IBS Awareness month: A conversation with Olivia Lewis, founder of The Free From Black Book


When did you first experience IBS symptoms and are there any specific factors/events which you personally think could have triggered it in you?

I’ve been dairy intolerant since I was born. I’ve also always had ‘tummy troubles’ – I remember going to ballet lessons and being in a lot of pain. But I think this was often the anxiety around not being able to go to the toilet during the lessons. My IBS really kicked in when I went traveling and got even worse around uni. I think this was caused by stress, diet, alcohol, and I must say, I think there were things from traveling (high dose of antibiotics for a sustained period of time and contracting a parasite in India, being just two). 

Research has found that up to 90% of people with IBS also experience depression or anxiety, which seems to point that IBS is a disorder of the gut-brain axis. From your personal experience would you agree with this and if so, what do you enjoy doing to nurture your mental health?  

I 100% agree! I suffer with my mental health and I believe the connection is fluid back and forth. I like spending time alone doing the things I enjoy – this could be anything from going to a car-boot sale in the sun or just taking a nap.

Can you tell us about the role diet has played in your IBS healing?

It’s played a major role. But it’s not just about avoiding your main allergens. You start to realise that it could be spicy foods, foods cooked in a certain oil or even the time of day you eat the food (I can’t eat any fresh fruit after breakfast). However, I would also say it’s about getting balance, because it’s easy to become ‘obsessive’ about it and that can be extremely damaging to your mental health.

What made you decide to start The Free From Black Book and can you share with us one of your fave, easy go-to recipes from your blog?

I was very stressed as I was working full time and at law school and it was nice to do something completely different. It did start as mainly recipes and product reviews, but I soon realised that it was just as important to talk about your experiences too. 

Here’s the recipe to one of my fave desserts: a yummy gluten free Rose, Cardamon and Pistachio Ch**se Cake. It’s a real crowd pleaser.



1 1/2 cups of cashews

1/4 of the coconut milk from a can

1 tablespoon of coconut oil

2 tablespoons of maple syrup

4 tablespoons of rose water

4 Cardamom pods

pinch of beetroot powder for colour 

Ground Cardamom powder (optional)

Handful of pistachios to decorate

Rose petals to decorate


1 cup of oats

1/2 cup of dairy free butter

2 tablespoons of maple syrup

Handful of pistachios


Place the cashews and Cardamom pods  in a pan and cover with water. Cook for about 2 hours (you will need to top the water up). You could also just soak overnight but I prefer the first method.

Line a tin or use a silicone mold. Add oats and pistachios to a food processor and mix (you can leave this part out if you prefer it ‘oaty’)

Mix the rest of base ingredients and pat down in a tray.

Cook on 180 for about 10-15 mins. Drain cashews and rinse. Add all the top ingredients (you could add about a teaspoon of Cardamom powder here) and blend until creamy. Pat down in tray and place in freezer for an hour. Move to the fridge and decorate before serving.

You’re very open about your struggles with IBS and are a fantastic advocate – what advice would you give to someone who’s been newly diagnosed

It can seem overwhelming, but you really do get used to it. Follow social media accounts that talk about it (it may help you feel less alone and most of us are happy to answer questions!). Try and still enjoy food; you may feel like you can no longer eat your fave foods, but try and find cafes, products, recipes that are delicious (and not just because they’re IBS friendly)! I would also say routine and safety is good. There’s certain restaurants, products etc. I just know are pretty safe. Although it may not be the most adventurous, I will go back to them. 

For more IBS friendly recipes and tips visit www.thefreefromblackbook.com or follow @thefreefromblackbook on Instagram

A conversation with Emmanuelle Waters, Nutritional Therapist DipCNM


Can you tell us a bit about the personal journey which led you to qualify as a Nutritional Therapist? 

It has been a long journey and so well worth it! I suffered from chronic pain for years and saw many doctors and “experts”, but none were able to offer me long-term solutions. I started exploring other avenues and this opened my mind to alternative approaches to health. I discovered a world of opportunities, and this empowered me to take charge of my own health. I now know what is working or not working for my own body and I have individual solutions I can implement on my own. 

