A body’s rebellion
I don’t think I know one person who served as a volunteer who got away without having any “intestinal” issues of any kind during her or his service. Now, before you go thinking you know what I mean, it could be anything from the obvious to the less obvious – turns out there are a whole host of things that can go wrong in that area of our body, especially with the shocks, changes, viruses, and bacteria to which we expose ourselves during service.
However, on the positive front, most of us end up eating rather “organically” during service, if for no other reason than we simply don’t have access to the range of processed and packaged foods that exist in places like the U.S. Most volunteers lose weight, get more exercise, and generally feel good. But there always seem to be consequences.
I never anticipated what those consequences would be, because I was happy to be back and to be able to eat a green salad with any kind of lettuce, during the winter. To be able to get fruit during the off-season. I was enjoying my return, eating different types of foods (Indian! Mexican! Chinese! Thai!), and for a while, things were normal, so to speak. I don’t eat as much as I used to, but that is more due to age than anything else I think.
So imagine my surprise when over the past few months, I have had more and more problems with my digestive system. I tried various common sense or diet type remedies, but nothing drastic. My problems did not get better. My body is rebelling.
I finally broke down and made an appointment with a Gastroenterologist. After I told her my laundry list of symptoms, she gave me the following directions:
- Make an appointment with another doctor to rule out one potential cause
- Go have blood drawn and certain tests will be run
- Return to the office for a Lactulose test
- Go on a low FODMAP diet
It all sounds easy enough until you realize that the Lactulose test is two and a half hours long, where you have to be present in the office and blow into a breathalyzer-type machine. I asked whether the office has WiFi, because, after all, that would make it easier to deal with. I was told that they “sometimes” have WiFi. Well, said I, I hope next Wednesday is one of the “sometimes” so I can work while I am there (and not have to take a sick day).
Even less exciting is when I realized exactly what is involved in a low FODMAP diet. Exactly what is a FODMAP, you ask? Well, turns out, there is a lot of information about this on the Internet (where else?), and from legit sources.
FODMAPs are found in the foods we eat. FODMAPs is an acronym for
Oligosaccharides (eg. Fructans and Galactans)
Disaccharides (eg. Lactose)Monosaccharides (eg. excess Fructose)
Polyols (eg. Sorbitol, Mannitol, Maltitol, Xylitol and Isomalt)
Clear as mud? Yeah, I know. I recognized a few words – mostly the artificial sweeteners that have become so popular in recent years, and other sugar-related words (those that end in -ose). Where are FODMAPS found, you may ask.
A few examples of food sources for each of the FODMAPs are listed below. The list is not complete (but it is enough to give you an idea).
- Excess Fructose: Honey, Apples, Mango, Pear, Watermelon, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup Solids
- Fructans: Artichokes (Globe), Artichokes(Jerusalem), Asparagus, Beetroot, Chicory, Dandelion leaves, Garlic (in large amounts), Leek, Onion (brown, white, Spanish, onion powder), Raddicio lettuce, Spring Onion (white part), Wheat (in large amounts), Rye (in large amounts), Inulin, Fructo-oligosaccharides.
- Lactose: Milk, ice cream, custard, dairy desserts, condensed and evaporated milk, milk powder, yogurt, margarine, soft unripened cheeses (eg. ricotta, cottage, cream, marscarpone).
- Galacto-Oligosaccharides (GOS): Legume beans (eg. baked beans, kidney beans, bortolotti beans), Lentils, Chickpeas
- Polyols: Apples, Apricots, Avocado, Cherries, Longon, Lychee, Nectarines, Pears , Plums, Prunes, Mushrooms, Sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol, and Isomalt
That’s a lot of things that I eat. For example, I will usually have cereal with milk for breakfast. Sometime during the day I have yogurt. I like to bring vegetables with hummus (chickpea spread) for lunch. See where I am going? Here is another (stand-alone) resource about this type of diet. I showed it to a young woman I work with yesterday and she said “oh wait, there it is – fun is on that list”.
Luckily for me, alcohol is not, so I can still have a glass or two of wine. I mean, I found one of the lists with CHOCOLATE on it. Come on, you’re killing me here!
I know, I know, I shouldn’t complain. I’m not trying to complain. It just kind of throws you to have to go to the store (Whole Foods, no less) and search for gluten-free everything (this is not news to people who are gluten intolerant, but at least they now have options – a good number of them!), lactose-free yogurt, to read the label of every single thing I want to buy, and to look on the list when buying veggies to find out whether I can eat it. What is somewhat frustrating is that depending on the source, the lists of allowed and not allowed foods can contradict each other. For example, one list says green beans is okay, the other says no. One says corn is okay, the other says no.
The good news is, there is still much I CAN eat. Salads, berries, meat (I don’t eat much of it, but at least I CAN), some grains such as quinoa, millet, and rice. I can eat potatoes. I don’t usually, but I can. So in reality I don’t have to change my eating habits much, but having to cut out things that are a regular part of your diet and that appear in everything.
This will be a process – it is not like I can suddenly add all these things back in (and by that time, I may not want to) because the way the low FODMAP diet goes is that you cut all this stuff out, and then after a certain period of time, reintroduce things one at a time to see how your body tolerates it.
It is just interesting to have this happen at this point in my life. When I asked the doctor if it would be unusual to find out I have an allergy to something, she said “people can develop food allergies at any time”.
Though my body is rebelling on me, I feel lucky that I am employed and have health insurance, so I CAN go to the doctor and find out exactly what is wrong, and I can go to Whole Foods to get foods to match the diet. I’ll get through this and figure out the cause. Who knows, maybe I’ll even end up feeling better and want to stay on the diet.