Guts and glory

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Food blogger, IBS sufferer and Borough Market employee Emma Hatcher on how she came to write her debut cookbook, The FODMAP Friendly Kitchen

“Sorry love, I didn’t make it gluten-free.” “What about the seafood dish?” “There’s garlic in the sauce.” “The chicken with the caramelised veg?” “Marinated in onions—sorry.” “Ah.” “We’ve got plain salad?” “Salad it is then. Thanks.”

I was the ripe old age of 15 when first handed a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome—something every teenage girl dreams of. I’d suffered from a sensitive gut and food intolerances for as long as I could remember and nothing seemed to help. Post-diagnosis, years followed of cutting out gluten, dairy, anything the doctors suggested. But while each restriction seemed to help temporarily, it wasn’t long before symptoms would come creeping back.

My saving grace came at the age of 21, when a dietician suggested the Low FODMAP Diet. FODMAP is an acronym that stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. Catchy, I know. In essence, these are a collection of short-chain sugars found in foods as diverse as wheat, milk and pears. They’re hard to digest for everyone, but are more problematic for those of us with sensitive guts.

Life transformed
I was handed a (terribly old-fashioned looking) four-page leaflet with a list of foods I was to avoid and not a lot else. But within two weeks, my life had been transformed. Gone were the crippling stomach aches, the could-be-seven-months-pregnant bloated belly and the constant desire to scream “what caused it this time?!” I wasn’t as stressed, felt less exhausted and wasn’t constantly frustrated at my insides!

It soon dawned on me, however, that FODMAP-friendly recipes were something of a myth. The few that existed (or at least those that I came across) were high in fat, meat-heavy and full of highly processed foods, while all the healthier recipes I could find were packed with the high FODMAP ingredients I’d been told to avoid.

As a food enthusiast (or greedy person), I refused to believe I couldn’t have my cake and eat it too. Surely recipes could be FODMAP-friendly, good for you and your gut, and taste delicious at the same time?

Feeling of elation
So, I shut myself in the kitchen and started cooking. I began blogging while at university, eager to share the recipes I’d mustered up and the elation I was feeling. I received messages from people all over the world who were fed up too and wanted to know more about how they could help manage their horrible symptoms.

When my publishers, who loved my She Can't Eat What? blog and wanted me to write a cookbook, first approached me, my response was one of excitement and terror. Where do I even start? I thought, only to find myself frantically scribbling down every thought, recipe and message I wanted to share.

And thus, the most recent chapter in this journey began. Sleep became a somewhat distant memory and weekends saw my kitchen transformed into a makeshift photography studio. Family and friends—and any visitors for that matter—would leave with pockets stuffed with brownies, tubs full of rice pudding (so underrated) and bags weighed down with breads, with the only stipulation being that they must provide feedback as soon as physically possible.

No easy task
From the writing and cooking, to the styling and photography—done both in friends’ homes and in a studio with the brilliant Malou Burger and the Hodder team—it wasn’t an easy task. But I’m so proud of the end result and hope that readers like it too.

An arsenal of simple, delicious and FODMAP-friendly recipes was my aim, recipes that readers can amend and build from to suit their own guts. Because if you do have food intolerances, allergies or a sensitive gut, you shouldn’t have to feel restricted by what you can eat—there’s more out there than plain salad, I promise.

Read Emma’s recipes for buckwheat risotto with macadamia cream and glazed blood orange doughnuts