#008 Julie O’Hara Helps IBS Sufferers With Coaching, Recipes and Free FODMAP Cleanse Challenge

Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the low FODMAP diet? Do you wonder what you can cook that will fit into your diet? Listen to this episode to learn how you can become more creative about cooking healthier food without triggering IBS symptoms.

Our guest for this episode is Julie O’Hara, the blogger of the website calmbellykitchen.com. Julie creates low FODMAP recipes and writes about menu planning and strategies for eating worry-free foods.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • What was Julie’s journey and experience with IBS.
  • What inspired Julie to start her website.
  • Julie’s food coach program.
  • Low FODMAP cooking tips.
  • How to make a tasty and easy low FODMAP lunch.
  • Julie’s most successful low FODMAP dish.
  • What is Julie’s free FODMAP cleanse challenge all about?
  • Where to find the Calm Belly Kitchen Cookbook.
  • Great tips for substituting garlic and onion.
  • Tips for low FODMAP diet beginners.
  • and a lot more….
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Can’t listen to this episode right now? Read the transcript below!

LARAH: Hi, and welcome to a new episode of the Low FODMAP Diet and IBS Podcast. My guest, Julie O’Hara, has spent over twelve years dealing with IBS symptoms until she started a low FODMAP diet and figured out her personal food intolerances and how to keep her IBS symptoms at bay. Julie worked for eight years as a freelance food writer and recipe developer for magazines including Shape, Clean Eating and Prevention before founding the website calmbellykitchen.com.  Julie is also an expert on the low FODMAP diet, and through one-on-one coaching, she guides other women through their low FODMAP journey. Her coaching programs focus on learning your trigger foods while still enjoying food and travel without deprivation.

Hi, Julie. How are you?

JULIE:  Hi Larah. I’m great. How are you?

LARAH:  Yeah, great, thank you. It so nice to meet you in the person over the net. The first question that comes to mind is, would you be able to tell the listeners a little bit more about yourself and also when you started to suffer from IBS symptoms? How did you get your diagnosis and how did you eventually come across the low FODMAP diet?

JULIE:  I would love to. I live in Chicago with my husband and our pug, Frank. He’s our little fur baby of joy. I have always been a foodie — and I’ve always been a healthy foodie. As you mentioned, I was a freelance recipe developer for years and years and I specialised in healthy recipes. I think part of my attraction to health and cooking was that I was diagnosed with IBS when I was about twenty five, so that’s about twelve years ago. I was thinking, the healthier my diet, the healthier I am. I have a more constipation prone IBS so I need all this fiber; and I need all this whole wheat and whole wheat bread and whole wheat pasta. I was trying to be so healthy and was wondering why I felt terrible. To have all these unpredictable symptoms that I couldn’t control was fairly miserable.  

Now fast forward, I don’t know, another nine years, and I was at an appointment with my GP — just my general practitioner.  He was doing my yearly physical and I was telling him, “You know, I’ve had IBS for all these years and I don’t know what to do. I eat healthy. I’ve never tried any drugs. What should I do?” And he said,  “Well, what about the FODMAP diet?  I think you should try this.”

He gave me a four page handout with a list of foods — not a very accurate list it turns out — and a few tips. I think it wasn’t even four pages; I think it was more like three pages or two and a half. Then he sent me on my way, and I was so excited because he told me, that this was a new thing, that could really work and help me a lot. And I’m like, “Yes! This is the answer to my prayers. It’s not drugs; it’s not surgery. I can do this.”  So I got on Google, of course, as soon as I got home — which is probably what everyone does — and I was suddenly totally confused and overwhelmed, and just amazed that I could find so little information about the FODMAP diet — or even just recipes. I found so little on the Internet and it kind of put all my hopes and dreams to this grinding halt and I didn’t know what to do. It actually took months before I was able to start the elimination phase because I was so confused and overwhelmed, and I really didn’t have anyone else to talk to about it.

