How to Master FODMAP Elimination
So, you’ve just got home from the doctor. You’ve been given a two page print out and told to go start FODMAP elimination, the first phase of the the low FODMAP Diet. You’re completely lost and overwhelmed about where to start. You’ve then done some research, you know what the diet involves, and you’re ready to go. (If you’re not at this stage yet, go and have a read of 6 Tips for Starting the Low FODMAP Diet). With all that motivation, the last thing you want to do is dive head first into the elimination phase. If you don’t give yourself a bit of time to plan it out, you might risk messing something up (which is very easily done) and all that positivity just disappearing down the drain.
If you don’t know already, the low FODMAP Diet consists of 3 phases (learn more about the diet here). First is elimination, where you eliminate high FODMAP foods completely to see whether you see any symptom improvements. The second is the reintroduction phase, where you gradually reintroduce foods to your diet. This enables you to work out which ones trigger your symptoms. Finally is the personalisation phase, where you personalise the diet to you, based on your triggers.
THE ELIMINATION PHASE OF THE LOW FODMAP DIET
The FODMAP elimination phase is the hardest part. It’s right at the beginning, when you haven’t got your head around things yet. You suddenly have a list of foods that you can’t eat. You have to think about everything that goes into your mouth. It’s so easy to get something ‘wrong’ at first (which we all do) and hard not to get disheartened by that. Really though, mastering FODMAP elimination is all about planning and preparation. If you take a little bit of time to do this before starting, you’ll be set up for success.
So, if you’re about to start FODMAP elimination, or if you’ve started it but have struggled to stick with it, follow these 6 tips. They will really set you up for success and allow you to master elimination. The faster you master elimination, the faster you’ll get onto identifying your triggers.
6 TIPS FOR MASTERING THE FODMAP ELIMINATION PHASE
1. GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO PREPARE
When you get home from the doctor with your print out on the low FODMAP Diet, don’t attempt to start FODMAP elimination the next day. As eager as you may be to get a grip on your IBS triggers, give yourself at least a week to prepare. Use this time to gather all the right information on the diet (check out the Monash website for the most accurate information) and make sure you fully understand what is involved in the 3 phases. What to do to prepare? Make sure you’ve checked off all 6 of these tips for starting the diet first. Once you’ve done that, use this time to prepare all of the below.
2. KNOW YOUR BASE SYMPTOMS
This is SO important. How are you going to know whether you’ve seen any improvement on the low FODMAP Diet if you don’t know what your symptoms were to start with? You need to get a proper understanding of what your base symptoms are before starting the diet. By this, I mean understanding what your current IBS symptoms are, and their severity. Once you know this, you’ll be able to more clearly identify any improvements.
The way to do this is by keeping a food diary for 1-2 weeks before starting the diet. If you subscribe to the blog, you’ll get sent a very comprehensive Food & Feelings diary. Pop in your email address and it’ll be delivered to your inbox - you don’t even have to do the work of creating one. Use the diary to record everything you’re eating and feeling for a 1-2 week period. At the end of this, look over the diaries and summarise your base symptoms, e.g. bloating 3 x per week 7/10, pain 6 x per week 5/10, diarrhoea 2 x per day 4/10. Keep a record of this and you’ll have something that’s easy to go back to and measure your progress against.
3. PLAN YOUR MEALS
One of the most common causes of ‘messing up’ in the FODMAP elimination phase is not planning your meals. Imagine getting home from work late, exhausted, starving and having nothing low FODMAP in the fridge for dinner. You’re going to reach for that frozen pizza in the fridge or order a takeaway. If you had planned what you were going to eat and had everything ready in the fridge, you’d be much more likely to stay on track.
I’d recommend sitting down and planning out all your meals for the first week of the FODMAP elimination phase. I’m not saying you need to plan elaborate recipes, just use the Monash app to plan some quick and easy low FODMAP meals that you can make for that first week. This can be as simple as ‘salmon fillet + ready cooked rice + broccoli' or ‘salmon sushi’ from your local sushi takeaway. It doesn’t have to be complicated and doesn’t have to mean cooking from scratch.
