For most of the last two months, eating has felt like a science experiment.
After complaining of a host of stomach issues, including pain and near constant bloating, for most of my life, I asked my new nurse practitioner if we could investigate further. She was the first medical professional I’ve seen that came to the table with a genuine plan to figure out the source(s) of my discomfort – and she wanted to start with food. Often, medical professionals will default to a battery of tests like endoscopies and ultrasounds to find answers without getting to the root of symptoms. My NP feels like I do: treat with lifestyle first, then bring in modern medicine if lifestyle changes don’t remedy the issue at hand.
There is certainly a time and a place for modern medicine, and I don’t turn my nose up at it. But I also don’t believe in tests and pills for the sake of tests and pills so it was refreshing to find a provider who prioritizes a healthy lifestyle in her practice.
She put me on a low FODMAP diet for a month, then, assuming I saw improvement in my symptoms, we would begin to reintroduce foods. You can read more about what FODMAP is and the foods it restricts here.
The first few days were hard. I struggled with eating enough, my workouts were abysmal, and I had no idea how I was going to survive a full month like this. I had a weightlifting meet on the calendar three weeks later. How would I continue with my training volume if I could barely get through the day without wanting to keel over? By the end of night two, I found myself sitting on my couch crying tears of frustration. And I was so hungry. So very hungry.
I reached out to my NP with my concerns and she suggested ways to add calories to my meals and snacks. Nut Thin crackers with hard cheese became a staple, as did FODMAP-friendly fruits like strawberries, grapes, and blueberries. A little dark chocolate was okay, as were a few gummy bears or Swedish Fish. Go Marco bars have also proven to be largely FODMAP friendly (read the ingredients!) and a great protein boost. By the end of the week, I was in a much better place.
Midway through week two, I changed my mind about FODMAP. So many of my symptoms had lessened or disappeared. I was also doing intermittent fasting at her recommendation – eating from 12 to 8pm – to give my body time to fully digest food before adding more on top of it. I went from fretting over whether I’d make weight to compete in the 81kg class (I just could not seem to get rid of the water bloat) to being two whole kilos (about 5lbs) under the limit, meaning I woke up meet morning without the dreaded “oh no, will I make my class?” feeling.
(Side note: I’m not a fan of cutting for weightlifting meets and would have sucked it up and competed in a heavier class where I was less competitive – I’ll have to write a post on my feelings on weight cuts soon).
After a month of strict low FODMAP, it was time to start re-introducing foods. I chose to start with dairy – it was the week of the Fourth of July and in my mind, ice cream and July 4th just go together. That Monday, when noon rolled around and I broke my fast, I had an old favorite: vanilla Greek yogurt with berries and chopped peanuts. I added in milk chocolate chips, too, because – dairy.
It didn’t even taste good. In fact, it tasted downright sour. I had to scrounge sugar (FODMAP allows raw sugar!) from a co-worker just to choke it down. Within minutes, my stomach started making weird noises. I informed my doctor via email that I was allergic to dairy and therefore never eating it again.
But that’s not how it works. She needed several days of dairy to make a determination so I convinced myself it was a bad batch of yogurt, checked the expiration date on the containers still in the fridge, and ate it again every day that week, along with other dairy favorites, like cottage cheese, chocolate milk, and ice cream.
Dairy is, in fact, not my friend.
Hard cheeses are fine and I seem to tolerate whey protein okay as well as, interestingly enough, protein ice cream (like Halo Top) in small servings, but anything else? Not so much. And so, I’m now largely dairy free. I’m really not surprised, given I was lactose intolerant as a small child but “grew out of it.”
What was interesting was that in addition to my stomach reaction, I developed a runny nose. My NP believes that was also a reaction to dairy. The body is weird, friends.
After going back to strict low FODMAP for a few days to allow my body a reset, gluten came back into the picture. My first gluten day was a Sunday and I’ve been largely gluten-free for so long that the only things that sounded good were Chick-Fil-A and a cupcake. It was, of course, Sunday, the only day you ever crave Chick-Fil-A, so I picked up a cupcake from a favorite bakery.
I had to convince myself to eat it. Two bites and it was a sugar bomb I didn’t want. Like dairy, my initial reaction wasn’t good. It was so bad I considered calling out of work the next day. I didn’t, but I also didn’t eat gluten again until Tuesday afternoon. Ultimately, we’ve established that I *most likely* don’t have Celiac Disease, just a gluten sensitivity.
I’ve also added back in beans, corn, avocados, broccoli, and cauliflower, thankfully with little consequence. I was especially relieved that beans didn’t cause a reaction. With the nixing of Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk, some of my go-to protein sources are out of the equation now. Getting enough protein without eating a lot more meat or overly processed protein bars will be an ongoing challenge and beans will help meet it.
While my low FODMAP diet started out rough, it ultimately opened my eyes to how my diet directly impacts my body. Food is fuel, a philosophy I strongly subscribe to, and this has truly changed my approach to eating.
I’ve received a lot of questions about the low FODMAP diet and I want to emphasize that it is not a diet to lose weight. It is a diet to help determine food sensitivities best done under the recommendation and guidance of a doctor or NP. Did I lose a few pounds? Yes. But that loss largely came from no longer eating things that were causing me to retain fluid and feel crappy. If you think you could benefit from a low FODMAP diet, talk to a medical professional first.
Of note, I am still following intermittent fasting. I’m not always perfect on the 12-8pm window and I may have the occasional snack after 8pm, but I like how I feel on IF and will continue to stick to it most days, with exceptions around things like competition days and brunches because – brunches. I do think IF is a more advanced approach to nutrition and is not something I recommend to those struggling with basic healthy diet practices like portion sizes and balanced eating.
Now, if you need me, I’m probably eating Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi now that we’ve established I can have cauliflower without consequence. I missed this stuff, y’all!
Questions on FODMAP or IF? Leave them in the comments – I’ll either answer or refer you to someone who can!