The IMAGINE Network Project

Earlier in the year I woke up at the crack of dawn with excited butterflies flying around my stomach. I got myself organized and then got in my car to make my way from Toronto to McMaster University in Hamilton.

As I sat in my car with the smell of exhaust coming from the traffic in front of me, the sound of the rain pitter-pattering on the roof and the radio on low, I practiced my speech and made sure I sat up straight as to not winkle my dress.

Once I arrived at McMaster, I found my way to the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute and sat in the green room with a few doctors, researchers and Canada’s Minister of Health – Jane Philpott – awaiting for the event to begin. Once 9:30 a.m. came around, we made our way to the atrium and sat alongside various researchers, doctors, health organizations and members of the press. On March 31st I was part of a national research announcement as the lead patient representative for a multi-million dollar McMaster patient oriented research project called the Imagine Network, which stands for Inflammation, Microbiome and Alimentation: Gastro-intestinal and neuropsychiatric effects.


Myself and Dr. Paul Moayyedi

Did you know that over 20 million Canadians suffer with digestive disorders?

The IMAGINE network project will be researching and developing innovative therapies for irritable bowel syndrome (known as IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (known as IBD, which include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) to better understand the brain-gut connection and the role diet has on digestive diseases. The researchers on this project believe IBD and IBS are caused by an immune response to disturbances in the gut bacteria – brought on by diet and neuropsychiatric effects, like anxiety and depression. Therefore, patients will play a large role in helping to shape the outcomes of this research.

I myself am one of the 20 million Canadians with a digestive disorder. In 2008 I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, one of the two diseases categorized under IBD. It’s an auto immune disease that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal system. Along with Crohn’s, I also have symptoms of IBS, which is a non-inflammatory, functional disorder of the colon. When I was first diagnosed I had no clue what Crohn’s was – neither did most of my family or friends. I was also in my first year of university and felt incredibly alone with the diagnosis. Not only did nobody know what Crohn’s was, but it isn’t a disease that people really like to talk about.


The Honorable Jane Philpott, Myself, Filomena Tassi and Dr. Paul Moayyedi

At university I would see support groups for students with diabetes, anxiety and other various health concerns, but there wasn’t anything for students with digestive issues. The more I talked about my diagnosis, the more people I came across who had some sort of a digestive issue – or who know of someone with one. It was then that I realized I had to step up and organize a digestive disorder support group at the university. That was my first step in becoming an advocate for digestive health. Now, eight years later, I had the privilege of helping shape the research proposal, which was accepted by the Canadian Institute of Health Research and I had the honour of standing in front of hundred of influential people, to explain the importance of this research for Canadian patients.

As a patient, I can vouch for the importance of better understanding the role that the brain has on the gut and vice versa. When I’m feeling anxious, nervous or stressed, my gut will react and when I’m having a flare up or my IBS is acting up, I will feel anxious. I’m also a huge believer in the role diet plays, because for me certain foods elicit a flare up with my Crohn’s – gluten being a big HUGE trigger.

For the next five years I’ll be working alongside the lead researcher of this project, Dr. Paul Moayyedi, Director of the division of gastroenterology at McMaster University and Dr. Stephen Vanner, Director of gastrointestinal disease research at Queen’s University, along with many other gastroenterologists in Canada and various patients.

It’s a very exciting time in digestive health research. Taking the time to better understand the role that bacteria plays and the connection of the brain and gut are huge strides forward into hopefully finding a cure for IBD and IBS.

Watch below to listen to myself and Dr. Moayyedi provide an overview of the network and an appreciation for receiving the funding.

For more information on this exciting research, check out the Canadian Institute of Health Research’s informative article here.



As careful as we can be when it comes to avoiding gluten, sometimes the inevitable happens and gluten creeps up in some way or another.

There have been a few incidences within the past month where gluten has crept into my diet accidentally, and I end up paying the price with a flare up of my digestive issues.

