The first phase of the low FODMAP diet is complex and there are many high FODMAP foods that you need to avoid or eat in smaller amounts. This can make eating out challenging and suck the joy out of travelling. So, we’re not surprised if you are wondering – can you pause the low FODMAP diet when on holiday?
Let’s look at the facts.
How does the low FODMAP diet work?
The low FODMAP diet is a learning journey that helps you identify which foods are triggering your unpleasant gut symptoms. The first phase of the diet lasts for 2 – 6 weeks and the goal is to reduce the amount of high FODMAP foods you eat to see if your gut symptoms settle. Next, you move onto a reintroduction phase where you do structured FODMAP food challenges to see which FODMAP groups are causing your issues. Then finally you move onto an adapted FODMAP phase, where you bring the high FODMAP foods you can enjoy without symptoms, back into your diet.
High FODMAP foods don’t cause damage to our intestines, instead they trigger symptoms by drawing water into the small bowel, then move through to the large bowel where they are fermented by our gut bacteria. This fermentation process creates gas which for some people can lead to bloating, distension, abdominal pain, wind, diarrhoea or constipation.
So, can you pause the first phase of the low FODMAP diet while on holiday?
Any symptoms triggered by high FODMAP foods will settle after about 3 days, once the high FODMAP food has moved through your system. This means if you want to eat food freely and enjoy your holiday you can. Keep in mind that if you pause the low FODMAP diet while you are away, then you need to be willing to manage any gut upset that might occur from the high FODMAP food.
Do people cope better with high FODMAP foods when they are on holiday?
We often hear stories that people tolerate high FODMAP foods much better when on holiday. This might be because you have lower stress levels when you are away. Our brain and gut are tightly linked through the brain-gut axis. Often as you relax so does your gut and your body can become less sensitive to FODMAP reactions, allowing you to enjoy a wider range of food.
However, not everyone is that lucky. Make sure you talk to your doctor about strategies to manage symptoms if you do decide to pause the low FODMAP diet.
You might also find that you cope better if you keep most of the food in your day low FODMAP, for example breakfast, lunch and snacks, and then enjoy a high FODMAP meal at dinner time. This strategy can help reduce FODMAP stacking and give your body more wriggle room to enjoy the high FODMAP meal with fewer symptoms.
How do you start the low FODMAP diet once you are back?
The goal of the first phase of the low FODMAP diet is to settle your gut symptoms, so once you are back from holiday you want to achieve this goal.
First, reflect on your holiday and your symptoms. Were your symptoms under control or out of control? What types of food were you eating? Jot down some notes as these might give you clues about the types of high FODMAP foods you tolerate well.
Next, move back to eating strictly low FODMAP food. Some people find they only need three days for their symptoms to settle again while for others it might take 1 to 2 weeks. Just remember that if you are returning to work or to a busy daily routine this can cause stress and anxiety that can trigger gut symptoms too.
Once you are confident that your symptoms are settled you can jump into your FODMAP challenges and start identifying which high FODMAP foods are problematic for you. Remember that the low FODMAP diet isn’t for life, so we want you to start the FODMAP reintroduction phase as soon as you can to protect your long-term health.
Try testing some high FODMAP foods before you go
If you have a few weeks before you head off travelling, then now might be a good time to do some FODMAP challenges.
Before you start your challenges, think about your gut symptoms. Have they improved significantly since you started the low FODMAP diet? The low FODMAP diet isn’t a cure so we don’t expect your symptoms to be perfect all the time – an occasional bad day every now and then is normal. Instead the goal is to reduce your symptoms so that they are manageable and don’t interfere with your day to day life.
You can start the reintroduction process if you are confident that you can now spot a reaction to a high FODMAP food.
Next, think about the types of foods you might be eating on holiday – will there be lots of onion or garlic? Are you going somewhere where pasta is popular? Is it somewhere tropical where mango will be on the menu?
Are you ready to take control of your gut symptoms?
No thanks, my gut is perfect.
Then pick a FODMAP group that these foods fall into. For example, mango would fall under the fructose challenge, while garlic has its own fructan challenge. Next you can start your FODMAP challenge and test the food over three days to see how you react. You can read about the challenge process here.
Challenging a few high FODMAP foods before you head away on holiday can help you understand your body better. You can then make educated choices on what meals to try and which ones you might be better avoiding while you are away.
Also, if you’re likely to drink more alcohol on holiday than usual, or have an extra few coffees, just be aware these can cause changes to your gut symptoms. So it’s good to have an idea of whether these are likely to cause you problems too.
The low FODMAP diet can be flexible to your needs. That means if you need to pause the low FODMAP diet when on holiday, you can. Just make sure you transition back onto the low FODMAP diet once you are home so you can then move into your FODMAP challenges. It’s important that you don’t get stuck in the first phase of the low FODMAP diet forever. If you have more questions or need help, then let us know.