I hate disclaimers. It’s like the blah blah blah for the first three minutes of a Youtube video and you’re sitting there begging the guy to get on with whatever the point of the video is. Anyway, I only put this here because it truly is necessary for your sake and mine.
The following is based only on personal research and experience. I’m not a medical professional in any way, I’m not trying to sell you anything, and I don’t have some miracle cure. Please be sure to research the info within and also speak to your doctor.
My Battle With IBS
So, I’ve had IBS all of my life, but the last 15 years have been especially difficult. IBS destroyed the momentum in my career and has also had a detrimental affect on relationships. Sound familiar? It’s difficult to be punctual for a job or class or for commitments to friendships and relationships when you have an underlying medium level anxiety that diarrhea is going to explode from your pants at any given moment and without notice. Yeah, IBS is the butt of puerile jokes, but to those that do have it, know that it can absolutely destroy your physical and mental health.
Like many of you, I’ve tried different dietary changes, adding fiber to my diet, and taking medications, including anti-depressents. Either these methods didn’t work, or I felt better for a few days and then would resume IBS symptoms. For someone with IBS, none of these methods are sustainable, and each time they fail life seems more and more hopeless.
My Discovery of SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
I lucked into finding SIBO on this awesome forum.
SIBO is a condition when bacteria, that normally grows in other parts of your gut, grows in your small intestine.
I remembered taking an HBT (hydrogen breath test) when I was first getting probed by doctors for what was wrong with me. I tested positive and was given an antibiotic, but that’s all that was ever said or done about that.
Reading over this information about SIBO I began to vaguely remember that I took a test and tested positive so many years ago. The implications of having SIBO were never really explained to me, and after the antibiotic there was never a follow up for the treatment. I think it’s possible that at the time the connection between IBS and SIBO hadn’t been made, but then why would they test me for that?
I saw the same doctor a few years later. I was seeking answers about some of the research I had done about non-celiac gluten sensitivity because I tested negative for wheat allergy, but my IBS stopped when I eliminated wheat from my diet. The doctor decided to talk over me with ten dollar medical jargon rather than walk me through the schools of thought and give me some insights into my condition and my diet. All he wanted to do was shove another camera up my bum. It was at this stage in my life when I realized that doctors and pills weren’t going to help me. It was proper food and nutrition. No, I didn’t schedule the bum camera.
I delved deeper into research about SIBO and ran across articles of different elimination diets that people were boasting were solving their long-term IBS problems. I had already been trying a FODMAP elimination, which was helping a little, so I delved deeper into these other elimintion methods.
FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols. These are foods that contain short-chain carbs that are difficult to digest and tend to draw excess liquid into the intestine. It is theorized that people that are sensitive to FODMAP foods may have a connection to IBS symptoms. Common FODMAPS are Fructose – found in table sugars, fruits and vegetables, Lactose – are carb found in dairy (almost everyone has heard of lactose intolerance), Fructans – found in wheat, barley, rye, Galactans – found in legumes, and Polyols – which are basically artifical sweeteners.
I found an elimination diet called the Specific Carb Diet that sounded promising. The intro or cleanse diet protion of it is about a week and the can be cooked all at once prior to starting the diet. This made it not only easy to start, but also super convenient to incorporate into my every day life. I was already on FMLA and started being regularly absent from my job, so if it made me sick it wouldn’t be too bad. The whole diet process seemed a little extreme when I ran the theory past Jen (my wife), but I was out of patience with my symptoms and myself, and I simply had nothing left to lose.
Information about SIBO and SCD
There are many good informational resources online for you to check out, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. These are some of my favorite sites:
If you’re curious, my intro diet consisted of:
Eggs – fried or scrambled (not boiled as a matter of personal tolerance), antibiotic and hormone free are important to me, you can go cage-free and organic if you want. Omega 3’s are good as well.
Hamburgers – lean, again hormone and antibiotic free, organic or even grass fed if you wish. I grilled my hamburgers because it adds nice flavor and I don’t like the way pan-fried can be greasy.
Lactose-Free Yogurt – I think this is one of the most important food items because the probiotics stimulate good bacterial growth, which I believe I read can even combat bad bacteria. I’ve provided a link on Amazon because this product can be very difficult to find in grocery stores if you’re unwilling or unable to make your own yogurt (I know I sure was!).
Homemade Jello – This is using pure, sugar free grape juice. You find in the health food section of the grocery and wonder if and why anyone ever buys it. It’s pure grape juice – not a cocktail of other juices mixed. Also, you can find gelatin in the baking aisle. We’re not using Jell-o flavor packs here! What I found interesting is that the jello lacked a sweetness at first, almost to the point of being bitter or sour because there’s no sugar in it. But as I progressed with the diet the natural sugars of the grape juice were sweet enough because all of the extra sugar was being eliminated from my body and my palette was changing. You’ll actually find that if you eliminate processed sugar from your diet that things like sodas and American chocolate brands are sickeningly sweet. You stop craving those things and start craving things like fruit and honey instead.
