Flat Belly Myths Debunked + Life Changing FODMAP Diet

DSC_0134It’s that time of year when we’re coming out of holiday season, and some of us are feeling it in the waistline. There’s nothing like a little overindulgence to make us more aware of our mid-sections. Belly bloat can be fat or it can be air, and at least one is easier to flatten than the other.

I’ve struggled with stomach problems, IBS, and food allergies since I was a little kid. Through trial and error, I’ve learned that dairy (other than certain Greek yogurts or kefir), wheat, and veggies like broccoli or brussels sprouts cause more of a problem than others. But avoiding these foods didn’t solve all my problems.

Life, Changed!

Recently, I decided to do a deeper dive into what causes bloating and upset stomach, and it turns out I’d missed some gigantic findings in the last few years. After reading this research, I’ve realized there are tons of old wives tales and myths floating around the internet that might be doing more harm than good for people like me and should be debunked (like recommending fennel or chamomile tea for an upset stomach). Or how quickly some articles point the finger at salt or sodium as a cause of bloating, when new evidence shows that active people probably need a decent amount of this.

I’ve even been to a stomach specialist who’d never heard of the FODMAP research I’m about to share, but it’s gaining momentum now because it works.

In 2005, a wonderful woman named Dr. Shepard from the Monash University in Australia and her colleague identified exactly what causes bloating, digestive pain and IBS  in sensitive people and why (study overview here).

Basically, certain carbohydrates aren’t absorbed properly by the small intestine, distending the inside of your gut and causing all kinds of horrible symptoms. By the way, distension = “outward expansion beyond the normal girth of the stomach and waist”. EW!

These carbohydrates actually ferment into hydrogen (instead of methane, which is occurs when food is “well absorbed” in your stomach), and you can test for it on people’s breath. For example, beans give off hydrogen when they ferment, and how many people have issues with beans? There’s even a song about them!

The good news? In studies, people with stomach issues who cut out these carbohydrates noticed a significant improvement. Sign me up!

What are FODMAPS?

It’s an acronym for these troublesome carbos:

Fermentible

Oligosaacharides

Disaacharides

Monosaacharides

And…

Polyols (sugar alcohols)

As one blogger puts it, FODMAPS are carbohydrates that act like fast food for gut bacteria. Yuck! Kind of an overwhelming list? Yes. Are there some surprising foods in these categories that would suck to give up? Yes.

Comprehensive lists of foods in each category can be found here. This is a quick list of the major items that I was shocked to learn were hard on sensitive digestive systems, and ones that weren’t:

High FODMAP (Bad): Apples, onions,watermelon, garlic, mushrooms, avocados, fruits with pits (all my faves), fennel and chamomile (used as digestion teas!?)

Low FODMAP (Good): olives, peppers

Foods that I didn’t think were surprising:

High FODMAP (Bad): lactose, beans, gluten, and sweetners found in protein bars and sugar free gum (most commonly, sorbitol), Quest and protein bars

Low FODMAP (Good): Tomatoes, cucumber, bananas, berries, squash, potatoes, yam, oats, stevia

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One of my favorite FODMAP friendly homemade salads – chicken baked with salt and pepper, cherry tomatoes, olives, green onions and salad greens.

So What Now?… Know Your Own Gut!

Everyone has different sensitivity levels. FODMAP researchers recommend doing an elimination diet, and reintroducing items one at a time. There is no way I could go that extreme, so I started by eliminating black list items that I ate daily (apples, onions, garlic, avocado, and Quest bars). The result was incredible – no more stomach cramps, bloating, or pain.

Since I love all of these foods I experimented with eating small amounts of them, and learned that the single most deadly thing I can do is eat them all at once. Apples (my fave fruit) were my worst offender, but it’s been worth it to me to cut them out. Onions and garlic are (sadly) a deadly combination for me in large amounts, but I can handle small amounts. I only eat large quantities when I’m up for dealing with a belly ache/not wearing a bikini the next day!

Stevia is my favorite no calorie sweetner, and green onion (except the white part) has been a great substitute. Avocado is totally fine in small amounts.