Pain and bloating are the main symptoms (along with a few others, like a foggy feeling) and I also feel exhausted for days. Gluten definitely isn’t my friend!

When I get ‘glutened’ these are a few of my go-to healing methods.

They’re also helpful if you’re suffering from indigestion, are bloated or are just experieincing stomach discomfort.

  1. A heating pack. Once gluten hits, my stomach tenses up – almost like a ‘Charlie horse’ but with more pain. I find that heat helps the muscles relax. Right now I have an ‘aromatherapy’ scented, microwavable pack that has lost all scent and just smells like burnt popcorn. Comforting but smelly.
  2. A nap. I get so sleepy and sore that the only thing I find bearable is sleeping it out.
  3. Two extra strength tylenol every four hours…it helps ease my pain substantially.
  4. Peppermint tea.
  5. Child’s pose or lying on my back and bringing my knees to my chest.
  6. Have you heard of the ‘I Love You’ baby massage technique to give babies with colic? Try it on yourself, it’s very comforting. It may seem silly, but massaging your own tummy helps to relieve some of the pain.

When you’re experiencing stomach discomfort, what do you find helpful?

*Disclaimer. I am not a medical professional. Always consult your doctor. 

Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month

On November 1st, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada launched the The Impact of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Canada 2012 Final Report and Recommendations. I found it very interesting to read the key findings from this past year, along with learning that IBD is unfortunately on the rise for younger patients. It is sad to learn that IBD is increasing in children aged nine and under (CCFC, 2012). The report says that an estimated 5,900 Canadian children have IBD, experiencing daily agonizing symptoms (CCFC, 2012). Like everyone else suffering from IBD, or who knows someone who has IBD, the big question we all want to know is “why is this happening?” How come IBD is increasing in young children? It makes me question the food we are eating and the environment we live in.

After being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2009, I have come to accept what I live with and have learned how to deal with it on a daily basis. It has been a hard road, but knowing what I am dealing with makes it so much easier to handle. I believe that we don’t choose the events that change our lives, but we choose how to deal with them and how to live with them. What I have also realized since 2009 is that awareness for IBD is not anywhere near many of the other medical conditions out there. November was “Awareness Month”, but I believe the majority of people who were aware of the fact that is was awareness month were only those living with IBD or who knew someone with IBD. After speaking with others living with IBD, it seems that awareness isn’t where we would like it to be. People are embarrassed about speaking out about the disease. Who wants to talk about their digestion and bowels? It’s not a hot topic! However, the more we talk about our guts, the better aware our population will be.

Tips for Dining Out Gluten Free

It is certain to say that gluten sensitivities are definitely on the rise. With this gluten free diet phenomenon, also comes a rise in gluten free restaurants, and restaurants accommodating the gluten free lifestyle. Although it may seem a tad bit easier to eat out with a gluten intolerance, there are still frustrations and lack of options.

Dining out with a gluten allergy is easiest when restaurants have specific gluten free menus, such as Casey’s, Milestones, Boston Pizza, and PF Changs (now in Canada).
Although there may not be as many options as the full menu, there are still safe alternatives for you to enjoy without worry, and to leave without gluten induced symptoms.

My greatest frustration with being gluten free is finding “fast food” while on the go. Although fast food is not the healthiest alternative, it is sometimes very convenient if you don’t have a prepared meal or snack at hand. For example, Tim Hortons, Subway, Wendy’s, and McDonalds are not the most friendly towards their gluten intolerant friends. There have been so many times when I am with my friends and family and we stop at Subway for them to get a delicious looking sub, while I end up with an – although decent – Subway salad. I would love to have a sub on a gluten free bun! Although it may seem that there is nothing for you to eat while on the run, or even at a restaurant, there is definitely always something.

