An Update on My Gut Health! This post is all about what life is like after healing from a parasitic and bacterial overgrowth and leaky gut. If you have struggled with IBS symptoms, you’re in the right place!
After posting about How I Healed My Gut, I’ve had many individuals reach out to me in order to share their story and to ask further questions.
Many of you have asked how I’m doing now…if I’m able to eat higher FODMAP foods and eat more variety after healing my gut. Because my experience is incredibly common, I figured I’d give you a little update on how life is after healing.
My hope is it will encourage you on your own healing journey if that’s where you are. YES, it is very possible to heal!
For those of you who are new here, I encourage you to go back and read my previous posts on my journey. The quick rundown is, I had IBS symptoms for upwards of a decade before discovering I had a parasitic infection, h. pylori, and leaky gut. Since then I have shared my story…and here is where I am now!
Before we get started, I want to reiterate I am not a medical professional. I don’t even have a certificate from the school of google, so as always, consume everything I say through that lens. I’m just here sharing my story 🙂
Where I Am Now With My Gut Health:
Overall summary: I feel like a normal human.
Healing my gut to the point that I stopped having IBS symptoms took upwards of eight months. This is how long it took for my IBS symptoms to go away and stay away, so my guess is the complete healing probably took closer to a year.
It felt like a slow start, but once I started feeling consistently better, my health seemed to get better and better every day, week, month, by orders of magnitude.
That is the beauty of the human body. We are designed to heal.
It has now been about a year and a half since I stopped having any IBS symptoms.
Before, I ate a very limited diet – animal protein, low-FODMAP vegetables (basically only carrots, zucchini, and a small amount of broccoli) and white rice.
Now, I eat whatever I want (with the caveat that some foods do still come with repercussions…but that is everyone).
I used to steer clear of high-FODMAP foods (onion, garlic, celery, cabbage, beans, high fructose fruit, etc, etc), and now I can eat almost anything without having any symptoms.
Granted, I typically am mindful about the amount of high-FODMAP foods I eat because they will mess with anyone when consumed in too large a quantity.
In this sense, not all of my meals include high FODMAP foods, but I do eat them regularly without having any trouble.
I used to have a difficult time processing raw vegetables and now I can eat ginormous salads without any problems. That said, I do tend to stick to cooked foods because raw vegetables do carry live critters. I feel it’s better to throw my immune system a bone by not introducing critters for it to kill.
There are still some foods I don’t eat at all and some I eat very rarely.
The Foods I Don’t Eat:
I do continue to stay away from gluten, alcohol, coffee, refined sugar, and dairy (mostly fresh dairy products like milk, cream and unaged cheeses. I’m completely fine with aged cheese but rarely eat it anyway).
I have both Raynaud’s and hypothyroidism, which makes me particularly sensitive to inflammatory foods, and I have a tendency toward leaky gut.
Wheat (and gluten), alcohol and sugar are highly inflammatory foods and are known for poking holes in your intestines and causing leaky gut (learn more about leaky gut in this podcast with Rhonda Patrick)
Because of this, it makes sense to me to keep gluten, alcohol and sugar out of my diet. I also don’t have an issue not eating them.
I’ve never been emotionally attached to foods containing gluten, as they have always made me feel ill (since childhood). I’m not celiac, but I have never processed gluten-containing foods efficiently – they make me extremely constipated, gassy and used to make me nauseous.
The way I see it, there are many, many other sources of carbohydrate, some of which are incredibly nutritious (such as sweet potatoes, blueberries, etc), so I choose to get my carbs from foods that have a higher nutrient value that I process well.
What about sugar? In addition to sugar causing systemic inflammation, leaky gut, hormonal imbalances, and insulin sensitivity, high blood sugar and diabetes runs in my family so I need to be careful with it myself.
I’ve also noticed huge mood swings when I do eat sugar (of any type, including honey and pure maple syrup), so I try to limit my intake as much as possible. I do have a difficult time staying off of sugar, though!
Alcohol is a tricky one for me, because I absolutely love it, but I find it to be hugely detrimental to my health. I have a natural tendency toward addiction, so for me alcohol in moderation has never been a thing. The last time I drank alcohol was July 4, 2018…you can probably guess why. Again, alcohol is one of the primary causes for leaky gut, which was my primary health issue for years, so I’m fine with not drinking it.
