The purpose of sharing everything I’m sharing today is not to tell you what to do or present you with the perfect formula for feeling better (I still haven’t figured that out yet!). Rather I hope this post will provide you with options and inspiration for foods, supplements, healing modalities and lifestyle choices that may help your symptoms improve.
In this blog post I’m going to share the things I have tried in the past to heal my gut and relieve my IBS (+ SIBO) symptoms.
In case you missed it, check out the first post in my gut history series here:
With everything that I share here on my blog and on social media, I encourage you to follow your curiosity and intuition. Do you feel something light up in your belly reading about acupuncture and essential oils? Or perhaps hearing about the low FODMAP diet piques your interest? Try that!
While there are some proven strategies (low FODMAP being one of them, more on that below), for the most part what works well for one person is slightly (or more than slightly) different from what works for another. This is called bio-individuality and because of this, experimentation is the best way to find what I call your “feel good formula” - the combination of food and other strategies that allow you to feel your best.
FOOD + DIETARY STRATEGIES
As I started writing out this list I realized just how many food approaches I’ve taken over the years (it’s a LOT!). Many of these approaches did provide me with relief for a period of time.
Vegan/ Vegetarian - My first attempt to manage my IBS symptoms through my diet was by reducing, and then eliminating meat and animal products. This was almost 10 years ago - at the time pretty much all health bloggers were vegetarian or vegan and so it felt like the right path to follow. While it surely helped some to become more conscious of my food choices, over time this became a diet I was following because I thought I “should” instead of what my body was telling me.
High Carb - Low Fat - When vegetarianism and veganism started to fail me (my belly issues weren’t fully resolved… which I now know was more about job and life stress… and I gain a bit of weight), I fell into an internet hole all around the high carb low fat vegan diet. Individuals who follow this diet eat mostly raw fruit and vegetables, with very little else. It seemed super attractive to me at the time: I could drink smoothies made with bananas and coconut water, eat 5 mangoes for lunch and enjoy a big ass salad for dinner. I think the most enticing thing was the feeling that I didn’t have to limit myself. In college I fell into a cycle of calorie counting and even though I moved away from that, the restriction mentality was still on my mind (eat less = feel better). For a little while I felt great on this diet (I’ve since learned that my body does well with simple meals and fewer foods combined together). The problem was that it didn’t mesh well with my corporate, city life, especially during colder months or when I wanted to be social. So I pretty quickly gave it up and went back to my more traditional vegan diet filled with grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
Paleo / Whole30 - Fast forward to 2.5 years ago… I was getting ALL the signs from my body that I needed to eat meat again. I had added back in fish and eggs a little while after the HCLF experiment and while it was helping with my gut and energy levels, I found my body asking for more. I decided to do a Whole30 in January of 2017 as a way to reset after the holidays. It was an awesome experience and I definitely recommend the program for anyone looking for a super sane, whole foods based reset. Since then, my diet mostly models a paleo diet, with the occasional gluten free goodie or grain here or there.
Ketogenic - When keto first starting getting popular I of course had to try it out, for experimentation sake ;) Keto is HIGH fat and usually heavy on animal proteins (so pretty much the opposite of my HCLF experiments). This is one diet that really did NOT work for me. I had a ton of indigestion - fat can be tough to digest, especially if you have a weaker constitution - and felt more anxious than usual. The one thing I learned from this approach is that it helped me stop snacking and allowing myself more time between meals (another thing I’ve learned my belly likes - space to digest!).
Low FODMAP - A few times over the years I have tried to follow a low FODMAP approach. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols. These are the scientific terms used to classify groups of carbohydrates that are notorious for triggering digestive symptoms like bloating, gas and stomach pain. This diet is the ONLY diet scientifically proven to reduce IBS systems. When I’ve done it, it’s definitely helped reduce my symptoms, but, like so many of the approaches I’ve tried, it didn’t help SO much that I’ve been motivated to stick with it long term. I do know many many people who this approach has provided much relief to, so absolutely worth trying out.
Celery Juice / Medical Medium - A relatively newer trend, drinking celery juice on an empty stomach and eating a diet rich in plant based superfoods is an approach made popular by Anthony Williams, aka the Medical Medium. I tried drinking celery juice first thing in the AM for a few weeks and my symptoms (specifically bloating) did improve. Honestly I fell out of this because it was such a commitment. Celery juice is something I’d like to add back in after I’m through the first phase of the gut healing diet I’m on currently.
Elimination diet - Elimination diets are very popular in the digestive health world as they allow you to experiment on yourself and determine if common allergens and irritants are causing your issues. I’ve done many rounds myself - my first I eliminated gluten, dairy and sugar, and more recently I’ve played with eliminating other common trouble foods like eggs, nightshades, nuts and grains. I highly, highly recommend an elimination diet for anyone struggling with belly woes -it’s such an empowering way to figure out if there are certain foods triggering your symptoms. I’ve supported MANY clients through this process - I definitely suggest working with someone to help keep you on track and to have space to reflect on your experience. Contact me if you’d like to chat about how I can support you during this process.
