I’ve had a stomachache more days than not for most of my life. It often feels like my insides have knotted themselves around one another, squeezed tight, and are refusing to let go. I’ve learned to live with it. I’ve done just about everything you can think of with the feeling – traveled around foreign countries, sat in important meetings, gave presentations, taught barre classes, even competed in powerlifting meets and Strongman competitions.
My stomach troubles started early. I was days old when the doctor deemed me lactose intolerant. I had to have a soy-based formula to gain weight. I “outgrew” the lactose intolerance over the years, or so I was told, and resumed drinking cow’s milk, eating ice cream, and doing damage to any and every cheese platter that crossed my path.
I had some embarrassing moments in school. There were mornings when my stomachache was so severe I had to ask the bus driver to pull over, or even call someone to come get me. I was such a frequent visitor to the bathroom in the mornings while waiting for first bell in middle school that the hall monitors would just nod me through when I walked out of the cafeteria.
At one point, my doctor put me on pills for my stomach issues. I was diligent about taking my pill as soon as I got up every morning, almost always with peanut butter on toast. I wasn’t a believer in breakfast back then, but he insisted if I ate something, I would feel better. I put a lot of faith in that pill and toast combo, but nearly every morning, my fate was the same on the 45 minute bus ride to school. Or on a Saturday afternoon on the way to my riding lessons. A random after school cheerleading practice.
When I ran out of pills, I told my mom. “I need my pills refilled.” She sighed and told me the truth. They were “sugar pills” because all of my stomach issues were “in my head.” My doctor and parents believed I just didn’t want to go to school, but I loved school. I wanted to go to school. I couldn’t get them to understand that it wasn’t “in my head,” and so, I learned to cope.
And I’ve coped ever since.
Thankfully, the bathroom issues are generally a non-issue these days. Praise hands for that, because middle school was terrible. But a constant stomachache? That’s not normal.
What finally triggered me to make the doctor appointment I kept putting off wasn’t my mom’s medical history, in the end. It was my stomach. When I walked into my doctor’s office, I had been painfully bloated for nearly two weeks. Even the scale was reflecting a weight gain of several pounds. I felt like if someone would just stick a pin in my belly, it would deflate and I would feel 100% better.
I had been on a huge salad kick for those two weeks. My lunch one week was a taco salad – lots of greens with some salsa chicken and cauliflower rice – and I ate huge salads full of every vegetable on the planet nearly every night. I love vegetables and crave salads in the summer, but I know enough about nutrition and digestion now that I knew they were likely wreaking havoc on my gut. My doctor, saint that she is, listened to all of my concerns, talked through what I had been eating, and suggested we reset my gut.
How does one reset their gut?
Not through insert cleanse here.
She put me on a month-long low FODMAP diet. I started last Monday. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen my stories about FODMAP. I’ve gotten a LOT of questions about it, so I’m going to share what I’ve learned so far (FODMAP recipes to come!).
What is the low FODMAP diet?
First, let’s talk about what the low FODMAP diet is NOT. It is NOT a “lose weight fast” diet. I’ve had a few people ask “how much weight is this supposed to help you lose?” The answer is none. That is not the point of the low FODMAP diet.
What the FODMAP diet IS, however, is a diet low in fermentable carbs known as FODMAPS. FODMAP stands for:
These particular carbs are known for causing digestive issues like bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, and gas. Gross. I know. People diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) often greatly benefit from a diet low in FODMAP foods.
Interestingly, my visit to the doctor coincided with the chapter on macros in my Precision Nutrition certification studying and the carbohydrates section greatly detailed each of these fermentable carbs. That made conversing with the doctor about what the FODMAP diet entails a lot easier.
What foods are restricted?
I shared with my doctor that the only times in recent years that I’ve had total stomach pain relief have been when I’ve followed a Whole30 diet down to the letter. In her opinion, the FODMAP diet isn’t as restrictive as Whole30, but I personally find it to be more restrictive as it eliminates some of my favorite vegetables, like brussel sprouts and cauliflower, as well as a number of beans and nuts that I often use for protein sources. And did I mention that I can’t have avocados?