There are still plenty of amazing fruits and veggies that you can eat in abundance on FODMAP (see pics). Putting more emphasis on these items has completely changed my life. When I’m on the go, I bake my own high protein oat bran muffins or pack a few almonds to cut down on protein bars, and there are a zillion blogs out there with great recipe ideas.

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Since I’ve cut out apples, these are some of my favorite FODMAP friendly fruit alternatives

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FODMAP freindly veggies, perfect for salads


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Spaghetti squash, yam, stevia, gluten free oats, and green onion (frozen – I freeze them and use them later in healthy turkey meatloaf!)

 

Digestive Enzymes and Quest Bars:

Alpha-galactosidase or “Beano” is useful for breaking down oligo-saacharides (the “O” in FODMAP), not just beans. It helps with veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, and chicory root fiber (often found in protein bars). Also, I was surprised to learn that the fiber that makes up my favorite protein bar, Quest, is isomalto-oligo-saacharide. I assume that these chewable enzymes would help with certain protein bars as well.

So..

Obviously, I’m not a doctor so this is purely based on my opinion and experience with the research. Talk to a doctor, and take my advice at your own risk. But if you’re feeling bloated and want to flatten your belly (assuming it’s not because you need to hit the gym), you might want to give this a shot. Let me know how it goes!

More info:

The University of Monash – Home of the original FODMAP diet (they even have an app you can buy)

Great FODMAP Recipes

Kate Scarlata’s blog, a RDN with FODMAP focus

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High versus low FODMAP – on the left, avocado, onion, and apple, on the right, squash and cucumber.

 

Happy digesting!

 

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20 thoughts on “Flat Belly Myths Debunked + Life Changing FODMAP Diet

    • Definitely give it a shot! Especially if you get really gassy towards the late afternoon or the end of the day, as it builds up from foods you react to. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  1. Hi Jill, I just learned about FODMAP last year, but have never experimented with any food eliminations at all. I think the weirdest thing, is that so many healthy “good-for-you” foods may actually cause stomach problems. Crossing my fingers, but I don’t have any issues with any of these items. Thanks for taking the time to talk about your experience.
    Ashley @ A Lady Goes West recently posted…Weekend fun, CORE40 review and workoutsMy Profile

    • Hey Ashley! I know, it’s so unfair that things like broccoli can do this to people – it’s a superfood! I definitely think it’s genetic, for example my bf can eat whatever he wants and have no problem (except maybe too much beer :P). You’re definitely lucky, and I think you’ll continue to be okay if you are so far – I’m happy you can enjoy dairy for me!! 🙂

  2. Ahhh we are twins!! I am so sensitive to foods and spent years when I was younger in a lot of discomfort. My mom has ulcerative colitis so we have lived on essentially a FODMAP diet for years, I avoid dairy (except for yogurt and some cheese), wheat, and tons of other things that make me sick. Sometimes it can be hard or feel limiting but I so much prefer not being in pain or sick. Love this post!
    Maya Beth recently posted…Oversized SimplicityMy Profile

    • Oh girl, I’m so glad you are with me!! It’s totally genetic, my mom can’t digest anything and colon problems run in our family too. WHYYYYY!! I just love apples so much. But you’re right, you can’t eat this stuff or you’ll always be hurting. Finally having no pain has been a game change. XOX

  3. I learned about the FODMAP diet a little over a year ago when I was having some digestive issues. Turns out, grapes were it for me! I literally cut out grapes, and my stomach issues went away. I learned it also has a lot to do with the timing of when you eat certain things. Grapes right after lunch? Not a great idea as the sugars ferment in your tummy. First thing in the morning is better, or on an empty stomach.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing! Glad you found something that works for you!

    • That’s interesting about the grapes! I totally agree – I used to eat apples for “dessert” after lunch and boy did I ever get bloated. I have heard that eating fruit is best on an empty stomach for digestive purposes – now I am into melons and bananas as a late night snack!

