Last week I shared 4 tips for making a low FODMAP diet easier to follow. These strategies are great for making things easier on a practical level, but it’s also important to consider how to make the low FODMAP diet feel less restrictive since constantly feeling deprived can suck the joy out of life.
This is because food is a very important part of life and is often part of some of our most pleasant experiences each day. Sometimes food is simply a form of sustenance, but often it is a key part of how we socialise with family, friends or work colleagues. Food can be a wonderful source of pleasure, but feeling deprived while others enjoy food that you can’t eat can create negative emotions.
But there are ways to make a low FODMAP diet less restricted, so today I’m going to share with you the strategies that I use to prevent myself from feeling constantly deprived.
1. Focus on what you can eat rather than on what you can’t
This is the most important thing you can do to feel less restricted. While there are many foods that can’t be eaten on a low FODMAP diet, or can only be eaten in such small amounts that they’re almost not worth eating, there are still far more foods that you can eat.
I’ve personally found fruits to be the most restricted food group, especially during summer time, which is quite ironic for me since I only started enjoying a wide range of fruits after I turned 30. Now though I only have several key fruits to choose from, plus a few others depending on the season. I deal with this by making sure I always have at least five different fruits (e.g. banana, orange, grapes, kiwi fruit, frozen berries) in the house so then I can have several smaller portions of fruit throughout the day.
It’s much easier to be positive about vegetables on the low FODMAP diet since there’s more to choose from, although you do need to be careful of portion sizes. And while there are some veggies that are off limits, most of the time you can substitute them to get a similar flavour or texture.
Grains and cereals are however tougher to negotiate, since gluten-containing grains are for the most part off the menu (or only available in very small amounts). But again, there are still lots of choices available. For me to feel ‘normal’ again, I needed only two things: a decent bread and a pasta that didn’t go gluggy. Once I found brands that I liked and could tolerate, I was good to go. By the way, I normally use Alpine Breads FODMAP Friendly range, or other authentic sourdough breads, and I use Orgran Vegetable Rice Spirals or Buckwheat Spirals.
One of the best things though about the low FODMAP diet is that meat, fish, seafood, chicken and eggs are all low FODMAP, provided that they haven’t been processed with additional ingredients. I love not having to worry about my major protein sources. And I also love that bacon is okay. Life is always better with bacon.
The trick here is to understand which foods you can’t eat so that you can avoid buying them (or ordering them when out), but once you know those foods, stop thinking about them and start focussing on the safe items instead.
2. Try a new recipe each week to expand your food choices
One of the best ways to get out of a food rut is to try new recipes. This strategy expands your meal choices by bringing in new options, but it also shows you different ways to make safe foods taste good. It can also teach you how to use low FODMAP ingredients that you haven’t cooked with previously.
My initial strategy was to look for recipes based on low FODMAP ingredients that I rarely (or never) ate, such as quinoa or millet. While I still do regularly use rice, bread and low FODMAP pasta, it’s good to have some alternative grains to replace the couscous and pearled barley I used to eat. Admittedly there are some taste and texture differences, but when you learn to appreciate the ingredients for what they are and how they’re best used, you can really begin to expand your food choices.
The other way that I ‘try new recipes’ is by altering my favourite recipes to make them low FODMAP so that I can enjoy them again. For instance, this might include using a low FODMAP gluten-free flour blend instead of wheat flour, almond milk instead of cow’s milk, green onion tops instead of onions, or garlic-infused olive oil instead of garlic cloves. Admittedly this process doesn’t always work and there are some recipes that simply can’t be changed, but when it does work it is worth it.
The trick here is to find something you’re likely to enjoy and that will expand your current food choices. If you already make lots of stir-fries and pasta sauces, how about trying a curry instead? If you normally cook with rice, how about trying quinoa or hulled millet instead? Just try something that’s new to you.
3. Work out how to cook your favourite meal using low FODMAP ingredients
I’ll bet there’s something that you’ve been missing ever since you started a low FODMAP diet. If it’s something that you’ve cooked at home previously, have a look at the recipe you used to cook from and see if you can substitute the ingredients for low FODMAP varieties.
For instance, to make a low FODMAP lasagne:
- For the meat sauce, use garlic-infused olive oil instead of garlic, use green onion tops instead of onion, cut back on the amount of celery used, and be sure that there aren’t any mushrooms in the sauce.
- For the béchamel sauce, use a low FODMAP gluten-free flour instead of the wheat flour, use lactose-free milk instead of regular milk, and make sure that you only use low FODMAP cheese.
- For the pasta sheets, use low FODMAP gluten-free lasagne sheets or try the sheets for rice paper rolls (these do have a different texture though).
You can do similar things for pizza, pasta bakes, curries, casseroles, pastry dishes, cakes, muffins, and all sorts of things. There are two limiting factors here: your confidence in the kitchen and how much substitution needs to happen. I’ve found that changing savoury dishes is normally easier than changing baked goods, but if you’re prepared to give it a go and possibly mess up a couple of times, you’ll get there in the end. Or try looking for a recipe that someone else has created and tested.
One caveat here though… because you’re using different ingredients, the end result is likely to be a little bit different in flavour or texture. But if it’s something you really enjoy and miss, I think it’s worth trying.
The trick here is to be patient and willing to make mistakes. I suggest cutting back the recipe on the first go if possible, i.e. making only one-half or one-quarter of it, so that way if it messes up you don’t waste too much food.
4. Have a low FODMAP treat available (or the ingredients to make it)
One of the worst part of restrictions is not being able to eat the treats that you used to. While treats shouldn’t be a daily indulgence, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying small treats occasionally. We know that weight loss diets often fail because people crave the foods they aren’t allowed, often resulting in people giving in and bingeing on those banned foods. So in recent years, the idea of ‘moderation’ has become more accepted, encouraging people to limit how often they eat high calorie foods but not actually banning them. This generally stops that compensatory bingeing.
The same principle applies to a low FODMAP diet, even though it’s not a weight loss diet. If you ban all treats because they’re high FODMAP, you’ll soon begin craving those treats. Since eating high FODMAP foods won’t harm you in the long-term, even though they will make you sick in the short-term, it can be tempting to give in and eat the food anyway. But because the food has been banned for so long, most people overdo it and eat way too much, making the symptoms even worse.
A better way to deal with this is to make sure that you have low FODMAP treats available. This may be carefully-selected lollies or chocolate, a low FODMAP cake or biscuit, or something that you make yourself.
My most common treat is dark chocolate, which I often eat with my 10 almonds and some crystallised ginger. Occasionally though I’ll fancy it up to make this Ginger Hazelnut and Coconut Dark Chocolate Slab, which is a low effort way to take everyday ingredients and make them special. Another treat I eat is this Chocolate Mug Cake, which only takes 1 minute to cook in the microwave. I also like to keep Banana Bread Waffles in the freezer for a snack, often spread with peanut butter, jam or lemon curd.
The trick here is to first think about what YOU consider to be a treat and what you would most like to eat if possible. Then see if you can buy that item premade to keep in the cupboard or whether there’s a recipe that you can make at home.