Hi there! I am a happy, healthy, pain-free, symptom-free FODMAPer, but it was not always that way. The following paragraph will give you an idea of who I am professionally. If you want to read my digestive saga and how I came to bring you FODMAP Everyday, read on.
I’ve been in the food industry for over 30 years, first working in restaurants, the catering industry and owning my own bakery (with Robin) then onto newspaper writing (food focused), writing cookbooks and working as a Contributing Editor for Bon Appetit magazine for over a decade. During that time I also hosted three of my own public television series, sponsored by KitchenAid, had a monthly segment on CBS The Early Show as well as the syndicated Emmy-winning The Better Show, did tons of national television food segments on shows such as the TODAY Show, Dr. Oz, The View, QVC, HSN and others. In my free time (yes, that’s a joke) I did recipe development for corporate clients such as Williams-Sonoma, Driscoll’s and others and taught classes at colleges and privately. And for the majority of this time I was fighting a digestive issue that no one except close family new about.
Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Elimination Diets Helped…Sort Of
I started eating gluten and dairy free in 1990 after seeking help from a gastroenterologist who had me try some elimination diets. I felt better, but not great. “You have IBS”, he said. I took digestive enzymes. I carried prescription strength antispasmodic around in my bag – I was never without it – because if an episode struck my symptoms consisted of intensely painful intestinal spasms and bloating that would stop me cold. The pain would begin, I would bloat up and look 6 months pregnant and I would have to find a place to lie down horizontally, fast, to alleviate the pressure. And if this meant the dirty floor of a public bathroom, then that’s what it had to be. The pain was that bad. Getting horizontal would take the pressure off of my gut and sometimes I could expel enough air by belching (lovely, I know) to gain enough comfort to get myself home. It could strike at any time. Yes, I was eating gluten-free and dairy-free because I had noticed that those aggravated me most of the time, but then again, on occasion I would eat a slice of pizza and I would be fine. It did seem weird but I was just trying to get by. A typical week saw 3 to 4 of these episodes for 25 years. It was not a great way to live, and in fact it was often debilitating, but I didn’t know what else to do and neither did my doctors.
Life Got Put On Hold Due to Pain
I had to leave parties and other social events. I had to miss work. I wore elastic waist pants pretty much all the time. When my kids were little they would come home from school and it wasn’t unusual for Mommy to be in bed “not feeling well”. They were used to seeing me “with a tummy ache” and the belching was so frequent, we had a family word for it – the burpies. As in, “Mom has the burpies”. I was missing life.
And to tie this back into my professional world, you can imagine how this affected me. I love food and always have. I love developing recipes. I love smelling food, working with it and most of all tasting it. I continued to create recipes that I couldn’t truly eat at the table. I would taste-test during recipe testing, and then I would serve the dish to everyone else. I didn’t mope too much because the pain I would experience if I had eaten would have been so great that the temptation wasn’t there. Well, not always anyway.
And Then, I Hit Bottom
Fast forward to the spring of 2015. I ended up in the hospital 3 times during February and March with such excruciating pain that opiates weren’t even touching it. Have you ever been in so much pain that you just want to die? That’s where I was. I was telling my fiancé that I loved him and just wanted “to go” so that I wouldn’t be in pain anymore. In between the waves of pain I was crying and talking to him about life in general. What was I going to do? If they couldn’t stop this pain, then what? I couldn’t keep working the way I had been, which meant I couldn’t keep developing recipes and working with food the way I had for the full length of my career. What the hell was I going to do? “We’ll figure something out,” my then fiancé said. I couldn’t imagine what that could be.
My pancreas was angry. Very angry. The doctors said the pancreatitis could be life threatening. On one day I had a really bad headache and they wouldn’t even give me an Advil because they didn’t even want me to sip water. I literally didn’t eat or drink anything by mouth for five days. And guess what? My belly felt great! Once the acute pain subsided I felt weak, but I wasn’t hurting in the way I was so used to feeling. And I was grateful. There I was, in a hospital bed for a full week with no food or water and I was actually thankful for not having my IBS symptoms.
Many tests were done including an upper endoscopy as well as an ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) to go down my throat and take a look at all the ducts around my liver and pancreas. The bad news is that they never definitively figured out why my pancreas went off the deep end. They said I needed to go to Boston to see specialists.
Light At The End of The Tunnel
Meanwhile the gastroenterologist on call when I was admitted, Dr. Joseph Tassoni, told me that he didn’t allow his patients to just be diagnosed with IBS. He said that meant there was something going on with their digestive system and he needed to know what was causing the symptoms. Sounded good to me. As I was lying in the hospital bed he told me that once I was stabilized that I should look into a new diet. “Let me write it down for you,” he said. He handed a slip of paper with the acronym “FODMAP” on it. He went on to briefly describe what it was, which sounded a bit weird, but I was open to anything that might keep me from experiencing that pain again. He cautioned me that it was a new diet and that information out there was scarce and often times wrong. “Get the Monash University app,” he said, “and just pay attention to their information”.
At first I was stunned. I was a serious food person. I knew a lot about food and dietary approaches and all the trends. I knew what raw and paleo meant. I could easily whip up recipes to fit those profiles and others. I was educated and had access to health care. How was it that I had never heard of “FODMAP”?
What The Heck Are FODMAPs and Are They Worth $8?
So as I lay in the hospital bed I pulled out my iPhone and looked up the Monash information. The app cost almost $8. Up until then I had this thing where I never paid more than $1.99 for an app; it just irked me to pay more. I actually paused about making the purchase! But I made an exception and downloaded the app right then and there. Best. Decision. Ever!