Here is a list of tips for dining out, or dining on the run for those of you who live a gluten free lifestyle:

At a restaurant: 
– If you are dining at a restaurant without a specific gluten free menu, have no fear, there are still potential possibilities. First of all, make it clear with your waiter/waitress that you have a gluten allergy – even if it isn’t a diagnosed allergy, you still get sick from it, so let them take as many precautions as necessary to make sure your meal isn’t in contact with any gluten. Sometimes I will order my meal and say that I can’t have gluten, they will proceed with asking if it is a preference or if it is okay if there’s “a little bit in the marinade”. I definitely can’t have any speck of gluten so I make it clear that it is an allergy. When restaurants hear the word “allergy”, they take it very seriously.
– Secondly, ask you waiter if they know of what on the menu is gluten free. For example, at Jack Astors there are no indications of what is and what isn’t gluten free on their menu, so either ask the waiter or ask to see the allergen guide book.
– If there isn’t anything on the menu that looks safe, a chicken breast with steamed veggies or a salad topped with a protein is always a safe bet.
– Be careful of seasoned rices, sometimes they do contain trace amounts of gluten!
– Never be afraid of asking too many questions or challenging your waiter/waitress – they are there to accomodate you with whatever you may need.
– Most Mexican restaurants are naturally gluten free as the majority of items are corn based (corn tortillas). Even if some of the items are made with flour tortillas, they can usually substitute for a corn tortilla. (Mexican is one of my absolute favourites!).
– A lot of Italian restaurants are starting to include gluten free pastas and pizza crusts
– Japanese/Thai/Korean restaurants are very rice based. Make sure they do not use soy sauce and that the noodles are always rice. Although buckwheat is a gluten free grain, a lot buckwheat noodles also have wheat flour. Sushi is always a great gluten free dinner date!

At a fast food restaurant:
– Tim Hortons: Walking into a Tim’s and smelling the freshly baked muffins and donuts is very desirous when you obviously can’t have it, however, if you’re hungry and without any other options around, there are a couple gluten free items available (unfortunately they aren’t muffins or donuts). The smoothies and yogurt with berries (no granola) are available, and they can curb the appetite until you find something fulfilling.
– McDonalds: The french fries are gluten free…but, make sure that you ask if their oil is separate from the gluten contaminated items, if the oil is merely for the fries, then you are safe to go! This is only for Canada however, the USA uses a flavouring for the fries that contains wheat (sorry Americans!). The smoothies, soft serve ice-cream (without a cone), and fruit and yogurt parfaits (without the granola) are also all gluten free.
– Subway: Sadly all of the sandwich options are off limits, but there is the option for the salad. Make sure they change their food handling gloves before making your salad and that they wipe off the counter. Sometimes when I ask them to change their gloves they become a little frustrated with me…but I tell them I am allergic to wheat and they understand a little better. Sometimes deli meats can contain gluten, so I usually opt for a veggie salad – peppers, olives, shredded carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and cheese. It’s a pretty delicious salad actually…just try to not think of how delicious the subs could be!
– At Wendy’s there is actually a list online of what is gluten free. You can click here to view it. On the list includes the Frostys, salads without croutons and pecans, baked potatoes, chilli and patties without the bun. The fries are cooked in the same oil as gluten contaminated food.
– If you go to any of your favourite fast food websites, there is usually an allergen guide in which you can determine what is gluten free. I would advise researching any items before ordering them.

Well my gluten free friends, those are all my tips for now. I certainly will update this if I come across anything else. For the most part, asking questions and doing your research is the safest bet. Although it may seem frustrating to eat out on a gluten free diet, it is possible and in the long run, you won’t be hurting after a meal!

If you have any suggestions or tips for dining out I would love to hear from you. You can send me an email to, tweet me @gutgazette or visit my Facebook page at!

Eating like a “Normal” Person!

