My struggle with digestive issues has been life long. It’s debatable whether there was something specific that caused this or if I was just predisposed to it. I feel like it’s probably some combination of both. Repeated antibiotic use as a child, but also being born lactose intolerant. Either way, it’s been a journey, at times very complicated, to get where I am now. And my digestion is by no means perfect, but I’ve learned to manage symptoms, and though it’s something I still deal with, it’s not debilitating or incapacitating. My naturopath believes that people with digestive issues will often deal with them their entire lives. That there’s no magic cure. It’s just about finding a balance and figuring out different healing modalities that help.
This past fall I saw a naturopathic dermatologist after dealing with a 6-month-long flare of perioral dermatitis (read my post about PD here). She immediately brought up SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth). She said based on my symptoms (skin and digestive) and what she saw work with her other patients that adapting the SIBO Specific Food Guide Protocol and doing rounds of herbal antibiotics may help me. I decided that I would give her recommendations a try because I was literally desperate to clear my skin at that point.
I went back to my regular naturopath before starting the protocol to tell her what had happened and that I was going to try the diet and herbal antibiotics. She wasn’t surprised, as she had already been treating me with a variety of the herbal antibiotics over the past several months without ever bringing up the word SIBO to me (which in hindsight I appreciate). She said she wasn’t a fan of the diet, that she felt it was too restrictive and by starving bacteria in the small intestine, you also run the risk of eradicating any good bacteria as well. She also said she never officially tested me for SIBO because she believes the test is flawed. She very rarely sees someone test negative, which indicates that either everyone has SIBO or that the test is not accurate. For this reason, I never did the SIBO breath test. But nonetheless, I embarked on doing the 8-week SIBO Specific Food Guide Protocol while adding some 17 supplements to my regimen.
Honestly, most of the time I was stressed about what I could or couldn’t eat. I felt like I was failing most of the 2 months. Worrying that maybe I ate 4 pieces too many of butternut squash than I was supposed to. Taking 17 supplements at a time twice a day literally made me feel sick. Unfortunately, the protocol and all the different herbal antibiotics really did not work for me. In fact, in many ways I think they made my digestive symptoms worse. The stress and anxiety I felt caused way more dis-ease in my stomach and gave me more frequent diarrhea. And my skin did not clear up (it eventually did about 2 months after I ended the SIBO protocol through different treatment methods). I would say the only positive thing about doing the diet was that I discovered sensitivities to eggs and almonds, but I could have likely figured that out doing a more straightforward elimination diet.
After coming out of a 2-month period of very, very restrictive eating and a diet that felt like the farthest thing from intuitive that I’ve ever done in my life, I personally do not buy the SIBO hype. I think it’s a trendy diagnosis, and I believe the strict protocol/diet can create deep food fear and disordered eating. I know many people believe that the protocol and antibiotics do really solve their digestive issues. I believe this is only short term. Most people who see results end up with digestive symptoms down the line, whether that’s 6 months later or 2 years later, it depends.
Coming out on the other side of this experience, I’m back to where I started: I believe in a balanced approach to dealing with digestive issues. The following things are what I’ve found to be the most helpful on my journey. These are by no means the only things that help with digestive issues. I recognize that every body is so different, so what may work for me, may not work for you. I think the bottom line is that it takes time, patience, compassion and deep exploration to figure out what will work for you. Overall, remember it’s important to be easy with yourself. Stressing and obsessing over digestion really only makes it worse. Try to find the ease within the effort. Be gentle. Nurture yourself. Eat slowly, chew your food more than feels normal and enjoy the process of slow eating.
[Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I’m simply sharing what has helped me on my journey. Consulting with a doctor is always the best approach when diving into any of this work for the first time.]
A high-quality probiotic is key to a healthy gut. I’ve been taking Silver Fern Ultimate Probiotic for the past several months, and I love them. These shelf-stable spore form probiotics are formulated to survive through the acidic environment of your stomach, where most refrigerated probiotics are too fragile to survive. When looking to buy a probiotic, it’s very important to make sure that it has been tested for survivability (so that you’re not just throwing your money away) and one that has been DNA verified (so that you can rest assured that the capsules match the label), like Silver Fern. Regularly introducing good bacteria, like the kinds in the Ultimate Probiotic, will not only help with overall digestive health, but it will also help curb sugar cravings and promote healthy immune function. There is also strong evidence to suggest there is a connection between our guts and our brains. Supplementing with a high-quality probiotic can also help reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. After taking the Silver Fern Ultimate Probiotic everyday, I noticed curbed sugar cravings after about a week and after a month more consistency in my bowel movements. I’ve also noticed the positive effects on my immune system (little to no sickness in the winter months) with taking probiotics consistently over the past several years. Silver Fern is offering you all 15% OFF ANY ORDER with code Wuhaus
I’ve been practicing intermittent fasting pretty consistently for several years. Essentially intermittent fasting gives the digestive system a break by fasting for 12-16 hours. I typically eat my last meal of the day around 7/7:30 and then I fast until about 11:30/12 the next day. I eat a breakfast-like meal around 11:30/12 and then I eat a more typical lunch around 3/3:30. I do still drink my morning matcha potion around 8 or 9am and that includes collagen and healthy fats. Intermittent fasting is definitely not for everyone, but I’ve found that intermittent fasting has helped tremendously with bloat and digestive upset when I do eat my meals. If you’ve never tried intermittent fasting, start with a smaller fast of 10-12 hours. If your body reacts positively, you can slowly increase the length of time. It’s important to note that intermittent fasting does not mean you skip meals. It just means that the window of time when you eat your meals is smaller. If you don’t think intermittent fasting is right for you, you could try eating smaller meals/portions throughout the day instead of 3 main meals. I know this method of eating works really well for some people.
