How I learnt to embrace my pain-in-the-butt food intolerances to feel so much better

In my imaginary alternate life where I follow a different career path, I work in nutrition or dietetics. For a whole host of reasons, I’ve had to learn more and more about food over the years. In some ways, it’s taken away some of the joy around food. I can no longer eat a doughnut (and how fancy schmancy have these become!) without worrying about the potential stomach pains waiting in the wings. In other ways though, I’ve seen firsthand the marked effect a change in diet can have on wellbeing. I’ve never felt healthier and more in tune with my body and what it needs.

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 13, which has proved challenging at times. In my mid-teens, I became very ill with anaemia due to a lack of iron. The doctor arriving on our front doorstep on a Saturday morning with blood test results made me realise I couldn’t just take the meat out and not replace it with anything. From then on, legumes and leafy veg became my food allies. Mum also put her foot down and said I needed to eat fish to help stay healthy. I grumbled, but took her point.

In my early 20s I began to experience regular stomach pains and super-low energy levels. I was following a healthy diet, or so I thought, so my first genius step was to self-diagnose. Believing myself to be lactose-intolerant, I switched to soy milk, which in the early 2000s didn’t taste great. It also didn’t solve the problem, so I continued to eliminate foods one at a time with no success.

Fast forward a few years and I finally decided to give medical professionals a go. A dietician popped me on the low FODMAP diet before referring me for uber-serious breath testing. Turns out I was giving my body so much food it couldn’t process. I was gutted with the results.

Fructose intolerant and lactose intolerant. Goodbye dairy, wheat, onion, garlic, apple, pear, cauliflower, goodbye to anything that tastes any good.

Ok, so it wasn’t a disaster. I could still eat food I enjoyed. I just had to start reading labels really well. Eating out became a chore rather than a treat. As if being pescetarian wasn’t enough of a pain for a chef, try asking for no onion - forget soups and risottos - and no wheat - forget bread or pasta. At home, I just stocked the pantry and fridge really well with ‘legal’ foods and focused on experimenting with new recipes that worked for me. Nowadays, food intolerances are much more commonplace, and plenty of cafes and restaurants have myriad options for people like me. Yay! 

I'm no dietician but my top 12 foods for energy and wellness, and for keeping my gut happy are:

Avocado - half an avo almost every day

Nuts - a small handful of almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews or a combo

Fish - oily salmon is a favourite, or a firm white fish in a homemade taco

Eggs - I hard boil some at the start of the week and use them to top salads

Blueberries - a handful on porridge or in a smoothie (frozen when they’re out of season)

Green veg - broccoli (in small amounts), broccolini, spinach, kale - whatever!

Cheese - a hard cheddar agrees best with my tummy

Banana - not all those following fructose free can eat banana, but I'm obsessed so I have half

Sweet potato - baked with the skin on or simply roasted with cinnamon, it's delicious

Turmeric - in a soy latte or tea is my favourite thing at the moment

Chia seeds - in a coconut milk pudding with vanilla, topped with yoghurt, berries and cacao

Plain Greek yoghurt - equally adored by my toddler, we dollop this on everything

Now you know all about my food journey. You can read about my copywriting journey here.