Some foods that are off limits on a low FODMAP diet:
Garlic (including salt and powder forms), onions (including powdered and pickled), asparagus, ripe bananas, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cassava, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, green peppers, okra
Apples, apricots, avocado, blackberries, cherries, dates, grapefruit, mango, nectarines, peaches, pears, pineapple (dried), plums, pomegranates, watermelon
Baked beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, kidney beans (all), lima beans, soy beans
Wheat containing products, rye containing products, barley, almond meal, bran cereals, bread (non-gluten-free), cashews, couscous, pistachios
Agave, hummus, honey, most jams (read label), molasses, pesto, relish, stock cubes, sugar-free sweeteners, sweeteners that end in -ol such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol
Cow, goat, or sheep milk, soft cheeses such as cottage cheese, ricotta, mascarpone, and cream cheese, ice cream, yogurt
Beer (more than one), coconut water, teas and juices with high FODMAP fruits, kombucha, meal replacement drinks that contain milk-based products, soy milk, rum, sodas containing high fructose corn syrup, chai, dandelion, chamomile tea, wine (more than one glass)
This is not an inclusive list of high FODMAP foods, but a general idea of what is restricted on a low FODMAP diet. I eat a lot of fruit, particularly apples and blackberries as well as avocado. I tend to use onion and green pepper a lot, cook with a fair amount of garlic, and eat a number of the vegetables on the above list almost daily. I eat Greek yogurt or cottage cheese almost daily in an effort to get more protein, and I use Ascent whey protein after my workouts. I love to dip carrots in hummus, use beans as a protein source…
While I can have gluten-free pasta and bread as well as rice, I think you may see why I tend to feel this is more restrictive than Whole30.
But is it working?
I’m one week in at the time of writing this post and I’m told it takes 10-14 days to start to truly see results. Having said that, I’m here to begrudgingly admit that yes, it is working.
My first two days were HARD.I was hyper aware of my meal prep leading into the week. I prepared all low FODMAP foods and felt pretty okay with my choices. But by the end of day two, I was not in a good place. I felt weak, cranky, and all around miserable. I missed lifts at weights that should have been a non-issue several times over, and had no endurance.
I suspected I wasn’t eating enough. I plugged everything into MyFitnessPal and found I had barely eaten 1200 calories all day. For someone who considers themselves an athlete – and I had trained both days – this was not enough. I reached out to my doctor for advice on how I could eat more and she helped me identify places to add calories – brown rice to lunch, hard cheese and gluten-free crackers as a snack… By day four, I was MUCH better and by the time I trained on Friday (day five) I hit some very nice, very heavy snatches and clean-and-jerks.
Food is fuel, FODMAP or not.
But more importantly, a week in, my stomachaches have almost disappeared, and I’m significantly less bloated. And while it’s not meant to cause weight loss, because of the reduction in bloating, I am a few pounds lighter. I don’t hate it.
What are you eating?
I’m sticking to some pretty basic foods at this point. My breakfast is a ground chicken, sweet potato, and zucchini scramble with eggs, and new this week, uncured bacon. Lunch is zoodles, a bit of rice, and sheet pan chicken fajitas using orange, red, and yellow bell peppers. Dinner is a turkey burger with cheese, sauteed squash, and homemade fries in the air fryer. For snacks, I’m having grapes, strawberries, and blueberries in moderate quantities, rice cakes with peanut butter, and Nutthins with sharp cheddar. I’ve also found some GoMarco bars that are FODMAP-friendly, and my doctor okayed gummy bears (certain brands – I have to read the ingredients) and Swedish Fish in (very) small amounts.
Moving into week two, the focus is on eating enough calories and upping my intake of protein. That’s easier said than done, given how many protein sources (non-meat) have been removed.
What comes after FODMAP?
After a month of FODMAP, I’ll go back to the doctor and we’ll start the reintroduction process. We’ll pick food groups, add them in for a week, then go back to FODMAP for a week. So really, it’s going to be a mostly low FODMAP summer. I have some theories on what my triggers will be, so I’m looking forward to finding out if I’m right in a few months.
That’s the basics on the low FODMAP diet. Again, the list of foods is not comprehensive, and includes some debatable foods. Bananas, for instance, are considered low FODMAP unripe, but high FODMAP ripe, and banana chips are largely marked “okay.” Needless to say, I spend a lot of time googling and reading ingredients in grocery stores these days.
I’ll continue to post updates here, and especially on Instagram. If you’ve got questions or have FODMAP tips (especially snack tips!) leave a comment or send me a message – happy to answer as best I can, and always looking for snack ideas!