When I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, I thought that eating a gluten-free diet would fix my stomach issues once and for all. At least all the doctor's tole me that’s what would happen.
But even after being deemed “healthy” (aka. gut healed from Celiac) I still didn’t feel better. In fact, I was still struggling daily with insane bloating, gas pains, and stomach noises that seemed louder than a car alarm at 3AM. Not romantic, I know.
It was deemed IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), and in my quest to feel better I sought out nutritional counselling which left me feeling even more helpless. Now that I’m a nutritionist (and totally IBS symptom free) I’m sharing the 5 things I wish my own nutritionist had told me.
1. Healthy Foods Can Still Hurt Your Stomach
My nutritionist suggested an elimination diet that had me starting my day with applesauce and flax seeds, snacking on carrots with raw almond butter, salads with avocado for lunch, and delicious veggie lentils stews for dinner. I followed it religiously and still felt gassy and bloated all the time.
Despite my diet looking like something Gwenyth Paltrow would promote, I didn’t feel healthy at all. It was really confusing back then, but now I know that most of the foods I was eating were actually causing my problems. In fact… apples, almond butter, avocados, many veggies, and lentils are all foods I recommend people with IBS avoid due to their FODMAP content. It took me a long time before I could eat small amounts of these foods and still feel normal.
2. Social Anxiety Can Make Things Worse
Lots of people with IBS also have anxiety and because of this, doctors and nutritionists sometimes chock up our issues to being ‘stressed out.’ I really disagree and think in many cases, the anxiety is caused by not knowing when you’re going to balloon up two pant sizes, or need access to a washroom STAT. That's pretty freaking stressful!
Anxiety can really impact your digestion, though, as it puts you in fight-or-flight mode. When you're in this state mentally, your body produces fewer digestive enzymes and impairs overall digestion. If you find that your stomach only seems to hurt at family dinners or big events, it could be that your nervous system is halting proper digestion.
These days I only eat light, easily digested meals when I'm at big dinners or events because I'm a naturally nervous person and even my super healthy gut can't protect me from that.
3. Food Sensitivities Are Highly Individual
Some groups will tell you that all animal products cause digestive issues. Some will claim it’s the grains and legumes. Others still, claim lectins are the culprit.
The truth is that food sensitivities vary so much from person to person. This is why I start out with a FODMAP-free diet when working with IBS clients. By eliminating the most common IBS triggers, we can see if there is a real need to avoid meat/eggs/nightshades and everything else under the sun (spoiler: usually there is no need).
One easy way to tell if you should try a FODMAP diet, is to ask yourself this simple question: does my bloating get progressively worse throughout the day or is it intermittent? Bloating that builds up all day long is a sign of fermentation (FODMAPs) while intermittent digestive drama is often a sign of other food intolerances.
4. Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes Usually Don’t Help
This might be an unpopular opinion, but after spending a lot of money on bottles of digestive enzymes, I never found one that made a difference in my actual IBS symptoms. Certain formulations of probiotic actually made things worse.
Working with clients, I have seen time after time that these expensive supplements don’t make a big difference with IBS symptoms. While I do see the value, and at times recommend them for certain people, the formulation matters a lot and they aren’t going to fix the underlying issue.
Because probiotics do have amazing benefits, I stick to FOS-free formulations to prevent more IBS issues from cropping up.
5. There IS an Underlying Issue
IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion. It’s a label used when nothing else seems to be truly wrong. Up-to-date nutritionists, dieticians, and GI specialists know to recommend a low FODMAP diet and reintroduction to manage symptoms but they often expect you to avoid your trigger foods for life.
The truth is that 80% of the time, IBS is caused by an overgrowth of either fungus of bacteria. With the right diet and supplements, this can actually be healed over time meaning that one day you should be able to enjoy healthy foods like apples, lentils, and avocados (I mean, what is life without avocados?) with minimal to no problems.
Did I miss anything? What do you wish you had been told about IBS from the get-go? Let me know in the comments!