Month: July 2013

You are what you eat

A more cheery post than the last one for a surprisingly warm and sunny Monday morning here in south-west London.

A lot has been happening in my life recently, from my battles with the foxes who have made our garden their home to my detective work trying to find a long lost family member, but one area of my life has been a constant thorn in my side, or front. My gut.

Happy Gut Mascot

My gut is too big (I’m around 2 1/2 stone overweight) and is constantly bloated, making me look like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body double from his ill-fated movie Junior (without the muscles or riches) – i.e. pregnant (Schwarzenegger jokes may be lost on the new generation). In addition to being too large my gut also doesn’t work properly, and hasn’t really done for the last 2o years or so. You see I have IBS-D (Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diarrhoea), which is as yucky as its sounds. Nothing has really helped me overcome my IBS, although the intensity of the symptoms vary, and when I have bad flare ups things get really bad and it’s hard to leave the house or do much. I’ve spent a long time having various tests and trying out various remedies and therapies. I was diagnosed as Lactose Intolerant, which was hard to take as I love pizza and milkshakes, but even without any Dairy in my diet my IBS was still making life difficult. It’s not easy going out, commuting to jobs using public transport or playing sports when you constantly need the loo.

Anyway, I recently saw a TV programme called The Food Hospital, where they try to tackle peoples various health problems by changing their diet. One lady had bad IBS like me and she was sent to Kings College University Hospital in London to go on their trials of the FODMAP diet.

FODMAPs are short chain carbohydrates and monosaccharides that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, including fructans, galactans, fructose and polyols. The term is an acronym, deriving from “Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols”.
The restriction of FODMAPs from the diet has been found to have a beneficial effect for sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome and other functional gut disorders. The low FODMAP diet was developed at Monash University in Melbourne.

The idea is to eliminate certain foods from your diet (food high in FODMAPs) for aorudn 8 weeks, and then hopefully you’re gut and IBS has calmed down and you can re-introduce each food type into your diet, in a controlled way, to test which food inflames or causes your IBS. So after 8 weeks of eating a diet with no wheat, no dairy, no soya, nothing with onions, nothing with garlic, no apples, broccoli or mushrooms, and lots more food you can’t eat on the diet, the idea is you test which food aggravates your condition the most. In week I will be re-introducing wheat into my diet, slowly, by eating bread on the first day once, then more on the second day, and if the bread doesn’t cause a flare up of my symptoms I can keep eating bread and move onto introducing another high FODMAP food into my diet. If the bread does give me problems, I have to eliminate form y diet again and then go back to a Low FODMAP diet for the next few days before re-introducing another high FODMAP food into my diet to test that.

Sounds complicated right? Well it is, but I’ve actually got far more used to tracking what I eat over the last few years than I ever would have hoped to when I was a fast food junkie during my university years. I started tracking what I eat when I went on a different elimination diet in 2005 and also when I went on WeightWatchers in 2009. I’m using a note taking app on my iPhone (Awesome Note) to track what I eat and my IBS-D symptoms, and then correlating all this data in Excel. I aim to develop my own tracking iPhone and web based app as part of my journey into the world of programming, but I need to finish my private social network application and programming courses first. Monash University also have a new FODMAP iPhone app out, which I will have to download and try out. There is also a great WeightWatchers app, but more about that later on.

So every time I eat something, I make a note of it on my iPhone app, and I have to ensure I don’t eat any food with high FODMAPs. That is pretty hard as most food I eat has garlic, onions, dairy, wheat or soya in it, especially processed food and food made in restaurants. The only thing helping me out is the fact I am working and studying from home, so I can eat 3 home-made/ cooked meals a day. My favourite Pret-a-Manger club sandwiches are out for lunch, my new lunch menu contains 2 grilled turkey steaks, fresh baby spinach, Olive Oil, Bird’s Eye Wheat/ Gluten free Potato Waffles or boiled new potatoes if I have the time to cook them, and some ketchup and mayonnaise that er both wheat/ gluten and dairy free. It’s actually quite a nice lunch, and I have been eating this as lunch for at least the last 13 weeks. You see I started the FODMAP diet on my own, after a really bad flare up in my IBS, around 13 weeks ago. I did it for 6 weeks, noticed that the number of really bad IBS days were less than usual but my IBS was still similar to what it was before, or at least I thought so. the I went to my best friend’s wedding reception so I stopped the FODMAP diet for that week, to try and see if it had made a difference, and also to allow me to eat some tasty wedding food and drink at the free bar. Suffice to say that by the end of week 7, the first week back on food high in FODMAPs, I was really ill again. So even though it hadn’t cured me or transformed my life, the low FODMAP diet did seem to clam my IBS. I just needed to give it more time. I booked an appointment with a dietician at St. Georges Hospital, through my GP, and I am back on the low FODMAP diet, this time on week 6. My IBS has gone from being really bad, to just bad but better.