Slow-Cooker Chicken Bone-Broth Soup – This is going to be the staple of your elimination diet. It’s packed with nutrients, fats, and collagens and proteins that promote healing and a healthy gut.
You can eat as much as you want of any of these items all day, every day during the diet. Although you may get cravings or feel like crap because of detox, you will never be hungry.
My Journey with the SCD
To put a synopsis of the SCD into my own words: for me it was a temporary elimination diet that cut sugars, superfluous carbs, unhealthy fats, and general processed junk foods from my diet and thus eliminated these offending agents from my GI system. Granted, anybody who does this is going to feel better, but the point of the whole thing is to stop the growth and even starve out the types of bacteria in your GI that produce bloating and spasm yielding gases that generally cause IBS symptoms. While this is happening, the gut itself is also healing and regenerating from the chronic inflammation caused by our modern Western diets.
This entire process took me three years, and to this day I consider myself IBS managed (not cured). That being said I believe it only took that long because I wasn’t eating the most optimal way. However, I have been a functioning human being holding jobs, running ecommerce side businesses, and doing the day-to-day. I could still begin having IBS symptoms again, depending on what I eat, but every day that anxiety gets further and further away.
Okay, so, my diet three years ago, I would have to say, was really good compared to your average American (not bragging, I work in a grocery store and see what people buy and eat). I did eat junk masquerading as health food, such as sugar-laden granola bars and such. But for the most part I ate relatively healthy. The problem is if you have SIBO or are overloaded with bad gut bacteria it’s not going to matter how healthy you eat because really you’re just putting fuel (food) in the fire (inflamed gut). I did the SCD intro or cleanse diet for about a week. It worked! I was regular for the first time in….YEARS! But the weeks passed and I resumed my normal diet, thinking I was eating healthy, and within a couple-three months my IBS symptoms started to return.
I wasn’t disheartened by this at all. In fact, I thought I had victory because I had found a way to be regular for months at a time! Do you know the feeling of being in pain, and you feel GREAT just because the pain stops, not because you feel especially good? That’s how I felt. And for two years I ran this pattern of performing the SCD cleanse every 3-4 months or so. I actually sort of enjoyed the food, and sometimes I would even do the cleanse preemptively.
What I’ve learned
What I have discovered in this past year though is that by resuming old eating habits after the cleanse I’m basically just reversing any progress, and I’m putting my GI system on a roller coaster. I also found myself gaining tons of weight because I was starting to eat like a pig. My range of junk food became wider, including an addiction to fast food burgers and fries for the first time in years. It’s easy to fall into these traps, especially when you’ve deprived yourself for so long. Man, it felt good to eat again though, and even eat at fast food joints with friends!
The best course of action, I’ve found, is to go ahead and run about 3-4 days of the SCD intro cleanse, and start introducing new foods gradually based on the legal/illegal lists, or even upgrade and try adding non-FODMAP foods.
For me, I started adding bananas, aged cheeses (to eggs and burgers) – aged because they have less lactose. I’m not an anti-grain person. I did start incorporating rice, pasta and bread. But I will note that I have to be VERY CAREFUL with wheat products, especially bread because I do seem to have NCGS (non-celiac gluten sensitivity). Try some frozen gluten-free breads, or a quality sourdough if you’re not sure where to start. You could also try some sprouted breads like Ezekiel.
Before I digress too far here about breads, check out the Netflix series Cooked with one of my favorite authors, Michael Pollan, and you’ll see how we’ve stopped making bread properly and why a significant percentage of population is starting to medically reject the bread products we have on the shelves.
Saying Goodbye to IBS
Goodbyes are usually sad, but not this one. So long, IBS, you are a nuisance and I wish you upon nobody. To be fair, IBS has bestowed some good things in my life. If not for IBS I’d probably be 300 lbs or more, eating your average Western diet and facing diabetes, heart disease and cancer over the next 20 years. IBS motivated me to take actions that have benefited my health, and have also cultivated one of my deepest passions in life – cooking and food. It’s funny how life puts you on a path you never intended to be on. Over the years I’ve learned that it’s futile to dream about a different path when you’re not dealing with the path you’re on now. In fact, the path you’re on is the one of your dreams, and you have the means to change the course, scenery, and destination.
I sincerely hope that those of you reading, who have IBS or other inflammatory bowel disease, look into the SCD elimination diet. Again, please do your research and talk to your doctor. Although today it seems impossible that your condition can ever improve, with a little effort and willpower you can feel 100% better and start living that normal life that you long for just by nourishing your body and letting it do what it’s naturally designed to do, healing.