As I lay there, hooked up to an IV, I felt my life change. As I read through the Monash app the first thing I noticed was that the approved foods – and the off limit foods – all seemed so random. Raspberries but no blackberries?
Eureka Moment #1
And then the light bulb went off. My symptoms always seemingly came on so randomly. What if my random and this random matched?! What if our puzzle pieces fit together? Was this diet the answer for me? The pain I had just come out of was something I never wanted to experience again. I had nothing to lose. For the first time in a very long time I felt excited about a food protocol. I decided that the first day I was released from the hospital would be my first day of a 30-day FODMAP Elimination diet. I decided right then and there to be strict and only eat the Green Light foods from the Monash app for 30 days – no exceptions!
I soon learned that I would be going home on a Friday and that they wanted me to eat something and have a bowel movement that morning before being released. I decided that would be Day 1 of my new regime. I told the nurses that Dr. Tassoni wanted me to try this diet. They said they would send someone to talk to me about what I could order from the kitchen. Well, that didn’t go well! They wanted me to eat a mild diet and recommended things like chicken broth (onions and garlic) and toast (plain white or wheat, of course). I was waving the Monash app in their faces and trying to explain what I was trying to do and they had no idea what I was talking about, but I was determined. I think I ended up eating plain white rice, some plain tea and maybe there was part of a banana. I just wanted to get out of there so that I could do this right.
Even at this early stage of FODMAP awareness, I had an inkling that this could be life changing for me. And if it was, that it could also help millions of people all across the U.S. and the globe. I had been laying in that damn hospital bed for a week and in-between sleeping about 18 hours a day I poked around on my iPhone and it was very apparent to me that this FODMAP thing wasn’t as organized or well understood as it could be. This is also when Kate Scarlata RDN came on my radar screen. Her messaging was clear and trustworthy. She was also in Massachusetts like me. I decided that if I stuck with the elimination diet for 30 days and that it was working for me that I would reach out to her about collaboration.
The entrepreneur in me kicked in. This might be my future, I mused. I could become the FODMAP recipe guru with Kate upholding the medical end…yes, I was dreaming, but something about it felt real.
My First FODMAP Shopping Trip
I stopped at the grocery store on the way home and bought a bunch of Monash app approved foods – it was surprisingly easy! I just used the app to tell me which foods were Green Light and therefore Elimination Phase appropriate. I also intended to banish whatever was at home that was off limits. My fiancé said he was on board with whatever I needed to do. He didn’t want to see me in such bad shape again either!
My recipe development brain kicked in. The more time I spent learning about what foods were Green Lighted the more I realized that there was a plethora of choices for a FODMAPer, even during the Elimination Phase.
Eureka Moment #2
If someone could create amazing meals with Elimination worthy ingredients, it was me and I wanted to spread the word. Next thing I knew I was whipping up roast chicken and vegetables, baked potatoes, kale salads, banana smoothies, hearty vegetable soup from scratch, blueberry oatmeal for breakfast, turkey cheese sandwiches for lunch, stir fries, salmon dishes, peanut butter cookies and the list goes on and on. Every night my fiancé would sit down to dinner, look at his plate and question, “this is FODMAP?” It became a joke. After several nights of this I told him that I would tell him when something wasn’t FODMAP approved because this was the new regime and everything was going to be low FODMAP!
Belly Bloat Vanished!
I want to pause here and tell you about a seminal moment. 24 hours after I had begun the Elimination Phase, I woke to get out of bed and my fiancé said, “look at your belly! It’s gone!” I didn’t comprehend what he was saying so I ran to the mirror. Well look at that! The poufy lower belly that I had been sporting for 25 years was gone. As in GONE. There was a flatness I hadn’t seen since I was in my early teens. The belly pooch that I thought was constantly reminding me that I was lazy and needed to work harder at the gym wasn’t there. This was the belly that had required me to wear elastic waist pants and that felt like my enemy all these years. It had looked bad and felt bad. Now it felt great and looked great! How was this even possible after one day? I couldn’t even fathom…
Needless to say this low FODMAP thing had piqued my interest big time. I was eating well and feeling fantastic. There was no sense of deprivation and for the first time in 25 years I felt like I could not only be friends with food, but that the world had opened up to possibilities.
And Then Came Kate
So, true my word, almost 30 days into the Elimination phase I reached out to Kate Scarlata via email. I introduced myself as a seasoned recipe developer whose life had been changed with the low FODMAP diet – and that I thought the book that needed to be written hadn’t been written yet and that we were the ones to do it. She agreed to an in-person meeting and we hit it off right away. A few months later and we were shopping our book proposal around for The Low FODMAP Diet Step by Step and several publishing houses wanted us! We were on our way.
Meanwhile, my intention was always to concurrently develop an online entity that would support my new way of eating. The idea for “FODMAP Everyday” came to me pretty early on. As I went through the Challenge Phase and came out the other side it became very apparent to me that most resources at the time, especially online, focused on Elimination and Challenge Phases but really didn’t do a great job at helping one Integrate all of that information into one’s life for the long haul. This shouldn’t just be about the low FODMAP Elimination Phase – it is about your relationship to FODMAPs in your everyday life, hence FODMAP Everyday was born and our approach of Eliminate – Challenge – Integrate!
Early on in my brand concept development I reconnected with Robin and invited her to work with me 50/50. We had worked that way before and have always had this amazingly supportive connection. We have both overlapping and complementary skill sets and FODMAP Everyday is our baby – built just for you!
It is my sincere hope that many of you will find relief with the low FODMAP diet and that FODMAP Everyday becomes a supportive friend to you on your journey. We would love to hear your story! Use our Contact page and drop us a line!