Reader Story: When Healthy Food Can Make You Sick

This is a reader story by Larah Brook who found an effective treatment for her uncomfortable IBS symptoms through food. She lives in Australia and shares more of her story on her blog. If you’d like to submit your own real food story, you can do so here.

After turning 40, I expected a few things to change in my life. I was prepared for the gray hair to start appearing on my head and was even okay with a few new lines around my eyes, but what was the deal with my stomach?! I was not expecting that. I started to bloat after every single meal and soon after had to run to the bathroom with strong cramps and bowel movements.

At 40 I felt like an old person

I thought I was eating rather healthy, but I had a sweet tooth, so I turned to Lisa’s site for simple recipes for healthy and delicious non-processed food.

Larah Brook - low FODMAP diet blogger and podcaster

Being of Italian origin, (although I live in Australia) I used to eat a lot of pasta and bread; until my health practitioner suggested I reduce or even eliminate those from my diet for a while. As hard as it was, I committed to my ‘new’ diet regime and replaced those heavy carbohydrates with healthy vegetables. In fact, I started to consume quite a lot of vegetables. I’m talking about big plates of soups and casseroles filled with pure goodness … plenty of onion, garlic, broccoli, beans, cabbage, you name it. I became more puzzled when I realized that I started to feel sicker and sicker after eating these healthy foods.

It took another couple of years of going around in circles visiting doctors and other health professionals before a new doctor finally decided to send me for a lot of health tests.

My journey back to health

Many tests later, I learned I was suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and was immediately referred to a dietician. She suggested I try the Low FODMAP Diet, which is proven successful for most IBS sufferers.

Just in a few words, the diet consists of eliminating high FODMAP foods for a few weeks and eventually, when the IBS symptoms have greatly improved or disappeared, re-introducing that food into your diet up to your level of tolerance with the help of a specialized dietician.

As I had nothing to lose, I gave the diet a go even though most of the food I had to eliminate was food I ate every day! Do you remember those soups and casseroles I was telling you about earlier? Well, all those vegetables were causing my symptoms. Within a week of eliminating high FODMAP food, my bloating, cramps and runs to the toilet were gone, just like that.

Talking to family and friends about how good I felt again, I found out that a lot of them had the same symptoms as I did and just lived with them.

It was mind blowing.

I started to read about IBS and the diet and discovered that around 15% of the world population suffers from it. Surprisingly only around 5% are aware of it and out of that, only a small percentage knows about the diet as a remedy to improve those horrible symptoms.

My newly found missionLow FODMAP Diet and IBS Podcast

Immediately I felt the need to share my journey with others who are suffering. So I created a blog to inspire and give hope to people and more recently started a Low FODMAP Diet & IBS Podcast, where I interview a lot of experts on IBS and the diet, as well as sufferers.

For the past year, I’ve been trying to follow a very healthy (and mainly low FODMAP) diet. I’ve been staying away from processed food and was able to lose over 40 pounds, which I had put on in the last few years.

And thankfully, at almost 50 years old I now feel like 30 again!

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10 thoughts on “Reader Story: When Healthy Food Can Make You Sick”

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  1. Catherine Medeiros

    While I am brand new to your blog and FODMAPs, I am a veteran of IBS related issues. I’ve dealt with bloating, relentless and inconvenient diarrhea and now acid reflux (not sure if it’s related yet) for 10 years plus and I’m 41 and sick of it! That’s what brought me here to your site. One question though: you mentioned testing that gave you the IBS diagnosis. Can you please elaborate? I’ve been tested for celiac allergy years back and was negative. I was thinking it’s time for me to have the endoscopy and colonoscopy my doctor ordered about 5 years ago but I’ve ignored. Is that the type of testing you are referring too? I was under the impression that there is no true test for diagnosis but may be totally misinformed.

    Thank you in advance,
    Kate M

    1. Hi Kate, thank you so much for your comment.
      You are right, unfortunately there is not a real test for diagnosing IBS. I was given breath tests for fructose, lactose and h.pylori.
      I had the celiac test done and that was negative. I had all my organs scanned (found out I also had fatty liver, which now after a few years seems ok), and had heart scanned and angiogram, as my acid reflux had the same symptoms as unstable angina (crazy eh?!) After my doctor ruled out any other conditions, he gave me the IBS diagnosis. Obviously I had all the other symptoms of IBS, bloating, cramps, diarrhoea etc. After starting the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet, I felt so much better in less than a week. I hope you can get some relief soon, you can read more about my story on my blog or if you listen to the podcast, I interview a lot of health professionals. I wish you all the best for now x Larah

  2. For low FODMAP recipes I like Kate Scarlata’s blog. She is a dietitian based outside of Boston and has a lot of great recipes, and I love her approach to balanced eating.

    1. Hi Erin, thank you for your comment. Yes I agree with you Kate Scarlata’s blog is great.
      If you have the chance to listen to my low FODMAP diet & IBS podcast, I interview many well known experts on the diet and IBS. I’m sure you will find it also useful, it’s available on iTunes, Stitcher or my website.

