Teens and the Low FODMAP Diet
Teenagers are not immune to the digestive troubles that plague many adults. In fact, research suggests that around 14% of high school students are impacted by the embarrassing and uncomfortable symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and the disruption it can cause to everyday life.
For a teen, IBS and other digestive disorders can equal missed days from school, lost time during exams, sitting on the sidelines during extracurricular activities (or skipping them altogether), and physical and emotional discomfort. The rigidity of a school schedule – early mornings, lack of freedom regarding bathroom breaks – provides an added challenge that can exacerbate symptoms in young people. As a parent, of course – of course! – you want to do anything you can to help a child in this situation.
Many parents are drawn to a low FODMAP diet for their teen with IBS since it is a non-invasive, medication-free approach to managing uncomfortable, inconvenient symptoms. Around three-quarters of people who follow it are able to better manage their condition and may even completely eliminate symptoms.
While most of the research on the low FODMAPs plan has focused on adults, a more recent study shows that it can have a similar level of effectiveness in kids and teens. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s for every young person struggling with IBS.
Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before helping your teen embark on a low FODMAP diet:
Has He or She Seen a GI Doctor?
The first step anyone with GI issues, young or old, should take when attempting to gain control of his or her symptoms is to see a specialist. As a parent, it is on you to make sure your child gets medical attention regarding his or her stomach problems. The reason: A diagnosis of IBS requires ruling out several more serious conditions. Gut symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, pain, bloating and more can be red flags for any number of issues. Seeing a doctor who specializes in this sort of thing will help you pinpoint what’s actually wrong so that you can know for sure if a low FODMAP plan is the right approach.
How Old is He/She?
There’s no age requirement for going low FODMAPs. However, the more mature or responsible your child is, the more likely he or she is to be able to manage an elimination diet like low FODMAPs. In order to know whether or not limiting certain foods is helping your child’s symptoms, you need to trust that your child is able to stick with the plan even when you’re not there to supervise.
Can He or She Talk About Symptoms?
Not every teen wants to chat with his or her parents about what’s going on in the bathroom. If your child is hesitant, this may get in the way of your ability to communicate about what is going, and whether or not going low FODMAPs is having an impact on symptoms. If frank discussion with you is difficult for your teen, see if he or she would be more willing to open up to a professional like a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who can help navigate the plan. It’s OK to take yourself out of the conversation, as long as there is an adult involved who does know what’s going on (note: working with an experienced RDN can be helpful in any scenario).
Are You Ready?
If you’re the one who prepares a decent portion of your teen’s meals, are you prepared to alter your grocery shopping and cooking habits? Regardless of how self-sufficient your child is, much of the burden of trialing a low FODMAP plan will inevitably fall on you (unless you’re the parent of an older teen who lives on his or her own). Are you willing to try out some new recipes and buy some different foods?
Does He/She Have a Smartphone?
One of the best tools anyone can have when embarking on a low FODMAP elimination is the Monash University Low FODMAP app. This app allows the user to search an extensive database of foods that have been tested for FODMAP content so he or she can know at any given moment what’s safe to eat, and what’s not. Using it can give your teen the ability to eat away from home and maintain some sense of independence and normalcy.
Does He/She Have a History of Disordered Eating?
Then a restrictive plan like low FODMAPs may be a trigger, and therefore not be right for your family. Talk with your teen’s doctor and/or therapist about whether the possible benefits of low FODMAPs might outweigh the risks. If your family decides that it does make sense, proceed only with an RDN and therapist on board to supervise.