Do you ever find that eating out with dietary restrictions can be challenging? I am sure you are all nodding your heads “yes”. For a long time I just avoided restaurants, because really, what could I actually have on the menu? If I did go out my order would be the same everywhere: “a garden salad with a grilled chicken breast with balsamic and oil on the side please!” If it wasn’t a salad with chicken, it was rice and chicken, a chicken breast with no seasoning…how boring is that???

Since I have gone gluten free there have been more and more restaurants providing gluten free options, or even better, a gluten free menu. For example, Casey’s, a restaurant franchise in Canada, now has a gluten free menu, it pretty much just lists what on the menu is gluten free, with the substitution of having rice pasta if you order a pasta meal. If you ask for it, many restaurants will provide you with the menu’s allergen guide, indicating what menu items have common allergens (including gluten, dairy, shellfish…even garlic). Even pizza places have gluten free crust now, although it ends up being so expensive with the added charge of being gluten free. I am beginning to feel like more of a normal person when I go out to eat now, but really, who is actually normal now a days? There are so many diets out there: vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free.

About a month ago I went to this gourmet burger joint called The Works. I knew going there that I would be eating my burg bunless, but I wasn’t too phased by it, I had a delicious meal…a portobello burger topped with avocado, bacon, and brie (how better could it be), with a side of fries. Oh my goodness, was it ever delicious. The next time I went I brought my own bread, thinking that they could just put my burger on my gluten free bread, however, once the waitress explained the menu to us she indicated that they now had gluten free buns! I was so excited, it wasn’t even an extra charge to have the gluten free option. When our meal cames I felt so normal eating my meal, it was so much fun.
I have also discovered that some coffee chains offer gluten free goodies. An example being today when I went to Second Cup. All I really wanted was a baked good, but knew that I would not be in luck at a large Canadian coffee franchise. I was just about to pay for my tea when I saw in the corner of my eye these huge chocolate dipped gluten free macaroons (made by Dufflet)…it was absolutely amazing, it was the first time in a long time that I was able to purchase an edible, non-liquid item. I should have taken a picture, but I couldn’t wait to bite into it…trust me though, there will definitely be a repeat of that treat.

Just a Drop

If you deal with digestive issues, I am sure you can relate about the embarrassment you feel when using public washrooms…or just any washroom.
Well, my embarrassment has been banished, as I now use Just a Drop. I wish I had known about this all my life, it’s so amazing how well it works. Just a Drop is a Canadian company from the East Coast that has created a product to eliminate bathroom odours. It is made from concentrated plant extract, making it environmentally friendly and safe for all toilets and septic systems. Before you do your buisness, you just squeeze a few drops in the toilet, and once you’re done there’s no smell at all, it’s absolutely amazing.
There are three scents: Eucalyptus, Floral Oasis and Refreshing Spring
I like all of the scents, but my favourite would have to be the Eucalyptus. It is the most “refreshing”, and smells more like a cleaning product. I find that the Floral Oasis sort of smells like an aersol spray…so it kind of gives it away that you had to use some sort of odor eliminator. The Refreshing Spring is also nice, it too smells like a cleaning product, but a little more intense then the Eucalyptus.
They even sell it ‘to-go’! It’s great to just carry around in your purse, or you can even stick it in your pocket.
There is also a travel size option, so you can take it on the plane with you with no problem. It’s also nice and small, so you could also use it as a ‘to-go’ option.
According to the Just a Drop website, many people with medical conditions have turned to this product to relieve their embarrassments with bathroom odors, such as Crohn’s Disease, Celiac, IBS, and Colitis. I’m so happy I’ve been able to try this, and honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever go anywhere without it again. I was a little skeptical at first to how well this would actually work, but my doubts were unneeded, as this is the best thing ever!!
You can order Just a Drop online, or if you click ‘Where to Buy’ on the website, you can see what stores carry it near you. Now go order some! You won’t regret this purchase!!!
Have a great Monday!

Guide to Restaurants

Going out for meals is a huge social activity, but can be quite hard for those who have food allergies/intolerances.

