.

Unburden your mind and your gut from this anxiety by having an honest conversation with yourself about what causes you stress. Some of my stress triggers are below to help get your juices flowing.

Finances

I worry about money. I used to spend so much time looking at bank accounts, bills, savings goals, debt, etc. But then I found a system that automates my money and now it’s something I don’t have to worry about. I’ve reallocated that time to things that help me manage my stress, instead of feeding the stress.

Responsibilities around the house

I am married. We have 2 cats, a dog, and a growing indoor jungle. I am the house manager and it can be exhausting. For a long time I took on all the responsibilities. I would delegate occasionally, but not nearly enough to maintain my sanity. When I started to take my stress management more seriously to better control my IBS, I knew I had to really commit to offloading some responsibilities. Now we have a chore system that works for both of us.

Don’t think about these things every day anymore. Free up your time and make space for calm in your mind. Establish habits that will do the thinking for you.

A Few Final Thoughts

Don’t take all this on at once. Start small or pick one thing that you think would make the biggest impact and start there. You want to form good habits that you can stick to and you definitely don’t want your stress management to become stressful. I tried to take on meditation, yoga, running, and meal planning in the same week and I definitely felt the consequences of taking on too much.

Be open to the idea that you may try one of these things and not really like it. Give something an honest go and if it doesn’t work for you, move on. If you set something up and then find that it isn’t working, tweak it until you find a way to make your life easier, then commit to it. You deserve peace of mind AND peace of gut.

Stress Management Techniques, Part 2

This week in our series on Stress Management Techniques, we’re going to explore some that might not be as familiar to you as the ones from last week. Maybe you have heard of these, but maybe you haven’t tried them out for yourself. These techniques don’t usually appear on quick lists about how to manage stress (that was more true for the last post), but they’re definitely worth trying out for more long-term stress management.

Stress management techniques maybe you’ve heard of but haven’t tried

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychological treatment that is used to manage a range of problems.

One way to think about this in the context of your IBS is to give yourself space to think about what is actually likely to happen or not. If you are nervous about going somewhere because you may have a flare up or may not be able to get to a toilet… actually stop to think through the scenario and don’t spiral out into the worst case scenario. Ask yourself, “What happens next?” and answer with a positive spin. Go through an entire experience like this, stopping when a fear pops up and tell yourself a different story.

Hypnotherapy

In a study conducted in the Netherlands, it was found that “up to half of people who had individual or group hypnotherapy had adequate relief from their symptoms compared with less than a quarter of people who only had education and support.”

You can check out The Calmer You for resources, a podcast, individual coaching, and more on hypnotherapy.

These techniques are a bit more involved than the others. They may take a bit more research to find a time and place that suits you. They may take time for you to really get into or see any benefits. If you’re like me, you may even feel a bit hesitant or silly trying them out, but ultimately you’ll never know if they could be your ticket to a happy tum unless you give them a try!

Remember not to take on too much all at once. Try the technique that speaks to you the most and see if it feels right. If it doesn’t work, let it go and try something else.

Next week for our final chapter we will explore some stress management techniques that you may have never considered could be helpful for managing your symptoms, but that might be just what you’ve been looking for!