And coffee. I mentioned in my last post that I took the ELISA ACT food sensitivity test which revealed an extreme sensitivity to dairy and coffee. At that time, I was drinking 40 ounces of coffee daily, so breaking the habit was particularly emotional for me. Once I did kick my coffee habit, my health leveled up substantially. I still drink my Earl Grey Matcha Latte every morning.
I have not re-tested my food sensitivities (is recommended to eliminate the foods you’re sensitive to for 6 months, then re-test), and I do intend to at some point. I would absolutely love to add coffee back to my life.
All of this said, I do not think it is appropriate to demonize any food. All foods have their place for all people. Each individual has a unique microbiome (and virome!!) of bacteria and yeast, fit for a specific way of eating. It would be inappropriate to say any one individual should or should not eat a certain food.
Unless there is an underlying health condition or a specific weight loss goal, I wouldn’t recommend limiting what you eat, as it can absolutely cause a long-term pattern of dysfunctional behavior around food.
Even with those two exceptions, it is imperative to have a clear understanding of the goal and a clear path on how to get there because both wellness and fat loss can easily become an obsession.
My personal food philosophy is to eat real food. I don’t eat processed food the majority of the time, but I definitely give into temptation from time to time…I believe enjoying life is a part of the human experience, and if that means eating sushi or homemade brownies, I am in! I’ve said this before, but I truly don’t care what other people eat; however, I do care about what I put in my body.
Why I Don’t Post Low-FODMAP Recipes Anymore:
I have a fairly extensive catalog of Low-FODMAP recipes on my site. When my gut health was at its worst, I exclusively developed low-FODMAP recipes, because it was all I could eat without having IBS symptoms. I do eat the food I post, so I couldn’t justify making recipes I wasn’t eating.
In this sense, because I now eat a great variety of foods, I post recipes that more often than not contain high-FODMAP foods (particularly onion and garlic). I often put in the Recipe Adaptations section of my post how to make a recipe low-FODMAP for those of you who are still struggling.
You generally cannot get rid of a bad infection using diet as your only tool.
A Low-FODMAP diet provides incredible relief when you’re in the thick of a flair, but it shouldn’t be used as the only line of defence when it comes to healing.
If you’ve done low-FODMAP and your gut issues haven’t improved, it is time to collect more tools.
For the sake of efficiency, I would strongly suggest working with a functional medicine practitioner who uses tests (like the GI Map and cycle mapping) to uncover the underlying issue. It can be expensive and the majority of them don’t take insurance, but depending on how severe your symptoms are, it is worth having a carefully crafted plan from an experienced individual and actually see results.
I worked with and continue to work with Dena Norton (over the phone!) in order to uncover what was off and come up with a plan to heal.
For years, I tried maintaining my IBS symptoms through dietary restriction and not only did it not get rid of my problems (blastocystis hominis, h. Pylori, and leaky gut), but it caused me to have a very odd relationship with food. I was afraid of food and also was fairly neurotic about what I would eat.
Low-FODMAP helped me tremendously during my time of need to provide temporary relief, but it never resolved the issue. So while I’m not a professional, I would recommend to anyone with gut troubles to first try Low-FODMAP for one month. If the symptoms aren’t gone after that timeframe, see someone to help. Life is too short to continue troubleshooting your health on your own.
Have I Had IBS Flairs Since Healing My Leaky Gut?
Yes. BUT, they aren’t nearly as bad.
It is important to remember that health is not a straight upward trajectory on the linear path to Mecca. There are always dips and setbacks.
I get small flairs when I overdo it on a specific food I know doesn’t sit well with me. Sugar, almond flour, and/or sugar alcohols seem to be my biggest culprits.
These things in moderation are just fine, but every body has a tolerance level for certain foods and if you surpass that tolerance, you won’t feel well.
So for instance (on two separate occasions), I ate half the Dairy-Free Coffee Cake I posted recently, and half of the batch of those Grain-Free Lemon Poppy Seed Blondies, which was simply too much in one sitting. The aftermath in both situations was a lot of gas, bloating, high blood sugar, and crazy mood swings.