At the beginning of my new life being free of dairy, corn, sugar, I found it so frustrating to eat out. I would tell the waiter, no butter or oil (in case it was corn oil), then he would come back and the veggies would be smothered in butter. So, I would have to send it back…or I would eat it not really knowing and go home feeling sick.

Because I felt sick so much in the past, going to restaurants made me feel even more anxious because I was afraid that the kitchen wouldn’t listen to me or take my issues serious enough. Therefore I tried to avoid them as much as possible. I wouldn’t go out with friends to eat out and we would hardly ever go out as a family. If I did go out to a restaurant and explain to them what I couldn’t eat, even if they did make it right, I usually went home feeling sick anyway because I would get myself so nervous.

Now that I have gone gluten free, eating out is the hardest it has ever been. But I have realized that I can’t just say I have an intolerance to dairy or gluten, I have to state that I have an allergy. When you tell a restaurant that you have an allergy to a food, they take the highest precautions in the kitchen, as they wouldn’t want to be liable for anything.

Before going out to restaurants, I will call ahead to inform them of my allergy and if they would be able to do a simple grilled chicken, with steamed vegetables and rice. Usually the answer is yes.

I have found that at big chain restaurants, like Casey’s or pub style places, all of their food is already prepared, so asking for a plain grilled chicken is out of the question, as it has already been marinating for quite a while. I recommend going to smaller chain or independent restaurants…but make sure to call ahead first!

Once you’re at the table, tell your waiter/waitress your situation and just double check that they have your order correct. If you’re at a restaurant that has gluten free, dairy free or vegan options, then you should be fine…but it doesn’t hurt to double check.

If your food comes to the table, and you have a feeling that maybe your veggies have butter mixed in them…ask someone to try them for you…if they do taste like there’s butter on them, don’t hesitate to tell the waiter and ask to have a new plate. Yes, it’s a hassle…but what isn’t your health a little more important?

Before I go out to a new restaurant, I also check online to see if the menu is posted. In most cases it is, and in most cases there is nothing on the menu that I can have. That is when I will make up my own menu item: plain grilled chicken, steamed veggies w/ no butter and rice. The kitchen is happy to provide.

If you are invited out to a social gathering at a restaurant, and there is no way that you will be able to have a different menu item, eat before hand and just order a tea or a simple garden salad. Sometimes I will do that.

In the past I would always feel so self conscious doing that- thinking about what people would think of me because I wasn’t eating…but then I realized that if people are wondering…then they can just ask me why I’m only drinking tea!

Restaurants want to make their customers happy, and they want revenue, especially in this economic time. So, don’t feel hesitant to make up your own menu item, it really isn’t a hassle…and it’s just something simple that probably takes less time then one of the items on the menu.

Nowadays there are many restaurants with gluten free, dairy free, vegan options beside the menu item. There are also separate gluten free menus at some restaurants. There are even full out gluten free restaurants that I am yet to try!

There are so many people with food allergies these days, that restaurants have to accommodate. So do not feel afraid to eat out, and be assertive when ordering!


Visit to the Naturopath

Yesterday was my second visit to my new naturopath, and it was a great! The naturopath told me that she truly believes one can heal them selves of Crohn’s through diet and supplements…all naturally! I believe this 100%, I am all for going the natural way, and I see that it is true to become symptom free through diet when I read about Meghan Telpner’s journey from Making Love in the Kitchen and Ashley Gibson’s from Dancing Through Life. The two of them are both in remission all because of the foods they eat and the way they live.

