Have you recently been diagnosed with SIBO or know someone who has? I have compiled a list of my top 8 pieces of advice that I wish someone had told me when I was first diagnosed. Please enjoy and share with others who are just beginning their road to recovery.
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I am a planner. I can’t help it. As I was healing from SIBO, I kept wanting to know when I would be “fully recovered” so that I could get on with my life and stop feeling handicapped. I wanted to know how much longer I had to continue spending ridiculous amounts of money on healthcare expenses. But no doctor seemed to be able to tell me that. The truth is that only time will tell how long it will take to get you back to feeling healthy again (or maybe for the first time). If you are a planner like me, it may be helpful to think of your healing journey as a marathon, not a sprint. Try to enjoy life (for me it’s about time with family and friends, yoga classes, walks, and date nights) and appreciate the positive aspects of SIBO (perhaps as a wake up call or a lesson in patience).
- Get ready for change (and withdrawals). Sometimes I wish my diagnosis had been different because making changes is difficult. Especially when it involves food. One of my daily routines before beginning to treat SIBO was rewarding myself with a sweet treat every afternoon. There was a little coffee shop a block from my apartment that carried my favorite brand of gluten-free, vegan treats. I thought that it couldn’t be too bad for me- heck, it was free of gluten, dairy, and eggs (some of my main triggers). But what I didn’t realize was that I was eating a lot of sugar with each of those treats. When I gave up sugar (in all forms- refined, unrefined, & fruit) cold turkey, I was a MESS for about three weeks. I mean a REAL MESS- I was a miserable person to be around. It is important to stay committed, because it gets easier the longer you stay away from it. And when I began to allow myself to have a treat here and there again, it was easier for me to recognize when I was starting to spiral into my “too many treats” mode again. Another tip for staying committed is to prepare- remove all sweets from the house and ask family members and friends to help support you by avoiding bringing temptations around you.
- Only restrict your diet as much as absolutely necessary. Dietary restrictions pose the risk of creating nutrient deficiencies, especially if they are extreme or long-term. I would consider many of the diets recommended for SIBO to be highly restrictive and pose a risk for creating these issues. Additionally, they can be highly problematic for individuals with a history of eating disorders or disordered eating. My recommendation- consult with a SIBO-knowledgeable physician, nutritionist, or health coach before implementing any dietary restrictions. And if your diet ever gets to the point where you stop enjoying food or you feel like you need to quit your job to be able to cook for yourself, you may want to rethink whether you REALLY need to be that restrictive. Don’t get me wrong- dietary changes can be very helpful and often necessary with SIBO, but you also need to be able to live your life.
- It will cost lots of money. Healthy food is expensive. My food budget nearly doubled when I began eating for SIBO and I had already been eating pretty healthfully before. But I was unable to enjoy as many meals provided by other people (such as at events). Plus, I couldn’t buy cost savers such as beans and rice or subsidized foods such as milk and corn. And when you have to choose buying low FODMAP vegetables over buying those that are inexpensive and/or in season, the costs add up. And then there are the health care costs…my health expenditures have amounted to over $9,000 since I began treating SIBO in early 2014 (and that’s with REALLY good insurance that covers alternative health care such as naturopathic and chiropractic visits). I recommend considering expensive testing very carefully- ask your doctor what information it will provide and in what ways (if any) the testing will change the treatment plan. Then, speak with others and see about their success (or lack thereof) with such testing.
- Find your root cause. When I was first diagnosed with SIBO, some of the articles I read made curing it seem easy. Simply take some antibiotics, then a prokinetic, then follow a diet. However, when this didn’t work for me, I thought I was a hard case and became frustrated. But I am seeing over and over again that other people are in a similar scenario. I think that there is a disconnect between how the treatment process is portrayed and reality. I also think that there just isn’t enough knowledge out there right now for how to deal with SIBO in the long-term. However, finding your root cause is a surefire way to truly heal. You may be thinking “well, where do I start?” Start with something, try it, see if it works, and look for patterns. You will slowly start peeling back the layers and getting closer to your root cause. I think it is really helpful to continually ask “why?”. When I realized that I didn’t tolerate kale, I asked why. I then realized that it was because high sulfur foods or supplements caused issues for me. I started searching for why that could possibly be the case since these foods are supposed to be so healthy. I came up with two possible answers: 1) genes and 2) heavy metal toxicity and started treating the one that seemed most plausible/fixable. Only time will tell if I have gotten to the ultimate root cause.
- Don’t believe everything you read. Including this blog post! Find what resonates with you and your body, not just what someone on the internet (or even an expert) says. There are plenty of sources out there that say fiber and water will cure your IBS. For some people, this is true. But for the majority of those with SIBO-induced IBS, fiber will make you feel worse. Just because it is written, does not mean it is true. I am also a bit skeptical of current breath test interpretation for some individuals. Many of the labs interpret a positive lactulose breath test as a certain elevation above baseline within the first 120 minutes, but some physicians disagree with that time frame and believe that the lactulose solution reaches the large intestine sooner. If the later is correct, then there are false positives going around out there. Ask your doctor how they interpret the breath test. If they take your symptoms into consideration in the interpretation, that is probably a good sign (For example, if you have a faster transit, perhaps the solution reaches your large intestine at say 90 minutes. Or if you have slower transit, perhaps it has not even reached your large intestine at 120 minutes).
- (If possible) work with someone who has experienced SIBO firsthand. I found that it can be really difficult for practitioners who have not experienced SIBO firsthand to relate to patients or clients going through the struggle. It is a condition that goes against so many of the things that medical doctors, naturopathic doctors, and even nutritionists learn in school. I could imagine how someone with SIBO would seem like a crazy person to a doctor who has not actually been in the scenario and experienced how frustrating and difficult it can be. They may think- how on earth could a person react to fruits and vegetables!! These foods are supposed to be healthy! But if you cannot find a practitioner who has experienced SIBO firsthand, do not worry. There are individuals out there who are very compassionate and intelligent and may be able to help guide you along. You may just have to do some of the grunt work yourself.
- There is hope! After reading all of these tips, I realize that they may sound sort of depressing. But there are so many things to look forward to. If you got this far in my blog post, please give yourself a BIG HUG because it signifies that you are committed to taking control over your own health. When you tune into your body and make positive changes in your life, you are bound to experience the benefits. With a little bit of patience and perseverance, you will be able to enjoy a healthy and fulfilling life! I wish you the best of luck and I have an open door- comment box 😉 – for any questions or concerns.