I decided to leave the corporate world and to retrain as a nutritional therapist. This has been a life-transforming journey for me and I have found my true calling: helping others find their own tools to achieve or maintain their health naturally and holistically is absolutely wonderful. 

We now know that diet can keep your gut happy, increase your health span, and improve your mood, all at the same time. Can you explain how our diet choices can have this impact and what we should be eating to improve our mood? 

What we eat has an enormous impact on our health, both physical and mental. It makes sense. Food is made of different compounds, vitamins and minerals and all of these influence our bodily functions. Each reaction in our body is governed by complex mechanisms that require these different nutrients to operate optimally. What we ingest will travel through our body and determine our health. Eating food rich in nutrients support our physical as well as mental health. The impact food has on cognitive functions is one of the most exciting area of research at the moment and I feel very passionate about it. 

Many of my clients come to me with mood issues such as anxiety, irritability, anger, tension or sadness. This, in turn, impacts their energy, their sleep and their general wellbeing. In some cases, they are suffering from underlying mental issues and for these, I refer them to a mental health expert. However, in many cases, their mood is often linked to the type of food they eat and the lifestyles they have and, through my coaching skills, I help them choose nutritious food and implement healthy habits. Eating a diet rich in fibre, fresh fruits and vegetables, good quality proteins and fats and water will provide the body with all the necessary nutrients to function at its best. In contrast, food high in sugar, saturated fat and salt and/or highly processed will disrupt our body and our health.

What exactly is fibre and why is it so important to include in our diet?

Fibre is one of the most important nutrients for our health and is often lacking in our diet. Numerous studies have confirmed that fibre feeds our “good” gut bacteria, the so-called microbiome and this, in turns, feeds our brain cells through the gut-brain axis. This is a bi-directional communication system between our gut and our brain.

The importance of the health of our gut has led many experts to label it as our “second brain” as it has a direct impact on our mood and cognitive functions. By feeding our microbiome, fibre participates in many positive bodily reactions (regulation of blood sugar levels, cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, bowel movements) and as such reduces the risks of many chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or obesity. I have seen incredible results with some of my clients just by increasing intake of this essential ingredient in their daily meals. 

Why is it important to eat seasonally? What foods should we be eating now that we’re in the middle of winter?

Aside from environmental and sustainability reasons, eating seasonally allows us to get maximum benefits from the ingredients we consume: being at their best, they are more nutritious. Eating seasonally is also cheaper! Plus, it is fun because each season brings its own diversity of food so we can be more creative in the kitchen. It also allows us to eat a more varied and diverse diet and this is essential to health. The more variety our diet is, the better it is for us. 

Winter brings us lots of wonderful ingredients: 

  • Vegetables: carrot, root vegs (parsnip, swede), celeriac, cabbage, kale, mushrooms, leeks, cauliflower, potatoes…
  • Fruits: pears, apples, quince, clementine, oranges, lemons, kiwi…
  • Fish: mussels, scallops, grey mullet, salmon, haddock…

Many of these ingredients can be used in soups or stews, packed full of nutrients and so comforting during the dark winter months. 

Can you break down in simple terms how the gut brain connection works?

The gut-brain axis is a bi-directional communication system between our gut and our brain. It takes place along the vagus nerve which conducts electrical impulses (communications) between these two organs. Previously, we thought our brain was the master controller but more research is now indicating that our gut is equally important. It houses 100 trillion of bacteria (our microbiome). Our gut bacteria are influenced by what we eat, our environment and our lifestyles. Healthy gut bacteria allow the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which are all essential for brain function.

If our microbiome is not fed properly, it gets disrupted: this leads to inflammation which is at the root of many diseases. The simple equation is: inflamed gut equals inflamed brain, setting in motion all sorts of issues such as headaches, fatigue, low energy, poor mood, anxiety, depression, bloating, weight gain, pain, skin issues, infections, allergies, poor memory and concentration, stress and sleep disruption.

