Natalie is a young woman who lives and works in busy London but she will tell you now more than ever she is a true Scot at heart. And she’s happy to stand out!
She has experienced IBS for a long while and recently started following the Low FODMAP diet with the help of NHS dietitians. She is negotiating a new relationship with her trigger foods and how to manage symptoms in a very busy schedule and demanding lifestyle.
Right now during the Covid 19 Pandemic, she is staying in Edinburgh at her mum’s home, though usually you would find her in East London, by the river.
- Tell us a little about yourself and how you spend your day, work and social life
I’m Natalie, 32, originally from Edinburgh and now living in London. I work in marketing in the museum sector which I love. It’s so fascinating, I’m forever learning new things and it’s a thrill to have the job of promoting something I love to other people. In my downtime, I’m either really busy, or tucked up indoors with a book! With one of my best friends, we’re working through a list of things to see and do in London; the trouble is, we’re always adding to it… That includes museums (of course), walks, tours, the theatre, new pubs to explore, new snacks to try, (therein danger lies) and new parks to lounge in when the sun makes an appearance. I’d say that’s my number one hobby, but I do also love raiding a bookshop then curling up for the weekend with my new finds. I’m also a big fan of weekends away and we often take advantage of ticket deals on the Eurostar. Of course, I do try to get back to Scotland to see friends and family a few times a year too. I like to have a good mix of busy holidays and relaxing ones so I can recharge.
I started on the Low FODMAP diet in January and I’m now in the reintroduction, or challenge phase. I was recently chuffed to bits to discover that bread is ok, but onion and garlic sadly, are not my friend. I’m also lactose intolerant, but I’ve made my peace with that over time.
- What do you do to relax and manage your busy life
This is something I’ve had to work harder at in recent years. I think I’m more aware of it thanks to my IBS – you always know when you’re stressed or your anxiety is on the rise. I’ve had to get better at organising my time, and now keep a personal diary in addition to my strictly-planned work one. I recently over-committed myself and was quite stressed about so many events in the evenings – they were all fun but I knew it would tire me out and cause me issues. Coronavirus came along and cancelled them all which in some ways was a blessing, but of course, now there are no evening events to be looking forward to for some time!
As I’ve alluded to, reading is a big passion of mine and getting lost in a book can take my mind off things. I also have a subscription to Psychologies magazine and I really enjoy that it’s some positive me-time when I sit down to read it.
At the end of last year, I started to practise mindfulness and meditation. I’ll admit, I was sceptical as my attention span is short and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stick to it, or feel any benefit…but I was wrong on all fronts. I find it’s an amazing way to wind down, quieten my brain and drift off to sleep at night.
I’ve also made a point of removing any content from my social media channels that caused me stress, or made me compare myself to other people. We just don’t need that added pressure, so if it’s not making me smile, or offering a positive contribution to my life, it’s been unfollowed. My timelines now are all friends, cute animals or influencers with IBS who help me remember I’m not alone in this.
Music has also been helpful and my go-to music in any situation is my favourite band, Turin Brakes. I tend to love anything soothing and acoustic. When I’m working I listen to classical music, or white noise such as rain sounds.
- Who’s your FODMAP hero?
I was introduced to the diet by two amazing NHS dietitians, who explained everything really clearly, but were also honest and realistic, and really understood that sometimes we all have off-days and that’s ok. I was really apprehensive before I met them, thinking I’d have to restrict so much, and as a novice cook, that I’d totally fail. After my time with them though, I felt a lot more confident. They are still available for me to contact which is a nice security blanket if I have concerns or questions. I also follow some Low FODMAP Instagram accounts which is helpful for meal inspiration, and my absolute favourite is Lottie, AKA @thetummydiaries, who along with openly and honestly discussing IBS, also does #mybloatedwardrobe with lots of great fashion ideas for bloated days.
- Take us through one of your typical days..
I get up around 6.30, get ready for work and I’m on the DLR by around 7.30. I always eat breakfast at my desk, so I’ll either head straight there for some cereal, or I’ll stop off somewhere in the City and grab something. I’m at my desk by 8.30 where I eat and catch up on the news. This is also when I’ll have my only coffee of the day – it’s oat milk, which is a bit naughty in terms of FODMAP but coconut milk is just too sweet for me and the consequences are minimal.
My mornings are either spent ploughing through my inbox or in meetings. At lunch, I try to go to the gym a few times a week; I’m rubbish at early mornings and it’s a lot busier in the evenings so it’s a nice compromise, plus it forces me to leave my desk. On a good day, I’ve prepared something to eat… If not, usually because I’ve had a busy week, I’ll head out to try to find something to have; I’m learning what there is in the area that fits in with the diet and my known triggers. Then it’s back to work and this is usually where the real struggle kicks in – the office snacks! We’re a really snacky team so there are always goodies on our snack bench. Luckily, they’re such a lovely bunch and always try to get something I can have. In the evening, I’ll either be heading home, sorting out life admin, batch cooking, or spending time with my partner, or my work colleagues and I will head to the bar on-site and have a few drinks.
- What do you say to friends cooking for you or restaurant staff when you need to approach the awkward conversation to request your meal to be FODMAP friendly?