  4. ahh FODMAPs. I have been lactose intolerant most of my life (as my mom) and diagnosed with IBS around 5 years ago in 9th/10th grade (and mom has IBD, dad has Chron’s). I already knew that dairy didn’t do me good (except yogurt, thankfully!!), then a few years later, I realized my massive stomach aches were coming from my beloved apples! (sadly, the tipping point for me was when I was with a friend’s family on vaca in Fl, and ate a delicious fresh apple before bed. I was up half the night with cramps and bathroom runs and somuchpain). I found out about fodmaps about a year ago, and so much more made sense! I LOVE roasted cauliflower, so only have it sometimes. I find that as long as the veggies have been thoroughly cooked, it doesn’t bother me as much, so try that! and steaming also seems to be the best on my stomach. I never eat raw onions, only a little bit sometimes cooked.
    It kinda depends on my “mood”, like I can tell if I’m already not feeling well and even a bittle bit of something will upset me or not. thankfully, stone fruits are fine with me (thank god I love them! second to berries though <3), but grapes and melons are not.
    wow this was lengthy! But yeah, I like following the fodmaps diet, for the most part!
    masala girl recently posted…Weekly Eats & WorkoutsMy Profile

    • oh, I also eat a crap ton of beans and legumes, but I always have. thank god theyre fine with me! I just have to watch to not eat a ton of pure carbs in a meal, or watch eat a ton of dried fruit and or nuts/seeds at one point. I actually discovered trail mix when I got more into the “health” world (since I’ve always ate pretty healthy). yeah, not a good discovery (since I love eat and can easily overeat. lol).
      I’m glad I found your blog btw!
      masala girl recently posted…Weekly Eats & WorkoutsMy Profile

      • That is really interesting! I do find that legumes bother me a lot, but I will take a beano to help digest them when I know I will be eating them. I’m really glad you like the blog!

    • Haha thanks for sharing your thoughts here! I really like your suggestion of cooking vegetables – I need to try that more often for sure. And I totally agree, if my stomach is starting to feel a little off or I know my day will be particularly stressful I know I can’t go for foods that will bother me! You really do have to listen to your body. It’s good that you can do yogurt – I have been really getting bothered by that lately even with lactose digestive pills. Sob!!

    • I can’t rave enough about it, it can be hard to cut out garlic and onions at first but you really get used to using pepper and green onions to flavor things instead!! I follow it pretty strictly most of the time and notice a big diff 🙂

  5. Yayyyyyyy! Another low-FODMAP-er! Love telling people about it and watching their eyes glaze over… I’d bet you’ve had the same experience!

    I’ve recently been feeling so unwell and lacking in nutrients that, as a lifelong vegetarian, I’ve been considering the unthinkable–eating fish. There’s a huge ethical issue for me, but, more acutely, an ick-factor that I know I won’t be able to get past (since, whilst typing this, I’ve just vomited into my mouth a bit :-} ). I gave up Beano years ago, in fact, specifically ’cause it’s fish-based, but, since it’s tasteless and odorless, I think I’m willing to take the plunge!

    So I wanted to ask: Do you find Beano helpful only for Oligos? Is my goal of one day eating a freaking peach again just a pipe-dream? Do you still limit your Oligo-intake, or do you find you can go to town on a bean-burrito, so long as you’ve got Beano?

    Thank you for the info!!!!

    ~ Jules

    • Hey Jules, thanks for stopping by! I know how tough it is to get all your nutrients as a vegetarian, not to mention as one with FODMAP sensitivity! People always think I am just weird and obsessive when I explain to them what FODMAPs are! I have tried Beano when eating other vegetables, including cauliflower and broccoli, and I do find it helps. But, it’s never 100% and I always feel some side effects (maybe that is because I don’t stick to a half cup serving of those veggies :P). I do find that it helps a LOT with beans though, so I would definitely give it a shot again! I researched an enzyme that helps with the digestion of fructose, but it was really expensive and not every well tested. Good luck!!

  6. Great article, and thank you for sharing your story! As I’ve been reading more about FODMAPs recently, it’s heartening to find that so many people have been able get their grumbly-gut struggles under control, despite having to give up many kinds of delicious and nutritious food.

    FYI, Beano-brand tablets contain mannitol, which is a Polyol and can cause problems for those of us with sugar alcohol intolerances. Thankfully, my grocery store’s generic alpha-galactosidase enzyme tablets don’t contain mannitol or any other FODMAPs. Just a heads-up to you and your readers!

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