Following a low FODMAP diet to manage IBS symptoms can be rather challenging because it is quite complex. In fact, regardless of whether you’re new to the diet or if you’ve been following it for a long time, you will have days when you feel like throwing in the towel out of sheer frustration. And yes, even someone like me who knows the diet inside and out still has days when following the low FODMAP diet feels insanely difficult.
But, the point of this article isn’t to vent about the low FODMAP diet. Instead I want to share with you some of my strategies for making a low FODMAP diet easier to follow. While these tips are great to put into practice every day, they’re especially helpful for those really challenging days when it does feel too hard.
1. Don’t wait until you’re hungry to plan your next meal or snack
One of the best tricks for staying on track with a low FODMAP diet is to plan your food ahead of time. If you wait until you’re ready to eat, and especially if you leave it until you’re ravenous, you’re likely to end up eating the first thing you can get your hands on rather than carefully choosing something that won’t upset your sensitive gut.
Some people are absolute pros when it comes to meal planning and will happily plan out the whole week’s meals and snacks so they always know what’s going to be on their plate. This is an excellent way to stay on track with a low FODMAP diet to ensure that you’ll always know what your next low FODMAP meal will be.
But, if you’re like me (and most people I know), meal planning isn’t something that comes naturally. Well, the planning bit is easy enough – you just need to set some time aside to sit down and do it. I struggle though with sticking to the plan. I can normally manage for the first day or so, but by 2 or 3 days in I’m wishing I was eating something other than what’s on the schedule. This means I go off book and end up creating meals or snacks on the fly, which generally leads to food wastage.
Instead, I prefer to think about what I’ll eat for the day (and maybe for the next day). The most important thing for me is to think about food while I’m not busy or stressed, because that way I’m thinking more clearly about the choices and am less likely to make mistakes. And on days that I know will have a slower pace, I’m more likely to plan the next meal after I have just eaten. So after breakfast I think about lunch, after lunch I think about an afternoon snack, and so on.
The trick here is to work out which method of planning will help you the best AND which one you are most likely to stick to. Everyone can ‘meal plan’ in some way, but don’t make it more complicated than necessary.
2. Make a list of low FODMAP meal and snack ideas
This strategy makes the first tip easier, especially if you don’t like to plan your meals too far ahead. By knowing what your options are, when it comes time to eat, all you need to do is scan your list (and your ingredients) and get cooking.
To do this, grab several pieces of paper and at the top of each one write down the name of the meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks. Then for each meal type, make a list of things that YOU would enjoy eating. It can be helpful to ask other people for ideas or to look in recipe books or on websites. But be realistic. For instance, if you find “sardines on toast” a bit pungent for first thing in the morning, don’t write it down on the breakfast list.
The other thing to consider when writing your lists is convenience, which is possibly even more important than taste preferences. That’s because if you don’t have time to make and/or sit down to eat it, access to the ingredients you need, or somewhere to safely store and/or reheat the meal, then it’s not a viable option. For instance, if you need to be able to eat while working, driving or walking, leftovers from last night’s dinner aren’t going to work. You’d be better off with a sandwich.
The trick here is to be as realistic as possible and to work out options that suit your personal needs and lifestyle.
3. Buy (or prepare) some convenience items to make meals or snacks easier
The best way to ensure a meal is low FODMAP is to make it from scratch yourself so that you have complete control over the ingredients used. But, this does take a lot of time, which most people don’t have. So don’t feel bad if you are time restricted. Instead, work out what you can prepare for yourself and what you need to buy to make things easier.
The good news is that it’s now possible to buy a range of low FODMAP stocks, soups, meal bases, snacks, breads, and more, in many Australian supermarkets. The range is still limited, but they do exist and can make life much easier. But do make sure you read labels very carefully to ensure that high FODMAP ingredients aren’t present.
Admittedly there’s a cost factor to consider here since specialised food products generally cost more than regular items. But you need to weigh up the cost vs the benefit for you. This is a very personal decision since we all have different financial positions and lifestyles, so don’t be swayed by the choices that other people make. You may find that you buy a few items but can also find the time to make some other items at home.
The trick here is to first make your list of low FODMAP meal and snack ideas (see point 2). Next, think about what types of ingredients could make your food preparation easier. After that, work out which of those ingredients are available in a low FODMAP version and decide whether you are willing to pay extra for the convenience.
4. Always keep some low FODMAP meals in the freezer for when you’re too busy (or unwell) to cook
No matter how well prepared you are with your meal planning and grocery shopping, there will be times when life throws you a curve ball so you won’t be able to prepare food as planned. This may occur because of unexpected demands on your time or it could occur because you have unfortunately become sick and don’t have the energy to cook.
In the past, you would have been able to grab takeaway, get a pizza delivered, or bought a premade meal from the supermarket. While these may not be the most nutritional of choices, they certainly do fill you up. But on a low FODMAP diet, these options are likely to make you sick. You can still use those options to keep the rest of the family fed, but if you’re sick or very busy, then it’s not a good idea to risk a flare up of your symptoms from eating the first thing you can get your hands on.
To get through these times, I like to keep some low FODMAP meals in the freezer that I can reheat in the microwave. Soups, casseroles, and pasta sauces are excellent choices for this. And if I want to make the meals more filling, or if there are no grains or carbs already within those meals, I’ll toast some low FODMAP bread (that I also keep in the freezer) to go with it. In fact, most leftovers are actually quite nice on toast, so this isn’t just a convenience strategy.
The trick here is to occasionally cook up a couple of extra serves when you’re cooking your usual meals and package them into individual portions and freeze them for later. But don’t forget to keep stocking the freezer in this way because you’re likely to get tempted by the convenience at times when it’s not essential (it happens!), so always make a plan to replace what you eat.