Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Belly Burdens at the 2017 Health e Voices Australia Conference

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the 2017 Health e Voices Australia Conference in Sydney. It was a fantastic experience – the speakers and panellists were amazing, I met some fun and inspiring people, and the conference in general had a very positive energy!

I would like to share with you my top takeaways from the conference:

Sometimes it helps to have a bit of a sense of humour about what you are going through.

This was something that came through from quite a few of the speakers, and made me remember the saying that “laughter is the best medicine” – it really is true! Sometimes a smile or a laugh can ease the awkwardness, and make you feel a little better too.

For so many of us, it can be very awkward to talk about our experiences (particularly with a bowel condition like mine!), and sometimes the easiest way is to make a joke out of it. For example, our conference MC Shelly Horton told a very funny story at the about a mishap that led to an oddly shaped scar on her abdomen. Speaker Turia Pitt also had a funny and sarcastic way of talking about her newfound “fame” since her ordeal – she doesn’t like it, but she’s never had stage fright!

Q&A with Turia Pitt

Regardless of the condition or disease, we all have similar challenges.

After talking with people advocating for a whole range of conditions, including diabetes, mental illness, cancer and psoriasis, I realised that even though we have different symptoms, we still have the same sorts of challenges. This was particularly humbling, but also quite comforting.

I realised in these discussions that we all have to manage horrible symptoms and treatments, often with multiple medications. We all have to deal with awkwardness and cynicism. We all think about our identity following diagnosis, and what labels we want to use (or not). As panellists Brittani Nicholl and Luke Escombe discussed, we all have to juggle the different “compartments” of our lives. We all deal with varied levels of anxiety. We all have to deal with people not fully understanding the sometimes “invisible” nature of our symptoms. We have all been told in one way or another that we “don’t look sick.” And for those with chronic illnesses, we all want to find a cure.

Panel with Brittani Nicholl and Luke Escombe

It is incredibly important to always use positive and supportive language.

When you are feeling fatigued or in pain, it can be very easy to let yourself be negative or even depressed. To think that you deserve this, or that you have somehow done it to yourself. Or to want to give up fighting. It can also be tempting to compare yourself to others in a similar situation, either to make yourself feel better or to justify how crappy you feel. I’ve been in that kind of head space many times too.

However, this doesn’t help you, or others in your community. So as hard as it is some days, we have to stay positive and support each other. As many of the speakers and panellists at the conference said, we need to think of ourselves as “surviving,” not “suffering.” Speaker Nick Bowditch suggested that we think of our “flaws” or “defects” as our “gifts” or “superpowers” instead, because they make us stronger and better in the long run. We also need to use more positive words like “living with” rather than “battling.” And we need to push ourselves and others upwards, not pull them down further into those dark places.

A little "10 second dance party" every now and then also helps!

We need to do more to recognise the mental health components of our conditions.

Sometimes positive language and supporting each other isn’t always enough however, which is where this point comes in. We often forget that these conditions have mental or psychological components as well. Or we either hide or brush it off, because is seen as a weakness.

In the larger health advocate and patient support community, we need to work to change that perception. We all need to be able to acknowledge that it is okay to feel anxious, depressed, stressed, or just generally miserable – because having a chronic illness in particular just plain sucks! We need to be able to take care of ourselves both physically and mentally. We need doctors and other medical professionals to understand this side of it, and direct us to others that can help. And we need to remember that just like everything else, we are strong enough to handle it and work through it.

It is important to be authentic when sharing our experiences.

As several of the speakers and panelists pointed out at the conference, people will see through any fake information or lies, and it won’t give them a good impression of you. So, in order to reach and help more people, we as bloggers and advocates must be completely authentic. As part of this, we also need to share our real experiences, even if it is messy (without going too overboard of course). I would therefore like to use this as an opportunity to pledge to always be authentic with my writing and posts, and will try to share more and more of my experiences with all of you.

