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Dr. Max Pitman

How to absolutely crush low FODMAP eating

Here are tips and tricks for successful low FODMAP eating.

Published:

November 11, 2022

Written by:

Medically Reviewed by:

Dr. Max Pitman

Gastroenterology

Published:

November 11, 2022

Nutrition
Nutrition
Lifestyle
Lifestyle

FODMAP here, FODMAP there…the low FODMAP eating plan is a common strategy when it comes to managing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). And yet low FODMAP eating can sometimes seem both confusing and convoluted. Drink coffee, don’t drink coffee, avoid broccoli, no, eat more broccoli, no, only eat the broccoli heads…agh! Could it just be a little more clear and easy to follow, please?

It’s about time to cover some of the overlooked ways to make low FODMAP eating more doable. We’ve already assembled a bundle of tips and strategies, so we’ll jump right in.

Healthy routines and habits for your FODMAP journey

While these tips aren’t automatic magic, they can help set you up for low FODMAP eating success.

  • Sit up straight during and after eating: Why? Upright posture can help digestion and minimize gas retention.
  • Eat small: Use little plates and big glasses. That helps with portion control, hydration, and giving your stomach only manageable amounts of food at a time.
  • Eat frequently during the day: Eat small and eat more often. When you space your meals out, you prevent your gut from getting overloaded, which can lead to unpleasant symptoms like bloating and pain.
  • Eat slow and steady: We’re not saying to chew dozens of times per bite, like doctors used to advise, but we are hinting that taking small bites and chewing well can keep extra air out of your gut. Cut down on extra air even more by avoiding straws, chewing gum, and hard candy.
  • Move after every meal: A walk is a great way to settle food and prompt digestion.

For good FODMAP eating, start with a good plan

Many people are so anxious to get started on FODMAP eating, they dive right in. That’s not always bad, but it could involve a lot of last-minute googling and possibly extra abdominal pain and distress (no good!)

Prevent all that with a solid plan. To begin with, get strategic about when to begin. Low FODMAP eating can take extra time and effort, so you’ll want to start when life is relatively calm (not always easy, we know!) A note: if you’re in a high-stress phase or are living with an eating disorder, it may not be the right time for low FODMAP eating.

Consider teaming up with a dietician, physician or health coach who has experience with FODMAP eating. Their support and guidance can really help. They can also warn you of potential food triggers and vitamin or mineral imbalances. Salvo can be a great partner in IBS management (just saying!)

Finally, think about your expectations. Low FODMAP eating can speed up the process of finding problem foods, but it doesn’t always resolve every IBS-related symptom. Some gassiness or discomfort may remain.

Things to consider before you start a low FODMAP elimination diet:

  • Start keeping an eating journal. What foods do you suspect may cause problems?
  • Gather low-FODMAP recipes and write shopping lists ahead of time. An up-to-date app or list of high and low FODMAP foods is going to be your new best friend.
  • Brainstorm what challenges you might encounter and come up with a detailed plan of what you’ll do to overcome them

Sail through the FODMAP elimination phase

Ready? Get going on the high FODMAP elimination phase by deciding which of two approaches to take. Would you rather:

  1. “Start slow” by cutting out only the high FODMAP food types you think may be problematic for you (then systematically cutting others out later)
  2. “Rip the bandaid off” by pausing all high FODMAP foods at once

Either way can work, so focus on the strategy that seems best for you. You may want to jot down your food elimination strategy on a calendar. Finally, start each day with a specific plan. Know ahead of time what you’ll be having at every meal, and keep a few dependable, low-FODMAP snacks on hand. Keep your food journal close, too, as you’ll be carefully noting what you eat so you can see what foods seem most related to your IBS.

The ins and outs of low FODMAP eating can be complex, but you can master them with some general rules of thumb. Basically, you’re trying to cut out the kinds of sugars and carbs that are often most difficult to digest.

High FODMAP food groups to avoid

  • The “gassy” veggies: asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower
  • The “smelly” things: garlic, leeks, onions
  • A lot of the “sweet stuff”: high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and the sweetest fruits (apples, fruits with pits, mangos, pears, and watermelon)
  • Certain grains and legumes: beans, barley, peas, rye, and, often, wheat
  • Things high in lactose: animal milks, icecream, soft cheeses, and yogurt are out (butter, nut milks, and hard cheeses are often OK, however)
  • A few random but common things: celery, mushrooms, cashews and pistachios

That’s not a completely comprehensive list, but it’s a good start that’s hopefully easy to remember. For a longer list of FODMAP do and don’t foods, rely on materials from Monash University, the leading authority on FODMAPs. The good news is, you can still eat a lot of delicious and nutritious things, even during the elimination phase.