I think this would happen to just about anyone who did the same. So what I experience now is what I would consider to be normal. I do have flairs, they are very rare, and I can usually pinpoint the cause immediately.
This is a sharp contrast to what I used to experience, which was constant flairs that would happen seemingly at random with no known cause, and very uncomfortable (and stinky) symptoms.
What GI blips have experienced since healing my gut have been minute compared to what they used to be.
Where I Am Now With My Hormone Health:
Overall summary: I’m having regular periods. Sub-summary: my hormones are raging.
I mentioned in my last post on gut health that I had hormonal issues alongside my IBS (it is common for the two to exist in tandem).
Through consistently undereating and losing too much body fat (mostly due to trying to micromanage my IBS symptoms but also partially due to vanity), I didn’t have a period for two years.
This condition is known as amenorrhea. Amenorrhea is defined by the medical world as missing more than one cycle sequentially.
The female body halts its ovulation cycle when something is occurring to direct a massive amount of energy away from it.
Amenorrhea can occur for many reasons. The most common include:
- A woman is not fueling properly – not eating enough calories to compensate for calories burned in a day for a long period of time and thus loses too much body fat. This can also occur if a woman isn’t eating enough carbohydrate OR enough fat, but is eating enough calories. Hormones are made from dietary cholesterol, so when a woman is not eating enough calories or enough fat, hormones are not produced in the amount needed to fuel regular functions. This can lead to digestive issues and again, amenorrhea. It can also lead to imbalanced hormones and low libido in general without getting to the point of amenorrhea (hormone imbalances due to lack of dietary fat occur in men too!), so if your hormones are off, check in to see if you’re eating enough fat.
- A woman is exercising too heavily – the body goes into fight or flight mode and detects there is an external threat (what’s common is the combination of exercising too much and eating too little). Your body does not distinguish between physical and psychological stress, so if you’re constantly stressing your body beyond what it believes is reasonable, it won’t allow you to reproduce.
- There is an underlying medical issue that is stopping ovulation. – This can include something hormone-related such as PCOS, hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, or a non hormone issue such as some sort of infection (bacterial, parasitic, or viral. This could be anything from a really gnarly cold to any sort of bacterial or parasitic overgrowth in the gut).
Put simply: the body decides having a baby is the last thing necessary and so it makes it impossible to have a baby by halting ovulation.
The human body is wicked smart. I’ve learned to stop trying to out-smart it 😉
If the body does not have enough fuel to lead a normal existence, anything that isn’t crucial (ovulating, proper digestion, mental wellness) is halted so that the fuel is directed to the mandatory functions (just staying alive).
My fix for getting my period back was to gain a few pounds of body fat. No, I was not happy about that and I’m still not thrilled, but in my mind it is more important to be a generally healthy individual than to be skinny.
How the Gut Microbiome Works (From A Non-Expert):
Symptoms are a warning signal, and they are often caused because of an outside stressor.
One of my personality traits that set me back while I was having IBS for years was the dire need to micromanage my health.
For this reason, I think it is important to break down some facts about how the gut microbiome works to potentially ease your fears (if you have them).
The gut microbiome is a complex system of organisms constantly working with you and against you on your life’s journey. Sometimes your own unique balance becomes imbalanced, which can cause symptoms.
Gut issues range in severity and they are so incredibly common. This planet is densely populated with innumerable bacteria, yeast, parasites, mold (nature’s cleanup crew!), and viruses, with one sole purpose: survival. Some beneficial to our health, and some detrimental.
This isn’t to normalize bad gut health.
My opinion is it is important to resolve health issues so that I can live a long comfortable life. However, with the rise in information regarding the gut microbiome over the last decade, there has also been a rise in fear and sometimes over-reactivity.
This is what we do as humans. If there’s a potential problem, we have it.
If there’s an easy solution, we find the path of most resistance.
It’s a Fine Balance:
Truly, your body wants to be in a constant state of homeostasis but our modern culture is set up to constantly keep us off balance. Think: social media, widespread panic, internal and perceived external pressure to be a perfect supreme being, stressful work environment, family life, etc.
You know how life works…a little of something can be great…too much of that thing can be toxic.