So, feeding our gut is essential not only to our physical wellbeing but also for our mental health.

What are some achievable tools that you recommend to help manage anxiety?

As we have discussed, feeding our gut will help reduce inflammation. And inflammation is directly linked to anxiety. Here are a few tools you can easily implement to help manage your anxiety:

       – Increase your intake of:

  • Whole food, rich in fibre such as fruits & vegetables, wholegrains, legumes…
  • Food rich in omega-3 such as oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel…), nuts & seeds
  • Good quality complex carbohydrates (not refined): think brown rice, brown pasta, wholemeal bread

– Reduce intake of all inflammatory foods such as    sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed or junk foods, sodas, cakes…

– Implement lifestyle change strategies to calm down your nervous system (which is in high alert when inflamed): deep breathing, yoga, meditation, walking, self-care (massages, time with friends, soothing bath, music…)  

More information on Emmanuelle’s services as well as nutritional tips and ideas can be found on her website www.biovitalnutrition.com

A conversation with James and Dahlia Marin, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists and co-founders of Married to Health


How did your personal health journeys influence your decision to adopt a plant based lifestyle and become Registered Dietitian Nutritionists?

It was our health issues that fueled us to keep searching for support, relief, and overall health. That search which included an undergraduate degree, countless research articles, seminars, conferences, and hundreds of hours in various dietetic settings, ultimately led us to implementing and maintaining a plant-based lifestyle for 11 years and solidified our passion in our profession as integrative Registered Dietitians.

What are a few tell-tale signs that our gut health may not be in tip-top shape? 

For us, symptoms are some of the biggest puzzle pieces when trying to figure out someone’s health story and plan of action. Symptoms/diseases like: indigestion/reflux, constipation (which can even be a sense of not fully completing a bowel movement), abdominal discomfort after eating certain foods, distention, bloating, extreme cravings-especially sugar, skin irritations, mood changes, and poor sleep are all signs your gut microbiota is not where it should be. We highly recommend taking care of the little symptoms before they turn into big issues.

Can you explain what taking an integrative approach to gut health means and why it’s so important?

 Simply put an integrative approach is taking time to discover root causes while trying to help current symptoms. It is fine to change the flat tire, but it is even better to have a plan of action that will prevent the flat tire from happening: checking air pressure, avoiding driving on messy roads, rotating your tires, etc. This is very much like our daily habits of drinking water, eating a fiber-rich diet, getting wonderful movement daily, and much more. This is vital when it comes to gut health because gut health is the nexus of all health on the planet. If we take a proactive approach to gut health, we are taking care of everyone’s health.

What are your top tips for sustainable success when transitioning to a plant based diet?

#1 is understanding your “why”. Is it health, environment, social issues, or all of the above? Having a good grasp on why you are making these changes gives you a passion for making them sustainable. 

#2 We recommend adding before taking away. Many times people think going plant-based means taking away this animal product, or that ingredients, or favorite recipe. We recommend adding before taking away, by adding more plants to things you already love it helps to go plant-based in a sustainable way. Remember even eating 51% of your food from plants is plant-based! 

While maintaining patient confidentiality, of course, can you give us an example of someone you treated, their journey, and how you helped heal them?

We will call her patient M. She started with us in 2018 and could only tolerate eating five different foods due to severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Her symptoms led to extreme food fear, which is very common as the excruciating pain makes a person essentially scared to eat. We were likely her last-ditch effort to make drastic changes, which she accomplished through working with us. We like talking about patient M because it is now 2022, and we continue to work with this patient. 

While four years may seem like a long time to work with a patient, it is essential to understand the context. Are four years of progress, symptom relief, GI medication elimination, and a better relationship with food that long compared to 15, 20, or 30 years of suffering from IBS like we see many of our patients do?