  3. Other than preventing an accurate test for Celiac, are there risks to the low FODMAP diet? I haven’t read of any. I follow the diet as well and add foods in that I can tolerate but find that my tolerance is greatly affected when I am stressed out. I forget how painful gas can be until it hits me full force. I miss beans because I am not a big meat eater. I can now have some beans, but I don’t bake them into cookies and brownies like I used to. I still shy away from broccoli and cauliflower. I find myself eating a lot of squash. I stick to gluten free products at home but will have wheat products in small amounts if eating out. I should mention that many people suffer from IBS-D, but I have IBS-C. This means that if my system gets off I can suffer in discomfort for days until my system resets. I used to take miralax, but if I follow the low FODMAP diet my digestion (and elimination) become regular with no medicine needed.

    1. Hi K Fruit, thanks for sharing your comment and I’m so happy for you that the diet helps you too. :-D
      First of all I think it’s important to repeat that the low FODMAP diet is not about gluten, it’s about avoiding those food that contain FODMAPs. It is true that wheat, barley and rye contain both FODMAP (fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides or GOS) and also gluten, and that is the coincidence, but gluten is a protein, while FODMAPs are carbohydrates.
      Although I did not mention this in my story, I also have a lot of stress and it is also a big IBS trigger for me. Together with the diet I also try to reduce my symptoms, by managing the stress with meditation, gentle yoga and moderate exercise. As we are all different, we all need to find the right balance and what works well for us. In term of the diet, I would always recommend to do it with a dietician, who has studied the low FODMAP diet, as it is a complex diet and needs to be adjusted for each person and their level of tolerance. I have heard from people that often they are just given by their doctor a list of high FODMAP food to avoid and low FODMAP food to consume, but the diet is so much more than just high and low FODMAP food. If someone stayed too long on the strict elimination phase, without trying to re-introduce high FODMAP food, once their gut has settled, they would miss out on a lot of healthy food and would miss out on prebiotics, which are a food source for probiotics (good bacteria in our digestive system). Again, you need to find out what works for you and consult a health practitioner to identify and manage your food intolerance in the long term. Thanks again for your input and I wish you all the very best. xo Larah

    2. I too have IBS-C and suffered many years prior to discovering the Low FODMAP diet on my own. Doctors and even my gastroenterologist never even suggested IBS. I find that if I notice symptoms and drink at least 16 ounces of spring water at one time…My bowels will usually move. Hope this helps. Also taking digestive enzymes regularly helps, but I usually only take 1/2 of the recommended dose.

      1. Hi Shonda,
        Thank you for your comment. I am glad to hear that you are able to manage your IBS-C symptoms. I think that a lot more doctors are becoming more understanding of IBS symptoms than a few years ago. Hopefully we can all help to spread the word on IBS and the diet, so that in future less people will have to suffer for so many years, without having a clue of what is wrong with them.
        All the best Shonda, keep in touch.
        x Larah

  4. I am a dietitian and a fan of your blog, however this story seems to be missing disclaimers. The low FODMAP diet is not intended to be a long term diet, nor should it be started without a formal diagnosis of IBS first. If you start the diet without medical supervision and cut out foods such as gluten, your GI doc wouldn’t be able to accurately test for Celiac Disease. The low FODMAP diet is a highly specialized diet that should be supervised by a dietitian. I checked out the posted website and she does not have the credentials to provide education on the low FODMAP diet. This would be considered “medical nutrition therapy”.

    1. Hi Amy,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and raise your concerns :) I was very mindful in my story to mention that the diet should be followed with the guidance of a specialized dietician, I’m not sure if you missed that (it’s easy done). I certainly do not pretend to be what I am not. In fact, I am very conscious on my website to note that I am not a health professional and that I am talking about my personal experience, which I think is important to share as people can sometimes relate more to similar experiences. I am always careful about what I write and it’s always taken from official research. In my blog and podcasts, I interview carefully selected health experts; I also work with experts to create my recipes.

      As a dietitian, you will understand how much this diet can change people’s lives. It certainly has changed my life for the better, after years of suffering with no idea of what was wrong with me. My aim is to help spread the word so that others, who suffer from the same symptoms, will consider visiting their doctor, dietician and other health professionals for proper diagnosis and subsequent treatment. As you’ll know, the Low FODMAP diet works for most people with IBS, and it surely helped me; but, a lot of people don’t know about it yet. I completely understand and agree that once IBS sufferers see a specialized dietician, they can be guided through the phases, the elimination of high FODMAP foods and later on the re-introduction of as many high FODMAP food as they can tolerate. This was my case, and I now follow a modified low FODMAP diet, which helps me keep my symptoms under control.
      There is no need for people to avoid gluten on a low FODMAP diet, as gluten is not a FODMAP, unless they are also celiac or have a gluten sensitivity (or unless their health professional asks them to, for other reasons).

      I hope this clarifies that, although I’m not a health professional, I only have peoples best interests at heart. All the hours I devote to this cause every week is simply an adjunct to a dietician’s role, and my ultimate goal is to spread the word about IBS and the low FODMAP diet, whilst sharing my experience. Again, thanks for your comment.
      Cheers Larah