Family members, friends, clients and patients regularly share their experiences of meal-times, with ‘us’ dietitians. Some of what they go through is far from pleasurable. More like pure misery. People with gut disorder can be constantly edgy about what they eat and frequently anxious about bathroom facilities. Some avoid public transport and limit all travel in a bid to reduce embarrassing accidents. Their mistrust of food causes anxiety. Suspect foods are branded as ‘bloating’, meals described as ‘a bit of a lottery’ and eating out like ‘Russian roulette’.
Bowel conditions affect as many as one in five people. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is particularly common in young women, in their 20s and 30s. Listening to their stories in clinic would make you feel wretched yourself. Their gut symptoms can have a profound effect, not only on their own quality of life but on their partners and other family members too.
Gut symptoms are reported as the second greatest cause of work and school absenteeism. Abdominal pain can be so bad that women say it is comparable to childbirth. Women can watch their stomach swell and distend over the course of the day, sometimes by as much as six inches.
While gut disorders like IBS are not life threatening, depression is common. I find it shocking to think that some patients who are severely affected by IBS have even considered suicide.
When I trained as a dietitian many years ago the management of gut disorders was poor and many people with IBS were told there was nothing wrong with them and that ‘it was all in their head’.
Today we know so much more about gut disorders. Evidenced based approaches like the low Fodmaps diet have transformed how we manage gut disorders such as IBS.
This approach can help more than those experiencing the symptoms of IBS. It has been shown to improve gut symptoms in more than half of patients with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. In particular it helps, if you have endured ongoing gut symptoms despite having inactive IBD.
As a dietitian, I am specifically trained in this field and I regularly supervise people on the Low Fodmaps diet. Avoiding certain foods can be perplexing, especially if you tend to focus on all the things you can’t eat. Then there are the additional hassles of reading food labels, briefing a waiter or a friend when eating out, finding appropriate recipes and eating a wide variety of food groups important for our gut and overall health.
I wanted to write a book to help patients focus on the pretty impressive list of foods they CAN eat, even with bowel disorders. I wanted to supply patients not only with simple and relevant substitutions for the foods they had to remove but also to help them with specially adapted recipes to help them implement and follow the diet more easily.
Co-incidentally both myself and Lorraine Maher (a dietitian I admire for her superb knowledge and commitment to her work) were independently collating recipes and meal suggestions for the Low Fodmaps diet. Over a cup of coffee and a long chat we decided to combine our expertise and write our book Gut Feeling.
We came up with over 100 recipes (various suggestions for breakfast, lunch, dinner, sauces and dips, desserts, snacks and beverages) which are free from possible trigger foods. Many of the recipes are designed with the family in mind. The idea being that they wont even realise the recipes are Low Fodmaps because they are so delicious!
We knew there were also many people who were diagnosed with IBS years before the Low Fodmap diet came into existence. Many of these people are living with long-established, yet poorly managed IBS and can greatly benefit from the Low Fodmap approach.
Gut Feeling is designed to complement the specifically tailored advice from a dietitian. But we also hope it will be a useful resource for consultants, GPs, practice nurses and family members supporting patients with gut symptoms.
Our book aims to help patients cook and enjoy a wide variety of foods to help minimise their symptoms. Once their problem foods are identified and their long term management plan is in place these recipes we hope will become long term firm favourites on the journey to better gut health.