Photo credit: Janssen ANZ

On that note, please also refer to the below disclaimer from Janssen ANZ for the 2017 Health e Voices Conference Australia.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Bad Bellies and Pasta

Growing up, pasta was my absolute favourite food – especially Spaghetti Bolognese. Even today, a bowl of pasta is my go-to comfort food, and the one thing I am very comfortable with cooking.

That’s why when I learned that I was fructose intolerant and wheat was one of the worst culprits, I was initially very much at a loss. On the one hand it forced me to step outside my comfort zone and try cooking other types of food, but I still missed having a bowl of Bolognese for dinner every now and then!

The first type of pasta that I tried was one made with corn, but I quickly got a very bad stomach ache and reflux after only a couple of mouthfuls, so that was clearly not the way to go! Over the last few years however, I have tried many different types of gluten free and other low wheat options, and settled on a few that seem to work better for me.

So, here are my recommendations for different types of pasta that are more fructose friendly:
  • San Remo Gluten Free pasta: I have mentioned this one in previous posts, but I can’t get enough of the San Remo Gluten Free pasta range – it really is amazing, and very similar to regular wheat pasta in taste and colour. This pasta also holds its texture reasonably well when cooked. The San Remo Gluten Free pasta range is made with maize starch so it’s not entirely fructose friendly, but it is still a good option. The only negative points I have about this range is that there are less styles of pasta available compared to San Remo’s wheat pasta range, and they only come in 250g boxes.

  • Latina Fresh Gluten Free Beef Ravioli: Ravioli was particular favourite of mine growing up, so I was very excited when Latina Fresh came up with a Gluten Free range! The ravioli can get quite soft when cooked, but it still tastes good. Just be careful to limit your portions though, as there is a small amount of onion in the filling. The packets are quite large, but the uncooked ravioli freezes well, so I always keep the leftovers in the freezer for another day.

  • Latina Fresh Gluten Free Lasagne Sheets: Just as I was excited by the Latina Fresh Gluten Free Beef Ravioli, I was also very relieved when they released fresh gluten free lasagne sheets. After struggling with dry gluten free lasagne sheets for months (which sadly includes San Remo’s version), I found that the Latina Fresh Gluten Free Lasagne Sheets were so easy to use – cooks perfectly, and tastes almost like the wheat version! These gluten free lasagne sheets also freeze well when cooked.

  • Guzzi’s Golden Pasta Gnocchi: This is a good low wheat option if you want something different, as the gnocchi is made with 81% potato flour. The Guzzi’s Golden Pasta Gnocchi range is also made fresh, and cooks very well. Again, be careful with your portion size, as this gnocchi is made with wheat flour. These also freeze well when uncooked.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Recipes for Bad Bellies: Fructose Friendly Chocolate Chip Hot Cross Muffins

For those that celebrate it, I hope everyone enjoyed their Easter holidays!

And as we say goodbye to Easter for another year, I decided to try something a bit different – Hot Cross Muffins. There have been a few recipes floating around online recently, but I chose to adapt this one by Anna from FODMAP Journey.

The main differences from this recipe were that I used raw brown sugar (because that was all I had), chocolate chips instead of dried fruit (because I am a chocoholic – and dried fruit can be tricky for me), and piped on the white chocolate crosses (for a bit of a different look). They also turned out to be more like cupcakes, perhaps because my muffin tins were a bit bigger than what Anna used – I used two tins of 12, which made 24 muffins/cupcakes in total.


225g butter, melted
200g raw brown sugar
150g almond meal
100g buckwheat flour
1 tsp mixed spice
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
3 whole eggs, whisked
140g milk chocolate chips
The rind of 2 oranges
3 tbsp orange juice
50g white chocolate

  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, and line two muffin tins with paper muffin or cupcake cases.
  • Whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the almond meal, buckwheat flour, salt, mixed spice and baking powder. Then, slowly add this mixture to the sugar and butter.
  • Add the eggs, orange juice and rind and beat well with an electric hand mixer. Then, gently fold in the chocolate chips, making sure to leave lots of air in the mixture.
  • Pour the mixture evenly into the muffin cases, and put in the oven for 30-40 minutes.
  • Take out of the oven and allow to cool. 
  • Once cooled, slowly melt the white chocolate (careful that it doesn't burn!), and then pour it into a piping bag and pipe the crosses onto the muffins - be creative!

