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Surviving the Low FODMAP Diet in College

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been plagued by mysterious stomach pains.  Sometimes I’d go through periods with a constant dull ache in my gut. Other times, I’d forget about the issue only to be surprised with a bout of pain that made me want to skip class.  At one point during my junior year, the problem got bad enough that I dragged myself to Student Health Services to see what was up.

Now, I’m not really one to run to the doctor as soon as symptoms start. I prefer to Google what might be going on and find a home remedy before seeking medical help (Side note: that is not advice. It’s probably not a good way to go. Don’t do it.). The doctor I saw at SHS asked me questions for about an hour, told me I didn’t have cancer, and then tested me for lactose intolerance and celiac disease. When I tested negative for both, he told me to eat slowly and cut down on fiber.

For a while, this advice helped soothe the pain, but didn’t cause a large enough difference in the long term. I went back to Google searches and found something called a low FODMAP diet.  Basically, it’s an elimination diet to help people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and sensitive stomachs to figure out what foods could be upsetting them.  

FODMAP stands for fermentable, oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols.  Each of these is a form of carbohydrates which can be difficult on the stomach to digest. One of these is lactose. Fructose, which is found in fruits, also falls under this category. Another lesser-known cause of stomach pain are fructans, which are in wheat products and some vegetables. Polyols are found in some vegetables and most artificial sweeteners. To get an idea of which foods do and don’t fall under these four categories, you can take a look here.

Needless to say, this diet is complex and overwhelming. I had no idea where to begin. I ended up asking SHS for some referrals to help, and they recommended a doctor on campus and seeing a nutritionist at Sargent.  The doctor put me on this diet and guided me in where to start. I began with a two-week elimination period where I avoided all four categories. This stage was the most difficult, as there was very little I could eat. I depended a lot on eggs, gluten-free products, meats, and low-lactose cheeses. 

After this, I added back in each category one by one until I could see which ones bothered me most.  One of the things that helped me most during this process was seeing a nutritionist on campus. From my experience, the nutritionists at Sargent are extremely knowledgeable and helpful.  Even if you don’t have a serious health concern, I would recommend you at least get your one free appointment allotted to each BU student.

I feel like I have to mention though, this diet is only recommended for people with IBS or stomach pain. It is not a weight loss diet or even something that is helpful for most people. Most of the foods I had to avoid, frustratingly enough, were nutritious foods. Some of them I have intolerances to and some of them I don’t. I’ve learned that some foods are good for some people but not others. For example, many dairy products have a lot of nutritional value and benefit my diet, but for people with lactose intolerance, the negatives outweigh the benefits.  Similarly, there are some vegetables that are generally good for other people because of their nutritious value but harm me because I don’t digest them well.

In the end, I discovered a few foods that bothered me and how to avoid them.  I’m still trying to figure out the details and how much I can have of certain foods, but overall I’m feeling a lot better and am happy I went through the diet, even though it was difficult.


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Sarah "Kathleen" Lupu is a senior studying psychology at Boston University. She grew up in Bucharest, Romania and holds both Romanian and American citizenships.
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