Following a low FODMAP diet is easiest to do when you’re in complete control of your food choices. But that’s not always possible and you’re going to be faced with situations where you have to make do with what’s available. So how can you plan ahead to make it easy for you to manage your FODMAP intake across the day? And which meals do you need to get right to minimise the potential consequences of IBS symptoms on your day?
Let’s start by looking at each meal of the day, how much control you have over the food choices and the potential consequences of getting it wrong…
Breakfast is normally the easiest meal to control because you’re still in your own home with your own kitchen, so you get to choose the ingredients going into your meal. This luxury is often lost as the day proceeds if you eat food that’s made by someone else while you’re out of the house. So take advantage of your control over breakfast and make yourself a filling and healthy low FODMAP meal that will tide you over for as long as possible.
And since breakfast is the first meal of the day, whatever you eat is likely to affect how you’ll feel across the whole day. FODMAP reactions do vary between individuals, with some reactions occurring within an hour, while others take several hours or a day to occur. But for most people, eating FODMAPs at 7AM will mean dealing with symptoms during the working day. So controlling FODMAPs at breakfast should be a high priority.
Compared to breakfast, lunch can be harder to control, especially if you eat lunch out of the house. There two best approaches to dealing with lunches outside of the home are:
- Prepare your own low FODMAP lunch and take it with you so you maintain control over your food and can minimise potential reactions.
- Research places that serve food near your workplace to see who can create low FODMAP meals for you. This may take some trial and error at first, but over time you’ll find some options that are suitable for you.
If however you’re quite mobile during the day, you’re likely to eat in different locations on a regular basis. If this is you, you’ve got three options:
- Prepare your own low FODMAP lunch that doesn’t need reheating and will be stable for a few hours. Sandwiches or salads are good options. If possible, pack them in an esky or cooler to keep them at a safe temperature so they don’t become a food hazard, especially in the warmer months.
- Research chain-type restaurants that you’re likely to come across during the day to see what low FODMAP options are available. Then when you’re ready for lunch, use your phone to search for any that are close by.
- Take a risk on a café or restaurant that you’re passing by. This option has the greatest potential for mistakes and you may end up with a high FODMAP option. But if you do your best to avoid the FODMAPs that you’re least tolerant to, you should be able to keep your reactions to a minimum. Also, if your reactions take a few hours to set in, you’ll probably be back at home before they occur.
And of course if you eat lunch at home, making a low FODMAP meal should be fairly easy.
The situation here is sort of like the situation for lunch. If you’re at home, you have control over the ingredients. Dinner is also a great time to experiment with your meal choices and try something new – maybe a new low FODMAP recipe, a new product that looks like it’s low FODMAP (based on the ingredient list), or maybe just trying a new way to boost the flavour of your meals.
But if you’re eating dinner out of the home, you won’t have as much control over the ingredients. Similar to the strategies used for lunch, if you have some regular places for eating out, you can get to know safe low FODMAP options that will work for you. Of course it’s also good to try new restaurants too.
When going to a new restaurant, if possible I first go to their website and search for a menu to see whether their food choices are likely to be suitable. And if you can phone them before you go, you can get even more information about whether they can cater for you. But if I can’t plan ahead, I look through their menu before being seated to see if some menu choices might be adaptable.
In some ways, snacks should be easy to deal with because you can pack them ahead of time to ensure they’re low FODMAP. Yet snacks are the thing that most people forget about and end up grabbing something on the run.
Another thing that catches people out with snacks is the portion sizes. Because snacks are smaller than main meals, you may think that eating only a small amount of a high FODMAP food won’t be a problem. But sometimes you only need a small amount to trigger a reaction.
The best way to deal with this is to prepare your snacks ahead of time. There are many choices available, some of which can be packed in a bag to take with you and some that are better if kept in the fridge. Here’s an article with lots of ideas for low FODMAP snacks to help you work out good choices for your needs.
So what’s the best way to manage your FODMAP intake across the day?
There’s no absolute right or wrong answer here since it depends on your own personal reactions to FODMAPs and how long it takes for each reaction to occur. This is something you need to work out for yourself during the reintroduction phase when you test your tolerances to FODMAPs.
If you react relatively fast, you’ll experience problems within hours of eating, which could majorly impact your day. But if you know that a reaction takes 3 or 5 hours, then taking a risk and eating a higher FODMAP option later in the day is less likely to impact your productivity during the day.
The way you manage your IBS is very personal since everyone has different IBS triggers, many of which go beyond FODMAPs. That’s why only you can weigh up the pros and cons for each meal to determine the true risk of eating a higher FODMAP meal for you.
Here’s how I approach it:
To me, it seems silly to push the limits on FODMAPs at breakfast since it’s the easiest meal to control and the one that’s most likely to impact the rest of the day. So I say don’t mess with breakfast. Get it right and make sure it’s low FODMAP.
For most people, I also recommend being quite careful at dinner time because symptoms often occur overnight while you’re meant to be sleeping. This may initially seem like a good choice because you won’t be awake to experience the effects. But the reality is that a FODMAP reaction after dinner will can cause you to toss and turn throughout the night as you’re dealing with bloating, excess gas and pain. And if you suffer from diarrhoea, dashing to the toilet isn’t good for sleep either. So the consequences of a high FODMAP dinner can make you feel crap in the morning, less prepared to face the day, and more prone to stress that could trigger further reactions.
So if you’re going to take a risk on whether a meal is low or high FODMAP, assuming you’re willing to push the limits at all, the best time to do it is probably lunch time or early afternoon. That way you’ll be finished work and in the comfort of your own home when the worst of the reaction takes place (unless of course you react extremely fast to FODMAPs). Also, reactions starting earlier in the day are more likely to be finished before bedtime, so they won’t affect your sleep. Of course you’ll still suffer from the reaction, but sometimes you need to choose the best of the worst options.
But what’s best for you specifically?
Well, as I said already, it depends on your reaction time to FODMAPs. This is something that you should discuss with the nutrition professional who’s helping you with the low FODMAP diet to work out your best way of managing FODMAP intake across the day.