Once you’ve got a week’s worth of meals planned out, write a shopping list and go and get all the ingredients you need. This will make life so much easier, as you won’t have to think about what you’ll have for dinner when you’re trying to think about that big presentation you’ve got at work, fitting in a spin class on the way home and the million and one other things on your to do list. Once you’ve got the first week under your belt, you can make changes to this meal plan.
4. STOCK UP ON LOW FODMAP SNACKS
When you’re at the supermarket, or doing an online order, buying all the ingredients for your meals, you can also do this. Yay for multitasking. Have a look at this list of 20 Easy Low FODMAP Snack Ideas and pick 5 of the ones that sound the best to you. When you’re shopping, stock up on these and fill your cupboards with them.
One of the most common times people cave into high FODMAP foods, is when they’re starving and just need a snack. If you’ve stocked the cupboards (and your handbag, for when you’re out and about!) with delicious low FODMAP snacks that you want to eat, you’re sorted. You won’t get to the point where you’re running from meeting to meeting, absolutely starving, and give into a cereal bar/brownie/bag of crisps because it’s the only thing available. You’ll just reach into you’re bag and grab that bag of low FODMAP nuts you put in there earlier.
5. AVOID EATING OUT FOR THE FIRST WEEK
I have made it very clear that it is totally possible to eat out on the low FODMAP Diet. In fact, I’ve written quite a few blog post to help you do just that (like this one). However, if at all possible, I would recommend avoiding it where you can in the first week of FODMAP elimination. This is just because eating out isn’t easy and it’s probably the easiest way to ‘mess up.’ It’s embarrassing at first having to explain the diet to restaurants and it’s also hard to know exactly what’s in the food you’re eating. If you can give yourself a week to get started on the diet without having to tackle that hurdle, it’ll make it much less overwhelming.
Once you’ve got through the first week of FODMAP elimination, you’ll have started to get your head around the diet. You’ll start to know what you can and can’t eat without being glued to the Monash app. You’ll (hopefully) have experienced some reduction in symptoms and got a boost from that. You can then go on to tackle eating out, and the guides I mentioned above will make that a breeze.
6. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN EAT, NOT WHAT YOU CAN’T
Finally, when you see that list of high FODMAP foods that you suddenly can’t eat, it is so easy to get upset. It’s so easy to just feel really sad that you can’t eat lots of your favourite foods. If you keep thinking like that during the FODMAP elimination phase, and focusing on all the things you miss, it’s not going to be fun. I did this at first. I spent the first week of the diet sad that I couldn’t eat avocado and glaring at my fiance every time he mentioned ice cream.
However, if you just change how you think about it, you can have a much more positive experience. I’d recommend taking a little bit of time to look at your favourite foods that you won’t be able to eat in the elimination phase. Use the Monash app to think of some low FODMAP swaps you can make. For example, swap white chocolate for dark chocolate, cow’s milk for almond milk, ice cream for sorbet/vegan ice cream, cream cheese for feta. Once you’ve done this, take some time to shop for these things and stock up on them. Then, instead of thinking about how annoyed you are that you can’t have some ice cream, think about how great it is that you can eat that new delicious sorbet you found.
I have discovered so many great new foods because of the low FODMAP Diet. Almond milk was something I'd not tried before and now I love it and wouldn’t go back. Having to avoid ice cream made me try a local vegan ice cream cafe, which I am now obsessed with. I never would have started putting feta on all my salads and now I can’t stop.
This won’t be easy at first, but if you can focus on all the delicious things that you CAN, rather than CAN’T eat, you will have a much happier FODMAP elimination phase.
KEY TAKEAWAYS - HOW TO MASTER THE FODMAP ELIMINATION PHASE:
1. Give yourself time to PREPARE
2. KNOW your base symptoms
3. PLAN your meals
4. STOCK UP on low FODMAP snacks
5. AVOID EATING OUT for the first week
6. FOCUS on what you CAN eat, not what you CAN’T
So, all that’s left to be said is GOOD LUCK with FODMAP elimination. I hope you master it and get moving onto the reintroduction phase as quickly as possible. If you have any questions or need any help, just get in touch.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this! Which one of these tips did you find the most useful? Let me know in the comments.