I am a twenty-something year old PhD student in Chemistry, located in Melbourne, Australia. Less than a year into my PhD and about when I moved out and started to cook more for myself, I began to have unexplained abdominal pain and was feeling sick a lot of the time. I tried switching to lactose-free products because I was always feeling sick a few hours after breakfast, but it didn’t go away and I started getting regular headaches. About six months later, 1.25 years into my PhD, I finally saw my GP about it, although I forgot to mention the headaches, not realising that they might be linked. She put me on the low FODMAP diet. I initially despaired, as a person who always prided themselves on being able to eat everything and knowing a friend that was on it and how expansive it was. However, in time I learned my serving sizes, bought a new phone so that I could buy the Monash and FODMAP Friendly Apps, found some good bloggers and acquired some excellent cookbooks. From someone who had never enjoyed or been good at cooking, I started enjoying it. I made up some recipes, educated my friends and family and got a lot of pleasure out of cooking low FODMAP meals that were appreciated by “normal” people.
The low FODMAP diet cleared up some of my acute symptoms, but I never could seem to get down to baseline for enough days to start challenging foods. I tried being even stricter, removing high FODMAP foods in safe amounts. I saw a gastroenterologist and did the whole colonoscopy/gastroscopy and more accurate coeliac test thing, but I am not a coeliac and there was nothing else physically wrong to explain it. This is where I made my biggest mistake. After initially seeing a dietician who did not specialise in FODMAPs and getting very little out of it, I put off finding another dietician and decided to stick to the low FODMAP elimination diet and wait until I had enough symptom relief to start challenging. If I had one piece of advice for people who think that low FODMAP or failsafe might help them, it would be find a dietician with experience and training in those areas. Please.
At one point I had enough symptom relief to challenge honey (it didn’t go well), but on the whole my symptoms hadn’t gone away. I had now been on the low FODMAP elimination diet for a year (really, please don’t do that). But being part of the online low FODMAP support groups had some benefits. There are some incredible dieticians and knowledgeable people working in those facebook groups and I started reading comments on reactions to low FODMAP foods. Things started to come together… my headaches after consuming more than 2 squares of dark chocolate, feeling sick after eating cheese, the massive stomach cramps and fatigue after a low FODMAP breakfast with a salmon steak, curries, stir frys and brownies that set me off, the eczema that had appeared for the first time in my life (it runs in the family and I thought I had escaped!).
I finally booked in to see a dietician with low FODMAP and RPAH elimination diet experience – best decision I made. I was put on the moderate version of the RPAH elimination diet in combination with the low FODMAP elimination diet, and soon after dairy free and wheat free as well. After some crazy withdrawal symptoms, some within hours (looking at you dairy), I finally started getting relief. Although for some of the symptoms, it was not until challenging foods and the symptoms returned that I realised I had been living with them unknowingly for almost 2 years. It turns out my need to fall asleep as soon as I got on a tram/train in the morning was actually a dairy reaction, and now I had enough energy to stay awake or even ride my bike instead! So far I have reacted the worst to dairy and amines; I have some tolerance for FODMAPs (haven’t tested specifics yet), wheat and salicylates but can’t eat them freely and I’m still working through the additives and glutamates.
My symptoms were improving, but now I was met with a new problem – all my go to recipes were suddenly out of bounds and I had to learn to cook safely from scratch. Also, my friends and family were completely alienated by a new set of rules, this time without an app and with a whole set of qualifying questions. My dietician was really helpful with suggestions, but if you’re going through the whole series of FOMDAP and failsafe challenges it takes a long time and you’re going to want some more variety. In terms of FODMAP/failsafe crossover I found The Failsafe Cookbook (Sue Dengate) has a lot of adaptable recipes (I’ll refer to them a lot in my blog, because I don’t want to violate copyright by reproducing them). The other main cookbook, Friendly Foods, used pear in every second recipe and was a lot harder to adapt. Left on my own with a new enthusiasm for cooking, I have made up and adapted quite a few recipes over the last 7 months-ish of testing, bringing me to the end of the third year of my PhD. In a way my reading on FODMAP and failsafe cooking has been like a second research project occurring in parallel to my PhD.
While there are a lot of low FODMAP blogs and resources on the internet, there are very few recipes out there that are also failsafe, let alone dairy and wheat free too. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found this frustrating, and I think I can actually do something to help those who come after me, so I created this blog. I hope it is not just a procrastination on writing my thesis! As soon as I had the idea it was like when Hermione suggested that Harry should teach defence in the DA – when my mind wandered I found myself planning blogs and thinking of what recipes I should include. Then I knew I had to do it. The blog has a secondary function of helping out friends and family who would like to be able to cater for me – thanks guys! I really should have started this earlier.