LARAH: Yeah, that reminds me a little bit of my story. I saw different practitioners and they kind of said — that was before I found out I had IBS – “Just eliminate wheat and bread and refined carbs and refined flours.”  So I started to make big soups with garlic, onion, cauliflower, broccoli, you know, all that, and I was thinking, “Why am I feeling so sick? I’m eating perfectly.”

It was a good year or so later — so I’d been suffering for  a couple of years without knowing and then a year later, finding a GP that finally listened to me and said, “You have IBS,” and referred me to a dietitian. It was a bit more recent, so I could find information. There was the low FODMAP diet app from Monash University, so that really helped me a lot. I was lucky in that sense.  

JULIE: Oh yeah. Yes, definitely. And, you know, slowly but surely I learned more information but it just took so long before I discovered Monash. My doctor had never mentioned that. It was just having to do all this research and gather all this together myself that inspired me to start my website because I just had to do it all from scratch — and it was terrible.

LARAH:  Yes. So in the introduction at the beginning of the podcast, I mentioned that you’re also a food coach. Could you please explain what exactly a food coach is and how a food coach can help our listeners?

JULIE:  Yes. A food coach is basically someone who is with you in the trenches giving you the tools and the support that you need to reach your goal. It’s a lot like a coach in sports, and, for me, that’s supporting you through the FODMAP diet, from elimination and reintroduction to figuring out how you can eat going forward in your life.

What that really looks like is the tools. I give you a customised road-map of exactly what foods to test when you’re doing the reintroduction phase. It’s customised to your life, so if you travel a lot, we work around that. I give you support, and unlike  typical doctors, you can email me and ask questions so you don’t get stuck — and you get answers right away. I think that’s one of the hardest thing sometimes. You’re like, “What caused these weird symptoms? Was it the cup of carrots I ate or was it the stress at work?” Sometimes you don’t know and you just need someone to go over it for you.

I also give my clients a good foundation by going over their food journals and making sure there is no sneaky FODMAPs that are getting in the way and messing up the elimination phase or the reintroduction — so just all this sort of support and accountability. Just like a coach in sports, I want to get you to the Super Bowl trophy, which is eating like a normal person again.

LARAH: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. It’s like holding the hands of IBS sufferers, who are first discovering the low FODMAP diet and have no idea where to start and who to turn to.

JULIE: Yeah, I’ve been there, and that’s the thing.  I’m doing for people what I wish someone would have done for me.

LARAH: Yeah, I understand.

JULIE:  I guess that’s the full-circle thing.

LARAH: Yes, that’s right. So most people feel overwhelmed, as we said, when they first start the low FODMAP diet They just don’t know what they can cook or what they can eat. As you are such an expert on low FODMAP food and on beautiful low FODMAP recipes, would you be able to share some simple FODMAP cooking tips with the listeners?

JULIE:  Absolutely.  So when you’re first starting out, my key to that is to come up with some go-to meals.  We’re talking about two to four meals that really work well for you and you just start there and you kind of expand from there.  When I say it go-to meals, I mean something that you really enjoy eating; something that’s really simple that you can easily prepare, even on a busy day, and something that makes your body feel great.  So if you love to cook, it might be kind of a fancy bolognaise with polenta. If you hate to cook, it might be a plain rotisserie chicken with salad and a scoop of quinoa.  So it’s all is different and is customised to you and your life. I really think that’s the best way to start, and as you learn and as you kind of see more low FODMAP recipes and get more familiar with the foods by using the Monash app, it really does get easier. Suddenly you’ll be like, “Oh, I can do this in the crock-pot, or I can do polenta this way and I can do quinoa this way.”  It really does get easier. It just takes time. When you’re first starting, you need a few basic go-to meals and you just kind of go from there.

LARAH: Yes, thank you. Those are great tips to just have basics and then build out from that. You mentioned polenta a few times, and I grew up eating a lot of polenta because my mom comes from a region in Italy, Veneto, where polenta was the staple diet of the region. I love it.

JULIE: And it’s low FODMAP. That’s so great.

LARAH: Yes,I really like it.

JULIE: Me too.

