Today’s post has a bit of an odd title, don’t you think? I actually love it, it’s such a great message about the importance of perspective. I know when I was suffering from symptoms and first diagnosed, it seemed impossible to think that this was the best thing that could be happening to me. NO way! Quite the opposite. The point is, my friend, it’s not forever. Your IBS doesn’t have to rule your life.
Today’s guest post was lovingly written by Larah. Having suffered from digestive symptoms since turning 40, it took Larah almost five years to be diagnosed with IBS and start a Low FODMAP diet. After eliminating high FODMAP food completely for a short period, she was able to re-introduce a lot of that food back into her diet. She now has a blog and a podcast; two platforms she uses to share her story, spread the word, help break the stigma, and educate people on all things IBS and the Low FODMAP diet.
Larah is opening up with all of you today in a big way! She’s sharing her very personal struggle with symptoms of IBS, and how she got well. I love a good success story, don’t you? Maybe you have a success story of your own? Maybe you’re not so lucky, at least not yet. If you’re reading this feeling a little (or a lot) frustrated at not having been able to achieve symptom relief yet, know that you are not alone, and that there is help out there for you! Don’t give up, my friend 😉
Before I started the low FODMAP diet, I followed a healthy diet that made me sick.
I was that person; the 1 in 7 who still suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
This is my story, but could easily be the story of another billion people in the world who are also suffering from IBS, regardless of whether or not they have a formal diagnosis.
Since turning 40, I suffered from bloating, diarrhea, stomach cramps and even chest pains, which I now know were due to my acid reflux, and not to a heart condition.
All these symptoms brought me to visit many health professionals and each one had different and often contradicting ideas of what was wrong with me. I was told to take tablets to help with the bloating and the diarrhea. It was suggested that I cut refined carbs out of my diet, eat more fibre, eat less fibre, eat more vegetables, eat less raw vegetables, give up dairy, give up sugar, cut gluten out…
Unsurprisingly, whenever I visited a new health specialist, I became more confused about what to do to finally feel better. Nevertheless, I would carry on trying this or that recommendation, but nothing really seemed to work.
The worst was when I was told to give up my staple foods and eliminate things like pasta, pizza, and bread. Being Italian, you can understand how challenging that was. Instead, it was suggested that I mainly eat vegetables and some meat. To compensate for the lack of starchy carbs, I started to increase the quantities of vegetables and legumes and made beautiful vegetable and bean soups, vegetable and meat stews, ratatouille, salads, roasted veggies, you name it! Eighty percent of my diet became filled with vegetables and most of my dishes included lots of onion, garlic, leeks, cauliflower, broccoli, beans, chick peas, lentils, all the high fibre, nutritious foods health experts practically beg everyone to eat more of! I was definitely doing a good job of that.
My Struggle with Symptoms
Disclaimer: If you’re a bit squeamish and would prefer to skip past the part where I describe my symptoms in detail, now’s your chance 😉
My bloating became worse. I looked like I was ready to pop out a 9-pound baby any minute! I didn’t understand what was going on, especially considering that I was eating so healthy.
My frequent trips to the bathroom at work were embarrassing.
I had no control on passing wind and often experienced vaginal flatulence which produced quite a loud noise especially while walking to the bathroom or when sitting on the toilet. This was a cause of embarrassment and distress.
To avoid the peril of any of my colleagues hearing any of the noises, I’d wait until the toilets were empty to go and use them or try the restrooms on other floors. If I experienced urgency and didn’t have the luxury of time to scout out an empty bathroom, I would flush the toilet as soon as I sat down in the stall to drown out the humiliating bowel sounds.
My stool smelt almost like ammonia and I had a considerable amount of mucus when I was passing it.
Although I was eating mainly vegetables and other healthy food, I also started to notice that my weight was steadily increasing year after year. At first, I attributed that to being a forty something years old woman.
How My Doctor and Dietitian Helped Me with a Plan
Thank goodness, after a few years of feeling sick, a new doctor moved to my area. Again, I explained my issues to him and he decided to send me to do a lot of tests to rule out some serious conditions like cancer, heart problems, and celiac disease, in addition to breath testing for fructose, lactose and h. pylori, which all came back positive.