OK, but what about coffee?

Coffee is naturally low FODMAP and may help with constipation, so many IBS sufferers can still drink coffee (without milk!) But caffeine can also irritate digestion, especially if   you have diarrhea or heartburn, and in this case you may need to steer clear.

And bread?

Many people with IBS may also have gluten sensitivities. Not always though, so it may still be possible for you to eat wheat bread. Be sure though by first cutting wheat products out during the elimination phase (so no wheat bread, pasta, crackers, granola, etc.), then slowly trying wheat products again.

Tips for the elimination phase:

  • This phase should last at least 2 weeks, but ideally 4 to 6 weeks
  • You may believe you already know what foods are “good” or “bad” for you, but don’t get in your own way…foods act together, and it can be hard to know exactly how your body is responding to any one food until you systematically eliminate and then reintroduce it while taking notes
  • Watch out for food “doses.” Some foods, like sweet potatoes, are fine in small amounts, but can become high FODMAP in larger quantities
  • Also watch out for processed foods, sauces, condiments, and restaurant dishes that might be concealing sneaky onions, garlic, or high-fructose corn syrup
  • If you run across any contradictory information, try to follow the more recent and more authoritative source

How to handle social situations...

Inevitably, you’re going to get invited to dinner, go out, travel, or otherwise get into a potentially sticky situation that might throw some high FODMAP foods your way. What should you do?

  • At restaurants: read the menu ahead of time. You can also carry cards listing common high FODMAP foods so you can ask chefs to omit them from your meal
  • On the road: carry “safe” snacks in your bag. Stay at places with kitchens so you control your food
  • At friends’ houses: bring a dish you made so you know you can eat at least one thing
  • When you want to hang out: ask friends for tea, a walk, or something else that won’t involve food

What if I mess up?

Remember to be nice to yourself during the elimination phase. If you “slip up” and accidentally eat a high FODMAP food, do your best with whatever symptoms happen. You won’t be causing any damage to your system but may have increased symptoms for a few hours or a day. The focus of the elimination phase is learning; anything that helps you figure out what to avoid and what you can eat is helpful, in a way.

“Eliminate,” by the way, sounds like maybe you’re not allowed to enjoy this phase or that you have to deny yourself, but there are still a lot of low FODMAP foods you can enjoy. Don’t hold back on them!

Reintroduce higher FODMAP foods like a boss

Congratulations! You’ve made it through elimination, and now you can start adding foods back in to see what your body can tolerate.

Again, plan your meals ahead of time. Keep making food records in your journal. Notice what foods or combinations of foods seem to make things worse for you. Those are the ones to avoid. If you reintroduce a food and nothing bad really happens, then you’ve just expanded your menu. Celebrate!

The goal of the reintroduction phase is to get as close to “normal” eating for you as possible. When you finish this phase, which generally lasts about eight weeks, you should have a much clearer idea of how to navigate the grocery store, kitchen, and restaurant with gastro success.

Tips for the reintroduction phase:

  • Remember: if IBS symptoms worsen, that might be due to something you ate earlier in the day, not necessarily to what you most recently ate
  • Prioritize the foods that matter most to you and try to reintroduce these foods first
  • Keep your foundation strong with regular exercise and follow the general eating tips at the beginning of this article

Be proud of yourself for doing all this! With these tips, you will hopefully be among the up to 86% of people who find relief through using low FODMAP eating.

How Salvo Health can help

Salvo Health is leading the future of digital health with a virtual clinic app that is low-cost and radically accessible for those living with IBS, GERD, SIBO or chronic gut issues.

When you download our app and become a member with Salvo Health, you get immediate access to a coordinated Salvo Health Care Team, including a certified gastro-specialist and board-certified health coach. Your Care Team will communicate with you async via the app, create a custom Care Plan based on your symptoms, and check in with you regularly to guide your gut health journey. Daily tasks, notifications, quizzes, and helpful articles also keep you on track when managing your IBS!

Sign up to learn more about Salvo Health.

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