LARAH: So the meal that people on the low FODMAP diet seem to be struggling with the most — from reading in the different forums and from questions that I get asked — is lunch for some reason. They struggle the most with lunch — especially taking lunch to work, so workday lunches.  Would you have any advice for IBS sufferers on a low FODMAP diet on how to easily come up with a nutritious and  tasty low FODMAP lunch?  

JULIE: Absolutely. and you’re right. I get that question all the time. When people first find my website and email me, I’ll ask them what’s their biggest struggle. Lunch comes up all the time. And again, it’s kind of keeping it simple. I have a formula that is very adaptable that I love and eat pretty much every day. I call it “my lunch bowl”. What that is, is just a grain. I start with brown rice or quinoa. If I feel like I need some more fiber in my life, I add some canned lentils which are low FODMAP. So that’s a base, and then you add a protein. I always have a huge batch of grilled chicken in my freezer or my fridge, but you could also do tuna. You could do any kind of seafood. If you’re vegetarian, this could be tofu or tempeh so then you get your protein in there.  And then you add some veggies.  If you’re not someone who can tolerate a lot of raw veggies, which I’m really not, I do sautéed spinach or sautéed carrots. I also do roasted veggies. You’ve got to sort of plan ahead for that, but do a big batch once or twice a week.

I love roasted eggplant, roasted zucchini, and then I throw in a few little tasty extras. That could be chopped olives or sun dried tomatoes, or goat cheese or feta cheese. Nuts would also be great.  So it’s just this big jumble of tasty things, and you can eat that hot. I’m lucky that I work from home so I can keep that up for myself, but it also transports really well. If I have to be out of the house, I can take it with me. I can take it on an airplane. It is so adaptable and you can eat it at any temperature.  But that’s my secret for lunch. Sure, there are plenty of different ways you could go with that, but with the lunch bowl, you just find so many ways to adapt it. You can add pesto to it; you can make a yogurt sauce. It’s endless. That’s my long lunch recommendation.  

LARAH: That’s great, I like the batching part because we get so busy during the week. Why not choose a day, maybe a Sunday evening, and prepare your meals for the week? You can freeze some and keep some fresh. And then roasted vegetables are so great because you can have them in salads or just by themselves with a protein and some sort of grain. Very good tips. Thank you for that. I appreciate it.

So which one is your most successful low FODMAP dish that you also prepare for your family or for your friends that are not IBS sufferers, but they really love it?

JULIE:  You know, almost anything because I don’t let the low FODMAP diet make me feel like my food is inferior, you know. And what I like to really tell people is that you’re not handicapped by this. You can have amazing flavorful food even if it’s totally low FODMAP.

But to answer your question, one of the things I did recently that everybody loved, was a full on Spanish Tapas menu, which is one of my favourite types of meals ever in life. I want to move to Spain and eat it every day. But what I made was a really simple one. I did the garlic shrimp, which is a classic tapa, of course, using garlic oil and lemon. That’s super simple and easy and it still tastes garlicky and delicious.

Then I did a Romesco sauce and chicken skewers, so lots of smoked paprika for Romesco sauce. It’s roasted bell peppers and walnuts kind of blended up into this great, thick sauce. And then you can do all that like meat and cheese — a nice charcuterie plate . What else did we do? Oh, you can do Boquerones, which are Spanish anchovies. Basically, any Spanish canned fish is about ten times better than the American version, so definitely go for that. But I love it. I love tapas. And then another one that is totally at the different end of the spectrum, is polenta lasagna. It’s just layers of sliced polenta — back to polenta again. That is a big hit with anyone and people will like that better than traditional lasagna. And, it’s gluten-free and low FODMAP. It’s awesome.

LARAH:  That sounds very interesting. I should try that.  So how thick would the polenta slices be and how would you get them big enough to make sheets?

JULIE:  Okay, so I use the tube of polenta.  Do you know what I mean? Like it’s in a log?

LARAH: Yeah, I’m not sure if I’ve seen it here, but I understand what you mean. It looks like big salami and it’s wrapped up.  