After a great hour talking with the naturapath, I left with more knowledge and a few vitamins and supplements:

Ultra InflamX: This protein powder is especially designed for those with IBD, as the protein in it is already digested (which doesn’t stress the digestive system to break it down). There are a bunch of vitamins, minerals and ingredients that help soothe and heal the digestive tract, like rosemary, turmeric, ginger and glutamine. It is also packed with calories (which I need)! The Ultra InfamX was pretty expensive, but it is meant to help with the healing process. For now I will take this powder every day until it is all empty (for about a month) and hopefully I will see improvements. Whenever I am in a flare up, this protein powder will help with the healing of the digestive tract. I haven’t tried it yet…I was going to for my snack but the colour sort of made me loose my appetite…it’s neon yellow!

Floravit: A yeast and gluten free iron formula with vitamins. Right now my iron levels are low, so this will help boost them. It’s a liquid formula and I’m supposed to take 20ml/day.

Saccharomyces boulardii: Live yeast, packaged in capsules, it protects the gut from bad bacteria’s and alleviates diarrhea caused by Crohn’s disease.

Methylcobalamin: B12 lozenge that dissolve under my tongue (which I’m doing right now…it tastes likes cherry (yum)!)

Acidophilis: which are friendly bacteria to help re-colonize good bacteria in the gut.

The one bad thing that came out of the appointment was yet another thing to restrict from my diet….all things sweet…that means fruit! No fruit for two weeks!

I’m still having unnecessary symptoms daily, so she thinks that it could be possible that there is still something in my daily diet causing this. There wasn’t really much else to eliminate though, as gluten, dairy, refined sugar, corn, soy, tomatoes, citrus and chocolate are all already eliminated…which leads to the experimentation of taking out fruit.

Gluten and dairy free I can handle, as there are so many substitutes…but fruit…eek, I feel like I may have a bit of difficulty with this one. Fruit makes up so many of my snacks. It’s only for two weeks though, so I guess it could be worse right?

What are some of your fruit-free snacks?

Exercise and Flare-ups….(and Apple Cider)

Firstly I just wanted to bring up flare-ups related to exercise.

Every time I push myself to hard in a workout, I find my self stuck on the couch afterwards, and not from sore leg muscles, but because my gut is in a painful knot.
When this began happening, I was always wondering what was causing my flare-ups, but than I put two and two together, and realized that my workouts were causing me pain.
When I saw a holistic doctor in Florida, she told me that working out can cause flare-ups…I can’t remember all of the scientific reasoning behind this, but I really wish I had remembered so that I could share it with you all.
Since February (after seeing the holistic doctor) I started to workout more lightly, and found that I wouldn’t be coming home with annoying pain in the tumtum.
Now today after 20 minutes on the elliptical and a class called Body Flow (which incorporates tai chi, yoga and pilates) I have found myself stuck in a horizontal position on my bed watching ET (that would be Entertainment Tonight…not the extra-terrestrial) and blogging about this annoyance. I didn’t even think I worked out to hard…but maybe I just didn’t realize it at the moment, as I was feeling pretty good going into it.
Does anybody else get flare-ups from working out? Any tips?
On another short little note…I bought my first jug of apple cider of the year!
The taste of warm apple cider gives me so many memories of fall…it’s just so festive!
I usually drink it with a stick of cinnamon, but I had no cinnamon sticks today. Instead, I sprinkled a little bit of ground cinnamon in the drink, I think that may have just replaced the usual cinnamon stick.
Mmmmm mmmm good!
What are your fall favourite foods?

Warm Diet

It has almost been a month since I have been doing the TCM warm diet for spleen-pancreas deficiency (aka Crohn’s disease in Western terms). I have been doing a lot of research on this diet and I finally think I understand most of it, except for one thing…and that is, if you warm a cold food up, does it change it’s properties to become warm? I’m still trying to find the answer to that.

I’ve been following it pretty well, I’ve totally taken out wheat, but I have been having a little trouble taking out soy, as I found that great veggie cheese which is made of soy products (I have however taken out soy milk). It’s also hard to fully take out raw vegetables, sometimes I find my self grabbing out a carrot to munch on out of the fridge without cooking it. I haven’t been benefiting from this yet, hopefully I’ll notice some difference soon!