Something we like to tell our patients is, “You took a long time to get unhealthy; allow yourself some time to get healthy again.” Patient M now enjoys a vast array of gut-healthy foods, she is thriving with a great care team, including a talk therapist and pelvic floor therapist, and she has overcome a majority of her food fears. All of this while not having to compromise her values as a vegan who wanted to continue on a 100% plant-based diet. All of the providers she had worked with previously told her she would need to forgo this type of lifestyle, but we were able to provide her with the help she needed thanks to our 100% plant-based SIBO/IBS program.

Congratulations on your new e-book ‘Good Gut A-Z Guide’! Tell us why you created the book and what readers can expect.

We noticed that our patients and our followers would often tell us “I want to incorporate more plant foods into my diet but don’t know where to begin”. Because of this, we decided to create the Good Gut A-Z guide to help those of all ages and stages incorporate more fiber and plant foods into their diet. Our guide not only gives our readers information about the benefits of each plant food listed, but the ways in which they can incorporate these plant foods into their diet whether it be as a salad topping or as a main component of a dish. The guide is family friendly and there’s something in it for everyone, whether you’re one or one hundred and one!

What’s your favourite easy ‘go to’ meal when you’ve no time but still want to be healthy?

In our family, we make spending time together a priority. So after long days of seeing patients, we love whipping up some “healthy lazy” meals so that we can use those extra moments to spend time with loved ones while still nourishing our gut. Our absolute go-to especially during the winter months is leftover soup. Taking time to cook is definitely part of a healthy lifestyle because not many people know that the act of preparing and cooking food is actually part of the healthy digestive process. However, we do not cook from scratch every single meal, every single day. Making a large batch of soup is a key go to for us because soup is extremely gut healing and it is jam packed with a diversity of plant foods. It is a complete meal that you scoop out of the fridge, heat and enjoy whenever you are hungry. 

And finally, we love that Married to Health is an eco-friendly company – can you tell us why having an environmentally friendly dietetic practice is so important to you? 

It’s important to recognize that everything is connected. From the breakfast we eat, to the type of printer paper we buy, and beyond. With that understanding it is a must that our organization reflect and practice an eco-office model. Everything our company does and buys is done so with consciousness, reflection, and purpose not just for the good of the practice, but for the good of all living creatures on the planet for generations.

James & Dahlia’s new e-book ‘Good Gut A-Z Guide’! is available now from their website. JERMS readers receive 20% off with code WEAREJERMS20.

What is Ashwagandha?


‘Aash-wagand-ha’ (yup it’s a mouthful to say) is a small shrub that originates from parts of Sri Lanka, India and the Middle East. Ashwagandha is Sanskrit for ‘smell of the horse’, which refers to both the unique smell of its roots and its ability to impart the vigour and strength of a stallion.

It’s renowned for being one of the most powerful ‘adaptogens’ – natural healing herbs that adapt to our bodies specific needs and help us deal with the stresses of everyday living.

Ashwagandha benefits

Ashwagandha has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine for its numerous and varied health benefits. Modern medical researchers have also completed more than 200 clinical studies on its benefits. Some examples include:

•  Increases energy, stamina and endurance
•  Supports adrenal glands to reduce stress and anxiety
•  Improves learning, memory, and reaction time
•  Promotes restorative sleep
•  Immune boosting and anti-inflammatory

As if that wasn’t enough, Ashwagandha is also one of our favourite adaptogens due to its high fibre content which helps your good gut bacteria thrive!

How to take Ashwagandha

The most common form of Ashwagandha is powdered – its long, tuberous roots are harvested, dried and ground down. Powdered Ashwagandha is also the most versatile as you can add it to just about anything: hot drinks, smoothies, granola, cookies and baked goods.

It’s the perfect herb for hectic modern-day life as it both calms and energises meaning you can take it any time of day – we love adding ½  a tsp to our morning matcha for calm energy and then to our nighttime cacao for restorative sleep.

Shop our Organic Ashwagandha powder >