JULIE: Yeah, exactly.  So that’s already cooked for you so it makes this dish so quick and easy.  I slice it about a third of an inch thick and then you just layer that on into your dish. You top it with a meat sauce. I use ground beef or ground turkey, whatever you like. Mozzarella cheese? I don’t even use ricotta. You will not miss it. And then another layer of polenta, then sauce, and then cheese. It is to die for.

LARAH: Oh, good. So the polenta, you slice it in rounds or you slice it lengthwise?

JULIE: In rounds, and you just kind of put them in it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It can overlap a little and there can be gaps. It’s just like throw it in the pan. It’s great.  

LARAH: It sounds good. I should try that sometime.

JULIE: And that one is actually in my cookbook, but the tapas recipes are all on my website and I can give you the link for your notes.

LARAH: Fantastic, yeah, sure. So can you tell us also a little bit about the free challenge that you run every six weeks?

JULIE:  Absolutely. So, I’ve been doing this since November of last year and almost eight hundred women have participated so far. It is a free FODMAP cleanse, and when I say cleanse, I don’t mean like a traditional detox where you drink lemon water for a week and go totally insane. It’s more like you’re cleansing the confusion and the overwhelm that so many of us feel when we first learn about the FODMAP diet. And the way that you do that, is just by kind of learning the basics and slowly getting used to the new foods, which sometimes, it makes no sense. You’re like, “Why can’t I eat asparagus? This is crazy.” So you kind of learn piece-by-piece how the whole thing works and you get the big picture.

What happens, is you sign up and it’s an email thing. Once you sign up, you get an email from me every other day and there’s a piece of information for you to take away. You learn how to read ingredient labels; you learn how to search for recipes and come up with your go-to meals. You will learn how to prepare for the challenging situations in your life like maybe a dinner party or something like that. So as you’re kind of building this great foundation, you’re getting support from the Facebook community that goes along with it — from people who totally understand what’s going on. They’re going through the same thing. And you can start getting into the elimination phase without all of that overwhelm that usually goes along with it.

LARAH: That’s fantastic. That is so useful for people to be able to have access to you and your knowledge and this free challenge, so we will put the links in the show notes for that as well.

JULIE:  Yes, and it’s actually going to be a thing that’s available all the time going forward.  So by the time you hear this, you can sign up at The Free FODMAP cleanse and you’ll be able to start the challenge right away whenever you’re ready and it should be good.  I’m sort of revamping it slightly and making it even better based on all the feedback from everyone who’s done it already.  

LARAH: Perfect, thank you Julie.  So can you now tell the listeners a little bit about your cookbook that’s out and where it can be found?

JULIE:  Yes,it is called the “Calm Belly Kitchen Cookbook” — really original — and my subtitle is Crave-worthy FODMAP Recipes for Everyday. It’s so important to me that you’re cooking food that you crave and that you drool over and that’s delicious and that you’re proud to share with your family and your friends. That’s what this book is all about. There are fifty recipes and it’s focused on dinner recipes because that’s what most of us are looking for. There’s thirty dinner recipes and there is a great section on creative lunches.  There are a few desserts and there are some breakfasts as well. It’s an ebook, so it’s all digital which means that I was able to include a full color photo for every single recipe in the classic version. Then there is a second version which breaks down all the recipes into a meal plan.  So if you’re someone who wants to do the elimination phase for a month and you want an exact meal plan, you can get that in the deluxe version of the cookbook. It’s all available through my website The Calm Belly Kitchen Cookbook and I will give you the link, Larah.Calm Belly Kitchen Cookbook Low Fodmap RecipesYeah, I would love to have you check it out. I just released it in May and it’s doing well so far, so I’m excited. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback. I actually had all my community — the people in my Facebook group — test the recipes. So I was getting the feedback even before I released it and sort of making changes based on what they said. That was a really cool part about doing it, too, and I got suggestions for recipes from them. It turns out a lot of you love Mexican recipes, so there are a few great ones in there. It was a fun project.