With friends, they’re all aware of the diet; some of them also have digestive issues or relatives with them, so they’re very respectful and tend to ask me what I can have. With restaurants, I really thought it would be a struggle as I have that very British trait of not wanting to be “a bother”. I soon learned that these days, it’s very common to have dietary requirements and lots of places have specific menus. I try to choose something that I can easily adapt and go from there. Really helpfully, my dietitian recommended a list of restaurants when I first met her so that’s been amazing. I just try to keep it as simple as possible – dairy free, no onion, no garlic. I’m still working through food challenges, so this chapter is still open.. I am sure I will find out more of what works for me.
- What’s your best FODMAP life hack?
Rice cakes! My go-to emergency snacks that I always have on hand, that come in savoury and sweet.
In fact, right now I have my trusty Kallo Dark Chocolate rice cake thins by my side! Just need a cup of tea to keep them company…
But for a meal I always have rice or noodles in the cupboard that I can sling in the microwave or on the hob, and some meat in the fridge – usually chicken. I have also recently made my own sweet chilli sauce so that’s in the fridge for a quick stir fry. And in my freezer, I keep a dairy and gluten free pizza at all times!
- Do you have a FODMAP recipe you couldn’t live without and you can wow your dinner guests with?
To be honest, I’ve never loved cooking and therefore never been amazing at it – the FODMAP diet is forcing me to get better and I’m starting to like it a little more…I think it’s directly proportional to my skill level! My favourite thing at the moment is lasagne, probably because it’s been winter so that’s a real comfort food and I can batch cook it. I’m a big fan of anything that I can justifiably add large amounts of cheese to (one with low lactose content of course…)
- Do you use any apps on your phone to help with your health regime?
When I first embarked on the diet, I downloaded them all! The ones that remain are:
The Monash University FODMAP app
I would argue that Spotify is a big help as it provides music, white noise, podcasts…all of the things that help me relax.
Waking Up – this is my meditation app (it’s subscription based, but I find it worth it)
I do also wear a Fitbit so I use this app to check in on my sleep patterns and make sure I get enough of it – I try to prioritise getting to bed at my usual time as much as I can.
- Is there anything else you do to help with your IBS and stay fit and healthy
The gym is really important to me; it’s where I find headspace and switch off properly. Getting out and about is also really helpful too. In this time of self-isolation and staying home, it’s become clear how important that is to me, so I’m trying to wander round the garden each day at the very least.
I talk about it openly with friends and family as having that support network to help keep me on track is really vital.
I also take vitamins, including a probiotic to keep my little gut bacteria happy and plentiful.
And lastly my secret tip… Comfy, elasticated trousers!
The first thing I do when I get home from work is get changed out of whatever is restricting my tummy! I’m all about elasticated waistbands where possible, much more IBS-friendly. Now that we’re all working from home and indoors for the foreseeable future, I’ve had a great excuse to buy some more!
- Do you keep a food and IBS symptoms diary or an app to track these? Is there anything you’d like to get support and would use FODMAP app for?
I don’t keep a strict diary, though I have toyed with the idea. Honestly, my days are too busy that I’d forget and lose track. I do track symptoms where I can link them to food on FODMAP Helper, so for example I code onion as a red, but bread as a green so that I can log the good, the bad and the ugly. This helps when I’m doing the supermarket shop, as I’m still learning what’s ok for me and not. I imagine that in a few months’ time it’ll all be ingrained in my brain.
I would really love a Low FODMAP recipe app – at the moment I trawl BBC Good Food, blogs etc but it would be handy for it to be in an app, and be updated regularly. I haven’t yet found one app that does it all in terms of recipes, being able to log what works/doesn’t work for me and is fully UK relevant.
- What’s the number one question you wish you could ask your FODMAP-trained dietitian?
How long does it take for what you eat to cause symptoms?
In reality I know there isn’t a full answer to this question but over the last few years it would have helped so much to know if I was in agony because of what I just ate, or what I ate 3 hours ago. I’m just suspicious of everything instead!
- What would you like to see in the supermarket or restaurants in the near future?
A Low FODMAP range of food or ingredients would be the dream! Partly for ease of shopping, but also because it would mean that the diet was more mainstream and people would ask “what’s that?!” less often.
To be slightly less demanding, more options with no onion/no garlic. I think they’re some of the more common triggers (?) so it would help a lot of us. Those ingredients sneak into everything!
- What would help you make low FODMAP eating easier for you and your family and friends?
For me, it will be easier once I’ve finished challenging and know what’s ok for me to have and what’s not. If only there was a quick and easy test… For now, I try to share an overview with the people closest to me so they can understand what the diet is, and why I’m doing it. It would be nice if I could direct them to a blog or a book which is “how to support your family member during the FODMAP diet”.
Interviewed by Erica Ascenza
Erica Ascenza is an experienced Clinical Dietitian and Nutritionist with a demonstrated history of working in the NHS and health care industry. She works with people and organizations to help improve their health and wellbeing by adapting effective, evidence-based nutritional therapy to meet the clients’ individual needs. She is a specialist FODMAP trained dietitian and can support patients diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) using this clinically proven dietary treatment effective in reducing symptoms like pain, bloating and improving quality of life.