FODMAP and Disordered Eating

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) occurs when the digestive tract doesn’t work how it normally should. This means digested food in the colon can’t move along smoothy and individuals can experience a wide variety of symptoms including pain in their abdomen, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation. The FODMAP diet is one recommendation used to help manage IBS symptoms. For general information on the FODMAP diet see this blog.

Although FODMAP has been shown to help significantly reduce symptoms it is meant as a first step in treatment to identify which foods and in what quantity might be upsetting a person’s stomach. It is not meant to be a lifetime diet.  Importantly, the FODMAP diet is not right for everyone. The FODMAP diet has been shown to be harmful for at those at risk for developing an eating disorder. In a recent study, 23% of individuals struggling with IBS were at risk for disordered eating behaviors and were more likely to closely follow the diet than those without disordered eating patterns.  It’s important to note that a FODMAP diet should NOT be followed at the same time as another diet. The FODMAP diet is already restrictive. If you combine it with another restrictive diet it has the potential to be extremely harmful to your physical and mental wellbeing.

To understand if the FODMAP diet is right for you, here are some considerations:

  1. Have you ever been diagnosed with an eating disorder?

If you have ever been diagnosed with an eating disorder or currently struggle with disordered eating thoughts or behaviors the FODMAP diet is not the right treatment path for you. For individuals already struggling with their relationship to food, introducing further restriction can be incredibly triggering and there are alternatives that can help with IBS symptoms that do not involve modification to current food intake.

  1. Have you been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome by your doctor or a gastroenterologist?

It’s possible that the stomach challenges you are facing could be due to different medical condition such as celiac disease. It’s important to be diagnosed with IBS by a doctor, preferably a gastroenterologist, before making any changes to your diet. Early detection of any condition impacts treatment and outcomes so be sure to speak with a health care provider if you regularly struggle with symptoms of stomach distress such as pain in their abdomen, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation.

  1. Have you tried other strategies?

IBS-like symptoms frequently occur for individuals who drink caffeine and carbonated drinks. Additionally, sorbitol is an additive that can lead to an upset stomach. If you find that your symptoms most often occur on days when you’ve consumed these products, it’s worth trying to adjust your intake and see if you notice any changes. Sometimes meal pattern and hydration can greatly affect an individual’s bowel movements. Try eating meals regularly throughout the day and if you can, take time to sit down to eat. Stress is a huge component of IBS. It’s important to consider your current stress level and different positive strategies for coping with any stress that might be affecting your digestive system. Some strategies that have worked for others in the past are gentle yoga, meditation, journaling, color and regular movement.

  1. Are you working with a dietitian?

Dietitians are health care providers that study how nutrition works in the body. The FODMAP diet takes a therapeutic nutrition approach to managing IBS symptoms. Working with a dietitian during your journey will help you understand and follow FODMAP correctly. A dietitian will work to ensure you are not over-restricting and will help look for signs that it might not be the right fit for you. Lastly, a dietitian will help you reintroduce any FODMAP foods you have removed in order to ensure you can return to your regular food intake symptom free!

Restricting intake, for any purpose, can be triggering and cause negative long term health effects, especially for adolescents. It’s important to seek the help of a medical professional for additional support if you are considering making any changes to your diet.

-Dietitian Kelsey