LARAH: I love Mexican too, but I find it hard going to eat in a Mexican restaurant because there are so many things that I cannot have like onions and sour cream and all that. But yeah, that’s great. Yes, please send us the link for that too and we will put that in the show notes.

JULIE:  Awesome, thank you.

LARAH: So in terms of onion and garlic, what would you replace them with?

JULIE: Okay, that’s actually the question I get asked most often by people in my community. It’s understandable because I was a recipe developer, and when I heard that I was supposed to eliminate those two things, I kind of flipped out.  I didn’t know how that was going to work, but here’s the thing.  Those are two foods that add a lot of flavor to your cooking, but you have a whole other world of foods that you can use. My big secret is to use the umami ingredients.  So we’re talking about umami, that fifth taste which is that really rich savoury flavour. It’s found in aged foods, fermented foods, and slow cooked foods. Things like shellfish and meat and certain vegetables, even, are full of the umami. It comes from glutamate which is an amino acid and it’s just a naturally occurring huge flavor booster.  So when you cook with ingredients like that — and we’re talking about aged cheeses, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sun dried tomatoes.  When you start adding that to your food — these little magic flavor boosters — all of a sudden onion and garlic aren’t even a factor anymore.  So that’s kind of my little secret and I do have a whole blog post on this.  It’s called “The Ultimate Guide to Flavor without Onion and Garlic” and I talk about umami. I talk about ways to replace onion and garlic — some simple things, but also creative things.

There’s also the whole area of just how you cook food and different techniques — things that are really simple but that you might not have thought of before — just like using a heavier skillet instead of a nonstick skillet. That will develop more flavour because meats are allowed to caramelise better and kind of stick a little bit. There are small things that you can do to add so much flavour, and that’s why I say it doesn’t matter what you cook, or what I cook. If it’s low FODMAP it can still be amazing and you’re not depriving yourself or anyone else.

LARAH: Yes, these are great tips for substitution of onion and garlic, because all I’ve been doing so far — which is still great — is using garlic and onion infused oils which has saved me really. But, yes, I will try some of your tips as well and I will look at your blog post and learn a bit more about that.  That’s great. Thank you.

JULIE: So many things that you can do.  Yeah.

LARAH: Perfect.

JULIE:  Oh, you’re so welcome. And I just want to say, if you’re just starting out and you’re listening to this podcast using this as your first introduction to the FODMAP diet, don’t be overwhelmed. It’s just learning step-by-step and being patient with yourself because it’s a big change. Just take it step-by-step, keep it simple, and do my cleanse. That really helps. You will get there.  It’s really just a little bit of time, but you will definitely get there.

LARAH:  Yeah, that’s for sure. It’s a step-by-step.  

So, Julie, one more question. How can people get in touch with you and where can they find you on the web?

JULIE: Oh, it’s super easy. Just come to my website calmbellykitchen.com and that’s kind of my home base. You’ll find links to all my social media. I’m on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest. Follow me on Pinterest if you need recipe ideas and sign up for the free cleanse and you’ll get an invitation to my Facebook group. We have about eleven hundred members right now and they are the most awesome, supportive, smart community of women on the Internet.  I’m just going to throw that out there. I believe it, so come and join me. Sign up for my email list. You’ll get an invitation from my Facebook group and it’s all on calmbellykitchen.com.

LARAH: Great, and links to all the social media for Julie will also be on the show notes. Thank you so much again, Julie. Thank you.  

JULIE: You’re welcome. Thanks Larah.

LARAH: I hope you have enjoyed this episode with Julie O’Hara from calmbellykitchen.com.  If you find the content of this podcast useful please leave a review on itunes. That will help the podcast to be found and help to spread the word on the low FODMAP diet even more.  Until next time, I wish you all the very best and take good care. Goodbye.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode:

Julie’s website
Health coaching for IBS and FODMAP diet
Links to Julie’s social media:

About Larah

I have been suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome for many years, but it took a longtime to get a diagnosis, since then I have been following a low FODMAP diet, which has changed my life for the better. This is my story and experience with IBS and the low FODMAP diet.