As I mentioned in this post, for the most part I’ve approached my symptoms from a more holistic way - preferring diet, lifestyle and supplement tweaks over traditional medication. Here are some of the supplements I’ve taken over the years to relieve my IBS symptoms.
These supplements have all proved beneficial for me over the years - I don’t take all of them all the time but rather bring specific remedies in during periods where I feel like my body needs a bit more help.
Insoluble fiber - In college I used laxatives which NEVER felt good (guys, laxatives are NOT meant to be taken regularly), but soon after I switched to using a more natural insoluble fiber supplement. Insolube fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular poops.
Probiotics - I cannot tell you how many people have messaged me (when I post about digestive woes) “Well have you tried a probiotic??” Yes. I’ve been taking probiotics for YEARS. And while this supplement has certainly helped, it’s not the magic pill for me (spoiler alert: there usually isn’t JUST ONE THING). A quality probiotic helps support the balance of good bacteria in your gut and can be beneficial even if you don’t struggle with gut issues. Note: If you have SIBO or think you have SIBO, taking a probiotic is not going to be helpful since you have a bacterial overgrowth. More on SIBO specifics supplements in the next post of this series!
Magnesium - Bloating, cramping and diarrhea can all be caused by inappropriate spasms of the muscles in the gut. Magnesium helps to relax these muscles which can significantly improve these symptoms.
Digestive enzymes - In addition to being a physical process, digestion is also a chemical process. During digestion, the body breaks down food, extracting the energy and nutrients it needs. An important part of this process are enzymes that start the breakdown process. Taking a digestive enzyme before meals (especially heavy or larger meals) can give the body the boost it needs to properly break down food.
DGL - Another pre-meal favorite supplement of mine is DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice). Licorice is soothing to the digestive tract and can be especially helpful with relieving acid reflux and indigestion.
Aloe Vera juice - Like DGL, aloe vera is calming and soothing for your digestive tract - you can think of it calming any internal “sunburn” (ie inflammation) in your gut. You can add a splash to your water or smoothies, or mix with juice and take it like a shot.
Herbal remedies - In the past I’ve worked with acupuncturists who have provided herbal remedies to help relieve symptoms. Many of these remedies are focused on the other organs and glands (specifically adrenals and hormone balance) and not the gut itself, but as you may know everything in the body is connected.
The root of most digestive issues (especially IBS) is stress and inflammation. The healing modalities listed below all work to reduce stress, calm inflammation and ultimately allow the body to function more optimally.
Some of these modalities focus more on the physical body, some are more for the mind. More and more research is showing how intricate the mind body connection truly is - you can’t simply heal the gut by taking a series of supplements. There must be an energetic or emotional component to healing as well.
Yoga, meditation + breathwork - I first found my way to yoga to balance out years of distance running, and I was quickly hooked on more than just the physical benefits. Over the years I’ve done all sorts of practices, right now a combination of vinyasa and Katonah yoga feel really good in my body, ideally in the morning before caffeine or food. The movement from any sort of exercise, but especially yoga, is super helpful to promote gut motility.
Acupuncture - I started going to acupuncture right after my initial anxious stomach diagnosis. My body responds well to this healing modality and so it’s something I keep in my regular routine. Many folks with digestive issues find that the relaxation and release from acupuncture is immensely supportive in managing symptoms.
Bodywork - Similar to yoga and acupuncture, bodywork (massage, myofascial release, manual therapy, etc) helps promote movement in the body. Bodywork specifically tends to work with the tissues and fascia.
Energy work (mainly UHP) - And now we move into the more energetic and emotional healing techniques. The main form of energy work that I work with is Universal Health Principles (which you can read more about here and here). I am a UHP practitioner so I do sessions on myself but also try to receive regular sessions from other certified practitioners.
Therapy - I’ve been in therapy for the last 2.5 years and it’s definitely been a HUGE part of my healing process. I’ve learned so much about myself, and have had so many insights around how my physical and emotional health are connected. Plus, it’s been an essential way for me to start to acknowledge and release what’s been weighing on me.
Stress management - My flare ups almost ALWAYS happen after an intense or stressful period, and so learning how to appropriately manage and release stress has been so key for me (and for almost ALL of my clients, friends and family who suffer from similar digestive issues). All of the above help me manage my stress, but other things I do include nightly journaling, time in nature, quality time with friends, essential oils, exercise of all forms, deep meditations and time offline.
Mindful eating - HOW you eat is just as important as WHAT you eat. If you are stressed or distracted, your body isn’t going to be able to properly digest and process your food. Slow down, be present with your meal and chew your food - it sounds simple but it truly is a challenge in today’s hyper connected world.
In the next post (which may be the final post in this series for now!) I’ll share more specifically where I’m at RIGHT NOW. As many of you know I’ve been working with a doctor and nutritionist doing a very strict SIBO protocol, which I’ll share more about in that post. Feel free to message me with your specific questions or leave them as comments below.
If you yourself have struggled with digestive issues (IBS, SIBO or otherwise), I’d love to hear from you - what has been the most helpful healing approach for your body?
Leave a comment below and share with us all!