When my GP was satisfied that it wasn’t cancer, heart issues or celiac disease he gave me the diagnosis, he said very calmly, “You suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome and you need to see a dietitian”. He could also see from my scans that I had fatty liver.
I did not know what IBS was at the time and certainly did not understand the need to see a dietitian. I thought my doctor was implying that I needed to lose weight, I had no idea at the time that dietitians do more than help people to lose weight.
I made an appointment with the dietitian for the next week, even though I still did not understand, nor appreciate, the real benefit of seeing one.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel: The Low FODMAP Diet
The dietitian explained to me that she had been seeing a lot of patients suffering from IBS who were finding good results by following a low FODMAP diet.
She gave me a list of food to avoid and foods that were safe and boy oh boy, I was almost in tears! So much of my daily food was in there, all my favourite vegetables and fruits in addition to wheat pasta and bread, which I had already given up. She asked me to eliminate the food on the list for about 6 weeks, download the low FODMAP app from Monash University, and come back to see her. At this time, I was about to leave on a trip to Italy for 5 months, so I was faced with doing this all on my own.
Traveling on the Low FODMAP Diet
Armed with my food list and app I started my trip to Italy. As it happened all so quickly, I was not prepared to travel on a long-haul flight, and of course the food on the plane was unsuitable. I pre-booked the gluten free meal, hoping for the best, but it contained a lot of high FODMAP ingredients. I ate some of the food provided by the airline out of hunger, but also because of boredom, due to the long flight. Obviously I got bloated and visited the tiny plane toilets several times during that flight.
Once in Italy, I had to explain to my lovely family that I was not going to be able to eat their wonderful dishes like pasta, lasagne, and pizza as they were all very high FODMAP.
It seemed that no one in Italy In Italy knew much about IBS, nor had they heard about this special diet.
My family, as wonderful as they are, started to experiment with gluten free pasta, pizza, bread and biscuits, lactose free this and that, and onion and garlic free sauces.
I was so impressed by their care for me. I hope they know how much I appreciate and love them. 😍
One of my sisters tried to make gluten free pizza many times, and by the end of my stay she had really mastered it and it tasted delicious!
Eating Out Low FODMAP
The problem I had while I was in Italy was eating out. There was no chance of low FODMAP food in restaurants. Nothing was safe during the elimination phase.
In those first couple of months, I did lose some weight due to the fact that I did not have much experience with low FODMAP food and mainly stuck to those vegetables I could tolerate, as well as some meat and fish.
I started to feel the benefits of the low FODMAP diet after only a few days and kept a fairly strict diet for six weeks. Eventually, I was able to re-introduce a lot of high FODMAP food in smaller quantities. Now, I can say that my diet is still about 80% low FODMAP, which helps me to keep my symptoms at bay.
Coming back to Australia after my long holiday in Italy I realised that a lot of people I would talk to had similar symptoms to mine, but weren’t sure what was behind them. Based on my experience, I was able to encourage them to go and see their doctor and explain their symptoms.
My New Calling
I found myself explaining almost on a daily basis to family, friends and colleagues why I could not eat these healthy foods. The low FODMAP diet had been working so well for me, and I felt it was my duty to share my experience and knowledge with others considering at the time there was little information on this topic.
I started to write a blog about my symptoms, the diet, my experiences and my favourite recipes, and I called it Journey Into The Low FODMAP Diet.
I didn’t stop there! Considering that I am an avid podcast listener, last year I launched a podcast called The Low FODMAP diet & IBS Podcast, where I interview experts on the diet and IBS, as well as sufferers like me and their own experiences. The podcast is available for FREE from my website as well as on iTunes and Stitcher.
The podcast and the blog is my way to say thank you to those who have been researching IBS and the Low FODMAP diet which has improved the quality of my life tremendously. It is my greatest wish to spread the word about this diet to millions of other sufferers just like me.
In my podcast and blog, I always suggest that people go see a dietitian who is specializes in IBS and the Low FODMAP diet, as it is a fairly complex diet. To do it properly and successfully, people really need an expert to guide them through the elimination and re-challenge phases and to make sure they are eventually able to reintroduce as many high FODMAP foods as they can tolerate.
So, this was my story! I would love for you to contact me and share with me your personal stories! If you have any questions, I would be happy to bring them up on a future episode of the podcast.
I wish you all the best with your health, and take good care.