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.

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Andrea Drake - Fitness & Wellness Superstar

Andrea Drake is a real dynamo. Not only is she an accomplished Physical Education secondary teacher who leads a department, she is the inspiration behind Melbourne Fitness Diaries (MFD). Ange runs this group to empower women to take control of their fitness, strength and wellbeing. She operates with passion and infectious enthusiasm, and genuine joie de vivre. I should know - she's my trainer and, my oh my, she's good! 

I admire Ange as a businesswoman and wanted to know more about what makes her tick and how words factor in to her work. I know you will enjoy getting to know Ange and MFD.

How important are the right words?

The right words are incredibly important when trying to engage, motivate and support members of my community to be the best versions of themselves.

Nutrition science can also be so complicated. My role is to make this information accessible, simple to understand and easy to follow for my clients. There is so much content on the internet, particularly in social media feeds, that promotes fitness and nutrition advice. Unfortunately not all of this content is credible, which can create confusion for the girls I work with.

When counselling clients through sticky points in their lives or writing health and lifestyle articles, I can’t go on faith alone. My words reflect proven systems and science because my clients’ success and happiness depends on me doing my job properly.

What gets you up in the morning?

Passion. I feel so blessed to have found a career that enables me to have such a positive impact on other people's lives. From a personal perspective, I see the start of each day as an opportunity to be challenged, to grow, learn and become the best version of myself.

What led you to your current career choice?

I have always been active. Growing up in country Victoria, I played a lot of sport and spent a lot of time outside. I have always had a passion for human movement, which led me to complete my Bachelor of Education, specialising in Physical Education.

After a few years in teaching, I realised that many of my friends and family were looking to me for fitness or health advice. Getting my certification in Fitness was the best decision I could have made. As soon as I began working in the fitness industry, I fell in love with exercise programming, creating and sharing nutritional plans, and working specifically with women.

What are the most effective ways you market your business?

Word of mouth and client referrals continue to be the best way to market myself. I am incredibly fortunate that my community of girls are so supportive of Melbourne Fitness Diaries and of me.

Facebook has revolutionised the marketing world. I use Facebook advertising to find girls outside my training community who have similar interests. I have been really successful in using this method to recruit girls into my 28-Day Intro Challenge.

How has the landscape of your industry changed since you began?

Technology, social media and the plethora of apps available has transformed the fitness industry over the last 5 years. You don't have to look very far to find a cheap online gym program that will be sent to your inbox faster than it takes to put your gym clothes on. While this could be seen to be putting fitness professionals out of business, nothing could be further from the truth.

People will always value the ability to connect with a professional and a community, with research suggesting this supports individuals reaching their health and fitness goals. Apps, such as MyFitnessPal, Fitbit and RunKeeper, help to increase client accountability to set behavioural goals.

I use technology every day to help me stay connected with my community, via Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and blogging (Wordpress). I also use the online training system Trainerize for online clients and Hootsuite to help me schedule posts.

What is the best piece of advice you could give to other freelancers/small business owners?

Be patient. It takes time to develop systems and learn new things. It can become overwhelming when you look at individuals who have 'made it', have a great website, loads of followers and testimonials. It takes time to build a great brand. You are running your own race, so take your time, know what you are about and trust your gut instinct.

Why should people working in any industry prioritise their health and fitness? How does it help you to work smarter?

For a long time, I thought exercise was about helping you to 'look better'. As I have grown in the industry, my training style has changed based on what works for me and letting go of ego. You don't need to be a maniac and train every day to get results.

Training and eating well gives me clarity and a sense of calm. When my body feels good, so does my mind. In a world where we are all so busy, taking time out for yourself is the best form of self care you can commit to.

To learn more about MFD and Ange's approach to training, visit Melbourne Fitness Diaries.

To give yourself more time for fitness and wellness, consider outsourcing your copywriting!

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