4 Things You Might Not Know About the FODMAP Re-Challenge Phase
Once you’ve started the re-challenge phase of the low FODMAP diet, it’s easy to get obsessed with it. You strictly follow your plan and don’t poke your head out to be aware of a few things. Alternatively, you struggle to keep to it, get stressed and feel disheartened. If you’re in either of these situations, there are a few things you should know, that you might not be aware of!
1. SOME SYMPTOMS ARE NORMAL
Yes, it’s true. Unfortunately, you’re never going to have absolutely no symptoms. This is because some symptoms are completely normal, such as a little bit of flatulence or bloating. These are just normal bodily functions that everyone gets, whether they have IBS or not. For example, flatulence is just a normal bi-product of fermentation in the large intestine. This is a process that’s super important for bowel health and without it, you’d actually be unhealthy!
So, make sure your expectations are realistic! Don’t go into the diet thinking you’re going to be 100% symptom free. Also, don’t go into the re-challenge phase with the idea that, if you get a tiny bit of bloating when challenging a particular group, that means you’re intolerant. It doesn’t. It just means your human. You’ll need to differentiate between tolerable and distressing symptoms. E.g. if you suffer from huge amounts of bloating that make you very uncomfortable, your aim might be to reduce that to small amounts of tolerable bloating. Also, if you trial something, e.g. kidney beans, that causes a bit of bloating, but nothing uncomfortable, you might conclude that you’ll eat that food occasionally when you’re at home and OK with a little bit of bloating.
2. STRESS & ANXIETY CAN EXACERBATE SYMPTOMS
I’ve talked about the gut-brain axis previously, but it has such a big impact here that I’m bringing it up again. The axis means that what’s going on in your brain can affect your gut symptoms, and vice versa. This happens because the brain affects the motility in your digestive system, your pain threshold and the different barrier functions of the gut. This means that, during the re-challenge phase, you might experience much worse symptoms due to anxiety about a particular challenge.
There’s 2 things that can help with this:
Awareness: being aware of the gut-brain axis and the effects that your anxiety can have on your gut is helpful in itself. It will help further if you note down any stress or anxiety as part of your food diary, so you can look at whether it is affecting your symptoms. A useful tool for doing this is a food & feelings diary. If you subscribe to the newsletter below, I’ll send you mine!
Following a gentler approach: in my last post I mentioned blinded challenges as a way of doing the re-challenge phase in a way where you won’t know about food challenges, so don’t’ get as much of a chance to be nervous about them. You can also follow a gentler approach by challenging very small quantities and working your way up as your confidence grows.
3. SYMPTOMS & FOOD TOLERANCE CAN CHANGE OVER TIME
Your tolerance levels to different foods are not set in stone. If you find you get symptoms when you eat onions, that doesn’t mean you have to avoid them for life. Your symptoms will change over time. They’re affected by lots of factors, including stress and changes to your gut micro-biome.
Therefore, I’d encourage you to keep re-challenging foods even after you’ve finished the official re-challenge phase. If there are things you found you couldn’t tolerate, but you miss or know are healthy for you try them again. For example, if you couldn’t tolerate onions in the initial re-challenge phase, wait 3-6 months then repeat the challenge. You might find you can now tolerate a little bit more.
Don’t see the re-challenge phase as something that ends once you’ve tested all food groups. Once you’re on your personalised low FODMAP diet, you can keep experimenting and trying different foods again. Easing IBS symptoms is a journey, not a destination!
4. THE DIET DOESN’T HAVE TO BE FOLLOWED STRICTLY!
It’s so easy to get carried away with the low FODMAP diet and think you have to follow it super strictly. However, it’s important to remember that it’s not a diet to treat a food allergy, such as a gluten free diet to treat coeliac disease. We have intolerances to FODMAPs, not allergies. The great thing about this is it means the diet can be completely tailored to you as an individual. It can be followed in a really flexible way.
This means you only need to follow it as strictly as you want to. The idea behind it is to help you work out your triggers so that you can be in control. You can then choose which foods to eat so you can achieve balance between symptom control and living your life freely. For example, if you know bread triggers symptoms, but you absolutely love it, you can CHOOSE to eat it every now and then if you’re OK with getting the resulting symptoms. It’s totally your choice how strictly you follow the diet.
There are a few things to be aware of when you’re in the re-challenge phase of the low FODMAP diet. Being aware of these things mean that you’ll go into it with realistic expectations, knowing the impact of feeling anxious. You’ll also know that reducing your symptoms is a journey and that the re-challenge phase puts you in control of that.
4 THINGS TO BE AWARE OF:
Some symptoms are normal - so set realistic expectations
Stress & anxiety can exacerbate symptoms - so be aware of how you’re feeling
Symptoms & Food tolerance can change over time - so you can always go back and re-test different foods
The diet doesn’t have to be followed strictly - you’re in control and you can choose how you want to follow it
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this. Did you learn anything new from this? Let me know in the comments.