It’s still not good enough in terms of me being comfortable going out, but maybe the bacteria in my gut need more time to get healthy again. I saw the dietician 3 weeks ago, so I have 5 more weeks of just low FODMAP food, then i can start re-introducing food.

Hopefully by then my IBS will have calmed down to a place I can start re-introducting food as the good news that promoted this blog post (and my intense discussion of my gut and FODMAP) was the fact I booked our summer holiday trip for this year!

No it’s not Las Vegas or New York. It’s not even the Costa Del Sol. Yet it’s better than just another trip tot the local park. It’s sunny Bournemouth. I’ve never been to Bournemouth, in Dorset on the south coast of England, but it has a sandy beach, is by the sea, and isn’t that far to travel (consider all the IBS posting above). So it fits the bill. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to afford to go here, as holidays in the UK are pretty expensive, even though you don’t need to fly anywhere, yet I got a good deal on a decent looking hotel for 3 nights in last August.

The fact we’re now going to a seaside holiday in August means one thing. I need to lose weight, more specifically I need to trim and tone down my pregnant looking swollen gut. That means sticking to the low FODMAP diet to reduce the bloating (high FODMAP food cause bloating and gas in the gut), but it also means I need to go back onto the WeightWatchers diet that helped me loose 2/12 stone way back in 2009 (yes I wasn’t always fat!). I don’t want to wander aorudn the sandy beaches of the English Channel looking like an extra for the British Gangster movie Sexy Beast.

Everyone needs goals in life, and this new goal, our trip in 7 weeks, will hopefully focus my attention on sticking to the low FODMAP and WeightWatchers 53 point a day super diet (all food on the weight watchers diet have a points value, determined by the amount of protein, carbohydrates, fat and fibre in the food). It won’t be easy.

Tracking what you eat is one thing, tracking how much you eat of it is even harder. I’ve found my WeightWatchers weighing scales (to weight the food I eat and cook) and I have started creating the ultimate weekly food and meal planner in Microsoft word. I plan to have a 3 week cycle where I know exactly what I am going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. the total food intake will add up to no more than 53 Weight Watchers Pro-Points a day, and so hopefully, if I stick to the eating plan, I’ll avoid high FODMAP foods and also loose 2lbs of body weight per week.

I’ll have to fix the broken foot strap on my static exercise bike at home and get back to exercising. At least I’m playing squash once a week again (although lugging my weight aorudn a squash court isn’t easy). I am feeling very positive and focussed though.

The biggest challenge is eating out and socialising. Maintaining a low FODMAP diet is really hard if you eat out a lot. The food in most restaurants contains a mixture of ingredients that inevitably will have garlic, onions, wheat or other high FODMAP foods. This is certainly true of Indian/ Pakistani and Italian restaurants. I love Chinese and Thai food, but they use garlic too.

The only place I really now is great for low FODMAP food is Nando’s, conveniently one of my favourite restaurants (and my 5 year old daughter’s favourite restaurant). The chips are wheat/ gluten free and I love eating a grilled half chicken. I avoid the sauces, as they have garlic, and don’t have a very hot or spicy marinade on the chicken. Cutting down caffeine is also pretty tough for me, but I’ve been persisting. Besides Nando’s all I can think of is steak and chips in terms of good low FODMAP restaurant food. Any other suggestion would be more than welcome.

Anyway wish me luck. Hopefully I’ll lose weight, overcome my IBS-D and be able to swim in the English Channel with pride.