I found that these have an interesting mixture of spices, chocolate and orange - almost like a Jaffa taste! They also go very nicely with a dollop of cream! :)

Monday, 4 January 2016

Bad Bellies in the New Year

I hope everyone has had a good holiday and New Year! :)

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I thought I’d make an exception.

In 2015, I continued to slowly gain weight, and by November I discovered that I was now the heaviest I have ever been. I am not in danger, but I do not feel good about myself, and don’t feel healthy either. Therefore, I have decided that my New Year’s resolution for 2016 is to prioritise my health!

There are three parts to this resolution: more exercise, more cooking for myself, and more focus on understanding my belly.


I have already started working on this part of my resolution. In November, I realised that while it was good for improving my fitness in the long term, swimming twice a week was not intensive enough to help me lose weight. I was very conscious of not pushing my body too hard, as this can put extra stress on the body as previously discussed, so I decided to add walking to my weekly routine.

I first started with a gentle 10 minute walk to and from my local public swimming pool on my swimming days, and after a few weeks, added a 30min walk on Monday evenings. After I was comfortable with this, I started trying to jog some parts of my walking route. At this point, I am now going for a walk/jog twice a week on top of swimming twice a week, and have already lost 3kg!

To help me with this, I have also invested in some good quality running shoes and comfortable clothing, and borrowed my partner’s old GPS watch (see photo below). My partner has been running regularly for a couple of years, and he has been very helpful and encouraging in this, which has really helped with my confidence and motivation! 


As I have mentioned previously, I am not the best cook. I can cook basic things, but have no instinct or creativity for it, and often no energy either. However, last year I started living with my sister who is a very good cook, and she has helped motivate me to try cooking new things and experiment with making things that are more suitable for my belly. :) I have decided to put much more effort into learning how to cook more for myself this year, which will hopefully help me to both improve my health and decrease my symptoms.

I am also looking forward to trying out the below cookbook, which was a Christmas gift from my family. Sourdough bread (particularly when made with spelt flour) has been confirmed by Monash University to be better for those with fructose malabsorption and IBS in general, as the long fermentation process seems to use the FODMAPs in the flour, thus making it easier to digest.


I have also realised that while I now have a much better understanding of UC and fructose malabsorption, I still have a lot to learn about my belly and its trigger foods. Therefore, I have resolved to put more effort into testing my tolerance levels for different foods, and working on my diet in general.

The first step in this was creating a new food table card (see photo below), which has a more up to date list of good and bad foods based on fructose and fructan levels (using the Monash University Low FODMAP Diet and FODMAP Friendly apps as guides), and it is now colour coded – including putting the best and worst foods in bold, based on what I currently understand about my trigger foods. I have also given copies of this card to my family and others close to me, to help them better understand my situation with food, and work as a guide if they are cooking for me.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Recipes for Bad Bellies: Fructose Friendly Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding

I have recently been experimenting with making chia seed puddings, and making them fructose friendly. In today’s post I will share these experiences with you and give you my favourite recipe so far – Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding.

Chia seeds come from the flower Salvia hispanica (see photo below), and originated in Central America. There is a good reason that chia seeds are called a “superfood” – they are high in dietary fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, manganese, phosphorus, and protein, and low in cholesterol. They are also gluten free and low in FODMAPs, and therefore fructose friendly! However note that some people with IBS can have trouble with chia seeds – perhaps because of the fibre.

The below recipe for Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding is adapted from this recipe by Minimalist Baker.


1/3 cup chia seeds
1 cup milk
½ cup cream
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract

  • Mix milk, cream, cocoa powder, maple syrup, cinnamon and vanilla extract in a bowl. Add chia seeds and stir well.
  • Immediately pour the mixture into a mason jar, and place in the fridge to set overnight. It will be very runny at first, but will be thick and almost jelly-like once it has set.

I usually like eating this pudding with strawberries on the side, and it also lasts 2-3 days as it is quite filling!