This is something I’ve been really into since this past fall. I’ve found it to be extremely helpful in mitigating bloat and indigestion after meals. I definitely don’t practice this all the time because it can be limiting/restrictive, but I try to be mindful about what foods I’m combining when I’m in my regular routine. The theory behind food combining is that each macronutrient (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) digests at a different rate and requires different digestive enzymes to be broken down. So we create improper food combinations when we eat foods that have opposite digestive requirements at the same time. Improper food combinations can result in symptoms like gas, bloating, belching and abdominal cramps. There are a few ground rules for the food combining model, but I also think it is something to explore on your own since our bodies are all so different. Personally, I find that I can eat fruit with nuts/seeds or with other foods when processed into a smoothie without any problem. Becoming aware of food combining may help you begin to take notice of certain food combinations that don’t sit well with you. If you’re interested in learning more about food combing, I like this chart.
Mayan Abdominal Massage:
We get other forms of massage all the time, but abdominal massage is often overlooked or many people don’t even know about it. We hold so much of our stress and tension in our bellies. We’re taught, especially as women, that everything below the waist should be tight and firm. This leads to so much holding and unnecessary clenching that we aren’t even aware of on a daily basis. Abdominal massage is an amazing way to release tension and give your belly some extra love. It’s really amazing how after a 60-90 minute massage, my abdomen feels way more relaxed and at ease. Maya abdominal massage techniques slowly break down fascia adhesions, scar tissue and remove any ‘kinks’ in the digestive tract. You can also practice abdominal self-massage at home. I’m planning a full blog post with how-to video on abdominal massage coming in the next month or so. Stay tuned!
Castor Oil Pack:
Since I was a little girl, I’ve always love using a hot water bottle at night time on my abdomen. It’s very soothing and has helped me with countless stomach aches over the years. One of my new favorite tummy-care practices is using a castor oil pack with my hot water bottle (or heating pad). There’s a multitude of ways to do this, but the way I learned is to lie down in your bed, apply a thin layer of castor oil onto your abdomen (I use this refillable roll on) – you can focus on specific areas/organs or just apply all over – then place an old towel or cloth you don’t mind getting oil on over the treated area with the hot water bottle or heating pad on top of that. Relax with the castor oil pack for 20-40 minutes. For maximum effectiveness, do this nightly or at least 4 nights a week. Castor oil packs improve circulation and promote lymphatic drainage, which can help the small intestine become more efficient at fat absorption and removing bad bacteria or toxins. This is also a wonderful form of self-care. A time to relax and send healing energy to your belly and digestive track.
Identifying Trigger Foods:
This can be very beneficial. It requires doing some sort of elimination diet and slowly reincorporating foods to see which ones may cause you digestive issues. It can definitely be a frustrating process and requires a level of patience. Take notice of not only foods that trigger symptoms, but quantities. For instance, I’m sensitive to almonds, but only if I eat a lot of them at one time. I can tolerate a small amount each day, but just need to be careful not to overdo it. I did do the US BioTek IgE and IgA tests through my naturopath. I don’t recommend using a food allergy/intolerance test as the only way to discover food sensitivities, as they aren’t 100% accurate, and your experience is always the best teacher. I think using a food intolerance test in combination with an elimination diet would be a smarter approach. Once identified, I recommend eliminating trigger foods for at least 6 months before trying to reintroduce.
Acupuncture + Chinese Herbs:
Acupuncture promotes healing by helping to move stagnant energy in the body. For digestion, an acupuncturist can work with points on the body that speed up metabolism, increase gastrointestinal muscle contraction and relaxation, reduce gastric acid secretion, regulate small and large intestine function and restore stomach acidity to normal levels. Acupuncture is incredibly relaxing for the nervous system. Much like abdominal massage, acupuncture helps to ease tension and stress in our abdomens. Practitioners often prescribe Chinese herbs in conjunction with regular acupuncture treatments to help address whatever imbalances in the body that may be causing your symptoms.
[This post is sponsored by Silver Fern, however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.]