There are numerous triggers to causing lack of balance in your gut microbiome and virome, but here are what seem to be the most common (again, coming from a non-expert)
1.) A pathogenic bacteria, parasite, mold, or virus is introduced to the system and your immune system (likely for one of the reasons below) isn’t able to fight it, so it populates your system and causes symptoms.
2.) Stress – one of the most common reasons we get sick is many of us are chronically stressed. Our immune system is constantly battling to bring our bodies back to homeostasis. When we’re in this constant state of fight or flight due to work, challenging relationships, over-exercise, a processed diet and/or under-eating, our immune system doesn’t have a chance to catch up, so we create a breeding ground for pathogenic bacteria.
3.) Lack of Sleep – This could be lumped in with Stress, since missing sleep is incredibly stressful for our bodies, but good sleep is so crucial that it is worth calling out.
4.) Hormonal Imbalance – When hormones are off, many other systems in our bodies are off as well, including digestion. With improper digestion, our bodies are unable to eliminate excess pathogens, which can cause overgrowth.
5.) Inefficient Detox – I’m not an expert on how the body detoxes, so I will just describe it the way I look at it. Imagine a pool of stagnant water, versus a river. The pool of stagnant water is at risk to grow a concentration of few organisms, whereas a river is a buzzing metropolis of both good and bad organisms, and is functioning in a constant state of flow. We want to be rivers. Inefficient detox can occur for so many reasons. If you’re interested in the topic, I suggest reading about it from a trusted source!
6.) Food Sensitivity – There is great debate as to whether or not this is an actual thing, but look – some humans digest beans well and some don’t. Every human body does not tolerate every single edible food on the planet with flying colors, and this is due to the type of bacteria present in your microbiome. Some people do well with meat and some people do not. The human body is very adaptable so it is entirely possible to wean yourself onto a food you normally don’t tolerate well, BUT doing so is a tax on your immune system, which means introducing foods you’re sensitive to should be done with caution, planning, and time.
7.) Inflammation – Whether from an underlying health condition (hypothyroidism, IBD, rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune disease) or from lifestyle choices, inflammation is a major contributor to a disrupted gut. Monitoring your inflammation dramatically effects the health of your gut and hormones. This means keeping your stress level low, getting lots of rest, exercising (but not overdoing it), and eating low-inflammatory foods.
These are just some examples.
All of that said, you can see how it is almost a guarantee we all have weird GI stuff crop up from time to time. That is normal. Chronic symptoms that arise seemingly out of the blue is still normal, but should be addressed.
How to Improve Your Gut Health:
The great news is, flip some or all of the aforementioned triggers to poor gut health upside down, and you can achieve great gut health!
For instance, get great rest, eat a reasonable diet, exercise but not like you’re escaping from zombies all day every day, work on balancing your hormones, try to avoid introducing an abundance of new harmful organisms to your system through unsanitary cooking or living practices, etc.
Meditation, finding your own spiritual grounding, and/or improving your relationship with self are powerfully healing to your physical form!
It is easy to over-do it on restricting your diet, exercising too much, allowing those demons in your head to stop you in your tracks, and unintentionally set yourself back.
If you have a laid back personality, this is probably not an issue you face. If you’re a perfectionist by nature (like me), try to keep the facts close to you. Your body is not tarnished, you are not alone, and your body is doing what it’s supposed to do.
So if you’re like me, you can take yourself off high alert. Gravity won’t reverse itself, I promise.
Finding my own balance in life is a constant challenge. I love to work, I love to exercise, and I love to eat. When one or more of those things gets whacky because I’m pushing too hard, I must find my way back to homeostasis. When left unchecked for too long, I do notice my hormones are off, my mood and/or energy level goes down, and it takes a near breakdown to find my way back.
You Can Heal:
I have to pause and reflect. When I would read blog posts like this from women who had gone through the ringer with their gut health, healed, and lived to tell the tale, I always thought, “That couldn’t possibly be me. I couldn’t possibly heal. I can’t imagine being able to regain a normal life.”
But here I am living a completely normal life. The way I feel today is an incredible contrast to how I felt both physically and mentally before I healed.
So if this is you…if you think you can’t heal….You can. And you absolutely will if you choose to!
You are designed to heal.
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions!