Updated: Jul 6, 2020
Talk about Hashimoto's in public, and you'll get sympathetic coos from both fellow sufferers and those that are unaffected.
Discuss your Lupus symptoms in public and people will marvel at your impressive level of resolve to care for your family and your life while you're exhausted and achy and swollen.
But bring up your gut problems- your bloating and explosive bathroom visits and week-long constipation bouts- and the room clears as quickly as your house after that one time you ate half a plate of nachos and barely lived to regret it.
Tummy issues are the worst. As a fellow sufferer and holistic practitioner, I both empathize and sympathize with you.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a catch-all term for we don't know what the F is wrong with your gut but we know it sucks so let's give it a name.
And this mystery illness affects up to 45 million people in the United States alone. As of 2018, there were 327.2 million people in the US. This means approximately 1/7 of the US has tummy issues that are horrendous enough to report and receive a diagnosis.
And two out of three sufferers are women.
Odds are, if you are a woman reading this, you have this issue yourself or someone super close to you suffers from something horrible on the tummy spectrum.
We have the autism spectrum. Can we make a tummy spectrum?
Let's define our terms. This guide will help you if you suffer from:
IBS: a disorder characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort, and altered bowel habit (chronic or recurrent diarrhea, constipation, or both – either mixed or in alternation).
Celiac disease: a serious autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide. Two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications.
Crohn's Disease: an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes inflammation of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. Inflammation caused by Crohn's disease can involve different areas of the digestive tract in different people. The inflammation caused by Crohn's disease often spreads deep into the layers of affected bowel tissue Disease. Crohn’s disease may affect as many as 780,000 Americans.
Ulcerative Colitis: a chronic disease of the large intestine, in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores, or ulcers. This condition is the result of your immune system’s overactive response. There are more than 200,000 US cases per year.
Diverticular disease: consists of two conditions: diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Diverticulosis is the formation of several tiny pockets, or diverticula, in the lining of the bowel. Diverticula, which can range from pea-size to much larger, are formed by increased pressure from gas, waste, or liquid on weakened spots of the intestinal walls. Diverticula can form while straining during a bowel movement, as during constipation. They are most common in the lower portion of the large intestine (the sigmoid colon). Diverticulosis is very common in Western populations and occurs in 10 percent of people over age 40 and in 50 percent of people over age 60. The rate of diverticulosis increases with age, and it affects almost everyone over age 80.
What is the common denominator in all of these diseases?
Inflammation. Inflammation is your body's response to something that ought not be there.
White blood cells are dispatched to deal with the foreign invader that your body's innate immune systems is primed to deal with.
Inflammation is your defense against illness, infection, or injury.
Let that sink in for a second.
What could possibly be causing illness, infection, or injury in your gut?
Does your tummy have a runny nose? Did you get socked in the gut in your last street fight? Did your small intestine come down with a nasty case of the flu?
No. Hopefully not. And nope.
So, it logically follows that there is something in your gut that ought not be there.
You probably have not swallowed any pennies or laundry soap or salmonella in the last few days.
But you have, numerous times, eaten food, right?
Therefore, according to Occam's Razor, it's probably the food you're eating that is causing your problems, yes?
Let's look at the medications that are used to treat these diseases:
Ulcerative Colitis: steriods
Guess what's one of the possible causes of diverticular disease?
That's a bit of a digression, but a pertinent one. Don't agree to take something that could make your long-term suffering worse.
To get back to the point, diet is key.
In a fascinating cross-cultural epidemiological study on irritable bowel symptoms in both developed and underdeveloped countries, it was shown that people who suffer from tummy issues avoid the foods that cause those issues. Brazil, China, UK, Mexico, Greece, Bulgaria- you name the country, they engage in food restriction to calm symptoms.
This may sound kind of- well, duh- but you would be surprised at the number of people (and doctors!) who would rather believe that a body is broken and medicine will fix that body than just take out offending foods.
What foods, you may ask?
Some are expected- gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol, caffeine.
Some are unexpected- fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts.
WTF? Vegetables and beans are healthy for me. I don't like a lot of them, and that makes them healthy, right?
A vegan diet is great for my health and the planet, right?
These concepts can be new and a bit shocking. I know I was shocked as hell after learning the science behind why fiber can be more damaging than helpful in a certain population.
But fiber- as fruit, vegetables, beans, grains, and nuts- the healthiest vegan diet possible- can really screw with your gut.
So it's ok to stop eating so much of it.
Especially if you are plant based and you have tummy issues.
Step 1: Diet
Stop eating things that bother your gut and are hard to digest.
all grains. yes, all grains
fibrous vegetables like lettuce and the crucifers
most fruit (berries, avocados, lemons and limes may be ok)
I know, that is a depressing list. But it may not have to be forever. Start with my 3 day weight loss jumpstart to settle your gut (you may poop a lot but that is normal and expected as you clean out). Then, add in one thing at a time every three days and see what actually upsets your digestive tract. I recommend starting with fruits, then assorted veggies, and then more fun things like rice and quinoa and gin and tonics and cookies.
Pureed soups are great while you are healing. Meat, coconut milk, minced garlic, and salt make an easy-to-digest meal. Treat your tummy the way you would treat a little baby, and give it essentially baby food until it's stronger.
Chew your food until it's liquid and don't overeat. Allow your stomach acid to do its job so you are not doubled over in pain after every meal.
Step 2: Rest
Rest your gut and your body
It's important enough to reiterate: don't eat crap that is hard to digest. Refer to Step One.
Cut the cord, throw the stuff away that is making you sick, and focus on quality meats and fats. They take very little digestive energy to break down when you are not clogging your GI tract with lots of slow-digesting or non-digesting fibrous material. This gives your gut a rest, something it desperately needs.
Studies from Japan have shown that, in IBS patients, complete fasting for 10 days induces symptom relief 4, as well as improvement in duodenal and colonic motility, visceral perception and mucosal inflammation.
You can fast if you are desperate, but it's really freaking hard. And women who are healing from disease and inflammation seriously need the rebuilding effects of quality amino acids in good meat. My three day jumpstart is a modified fast- a fat fast, if you will. You will lose weight and inflammation and gain an excellent jumping off point for starting your new, symptom-relieving way of eating.
You are also going to want to make sure you are getting plenty of rest. Inflammatory conditions mean your body is working overtime. You heal when you sleep. Get chores done by 7, screens done by 8, bath done by 9, and lights out by 10.
Nap if you can. Just rest your eyes and body when convenient. No guilt. You are healing.
Step 3: Exercise
Move your body appropriately and regularly.
With inflammatory conditions, you don't want to do anything that increases stress on the body. Gentle and regular exercise is an important part of healing. Walk, rebound on a mini trampoline, or go here for my favorite yoga videos.
If you have bowel disorders, you're off the hook from spin, Crossfit, Body Pump, running groups, and marathons. For real. Get a FDN excuse note here.
Step 4: Stress Relief
Do stuff everyday that you actually like to do
It's very common, when one is suffering physically, to feel as though all of life were suffering.
And after you have been around this mortal coil for some time, it starts to feel like that is true.
Our bodies get sick and wear out. Circumstances make us feel downtrodden. Now you're all bummed that you can't have cheesecake or wine for a few months. I get it.
All the more reason to do stuff that makes you happy.
I always ask my clients, "What did you do as a child that you absolutely adored?"
Many of them look back at me with blank, uncomprehending expressions.
When do we lose our capacity for play and pleasure? My kids can literally go all day playing Nerf Wars or Fortnite. We won't even take 30 minutes to read a mystery novel or watch a Netflix show, worried that it will interfere with our productivity (mind you, this is about 60% of women. The rest of you Bachelor-ites enjoy that leisure time!)
But think about it- the world is your oyster! You can rollerskate, or play pickleball, or ride a skateboard, or paint with watercolors, or listen to New Kids on the Block while you make up a dance, or play Marco Polo, or read novel upon novel, or invent new recipes, or go knock on a friend's door to ask if she can play.
You get the idea.
Whatever it is, do it. Don't shortchange yourself fun and enjoyment.
Remember, when Princess Buttercup finally lost the stick up her ass, she had a grand adventure, fell in love with a dashing stranger, and became the queen she was meant to be.
A girl can dream.
Step 5: Calm your gut with supplements
It's too irresponsible to recommend a one-size fits all protocol for gut issues.
If you click on the link above and schedule a free phone call with me, I will get you an individualized supplement protocol for free. Do take advantage of this.
We rely on probiotics and other semi-useless pills because we want pills to solve our problems but they are not a magic bullet. You already believe that drugs won't fix you. Why would you assume anything differently about supplements?
It's a great idea to start with steps 1-4 first, and then you can pull in the guns of step 5 if it's still needed. Odds are, it won't be.
Use Lab Testing that Actually Tells You Something
Let's say you have suffered from stomach and intestinal issues for months. Or years. Or decades.
You go to your regular doctor, who says your labs look normal. After some begging and perhaps crying (something is definitely wrong! you say), he reluctantly writes you a referral for a GI doctor. After a few months, that guy finally allows you a colonoscopy. After the horrible pre-process and the violating actual process, he stands by your bedside while you are still too loopy to carry on a conversation and says these exact words:
"You're fine. Eat more fiber and come back in 15 years."
You can't speak, so you sort of nod and you go home to continue your miserable existence of sifting through the foods you think you can eat and then spending all afternoon and evening in pain that forces you to wear yoga pants on the regular.
This is a true story, folks. It happened to yours truly.
This is why I advocate that all new clients take the GI-Map test I offer. It is a highly sensitive gut test that gives us excellent information on what is truly going on in your gut.
I regularly find parasites, worms, bacterial overgrowth, immune system suppression, autoimmune markers, and confirmation of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Once found, we can use the correct protocol to kill those suckers dead.
I want to share the story of a young athlete who came to me. She excels at her sport and practices 10+ hours a week, and her stomach was killing her. She had regular, painful diarrhea, bloating, and constant stomachaches. Her mom was concerned, so we started by running a test.
Here's where we started:
She had crazy diarrhea because she was infected with a nasty parasite who causes crazy diarrhea. She had overgrown of both normal and not-normal bacteria- this is associated with SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. This was causing pain and bloating. And her body was making antibodies against gluten- her daily sandwiches were causing her pain and inflammation, keeping her sick.
I put her on a tailored protocol and diet, she and her mom were rock stars at following it (not perfect, which is encouraging for us all!), and we retested 6 months later.
Lo and behold, her diarrhea was gone, her stomach pain was gone, and she was happy to tell me that she loved coconut milk ice cream instead of regular ice cream and she only ate bread every once and awhile.
Here's the followup data:
Now, that dear little girl has no more parasites (<dl means the number is "below detectable levels"- yeah!!), she has a normal number of bacteria that digest her food for her, and she no longer reacts to gluten, even though she enjoys her sandwiches every once and awhile.
Ain't no colonoscopy going to tell you that. Or fix it, for that matter.
It's easy to run this test. You poop in a bag, gleefully send that S*&% through the mail, I get your results, and we go over what I want you to do to fix what's wrong in your gut. You follow it to the best of your abilities, we retest in 6 months (most people feel so good by then that they don't even bother to restest!), and you go on your merry, non-bloated, non-crapping-your-pants, non-constipated way! It's like a disgusting fairy tale with a happy ending.
Here's how to feel better fast:
2. Order your GI Map test kit and interpretation session (with insurance, the test is a steal at $179.) I don't upcharge for my tests just yet, though someday I might, as most of my industry does). You will need to purchase a clinic hour for the interpretation session.
3. Schedule your reduced-price clinic hour to meet with me for 60 minutes and go over the results and get your protocol.
That's it. Easy. Start feeling better this month!
(Info on the test: Since most people pay with insurance, I don't want to charge you for the test. You pay the lab, separate from me. When you schedule your appointment with me, it is to go over all of the data I get back from the lab and get you feeling better immediately. After running about 80 of these tests, I'm pretty damn good at getting your gut back on track. I'm the cheapest practitioner I can find who runs the GI Map, so you're getting a deal with the reduced price clinic hour. You do need to purchase the clinic hour before I run the test on you, though.
1) Is limiting what I eat the only way to manage my symptoms? How do I know what truly affects me, it seems like it changes? Why does it seem like my tolerance decreases the more I avoid specific foods? Thanks 😘
Great questions. Limiting what you eat is the first way to manage symptoms. More important is to follow the rest of the advice stated above. Hit the first four steps, then do the Three Day Jumpstart, then add in any food you want. It's important to add in only one new food at a time- every three days- so you know exactly what foods are causing your reactions. This is the only way to know what actually affects you. Blood antigen tests often are unreliable, for they change day to day. If you are serious about your gut health, follow my advice and you will know what foods are actually causing your problems.
To answer your third question, I'll present an analogy: think of a high school, er, college kid, who tries alcohol or cigarettes for the first time. Does that kid take to the taste right away? Hell no! He plasters a silly grin on his face and forces himself not to barf from the sheer disgustingness of booze or tobacco smoke in the presence of his buddies. His body reacts appropriately and violently to the poison.
In the same way, when you remove irritating foods from your diet, you brilliantly made body starts making its way back toward homeostasis, where it really really really wants to be.
It has been healing for weeks.
But then you eat the same crap you know makes you sick, and the reaction is even more violent. I hear this all of the time from my clients who clean up their diet and then decide to dive into a bowl of Cool Whip. They end up taking a nap on the couch at 5 pm and can't shake their tummyache for three days. (No judgment- been there).
When you're healthy, poison will make you sick. When you're already poisoned, a little more poison won't make too much of a dent.
2) People ask me why I eat gluten free if I don't have digestive reactions- diarrhea, constipation, gas. I think the thought is that I should cheat since it doesn't "hurt" me. So I guess I would love to hear more (and have others hear) about the "invisible" effects of celiac...the damage eating gluten can do to your body even if you're not necessarily feeling it.
I feel you, sweet one. I'm usually the weirdo at the party not eating the bread and beans and sugary drinks. Most people know this about me, but it still invokes some weird comments and looks. It's not easy being different no matter the situation.
Here are some tidbits to share with the interested parties.
What happens to a celiac gut is that every tiny piece of ingested gliadin, the protein in gluten, prompts an inflammatory response in the small intestine.
Your microvilli, which are little living hairs that extend out of the walls of the small intestine and absorb nutrients, are eventually and effectively smooshed flat after years of eating itsy bitsy pieces of gluten.
These microvilli are what absorb nutrition from your food.
When they are smooshed flat, like 30-year-old dorm room shag carpet, you absorb very few nutrients. You need nutrients to make a healthy body.
Gluten and grains also contain antinutrients, which steal banked nutrients from your body in order to process themselves through your digestive tract. Gluten will steal zinc, which is needed for immunity; magnesium, which is needed for relaxation and sleep, along with numerous other vitamins.
Wheat gluten lectins also bind to organs and cause damage, most notably the small intestine (where you digest fat). It also binds to the pancreas and can enlarge it, causing blood sugar dysregulation as it can affect insulin production. Thirdly, it can bind to the thymus gland and cause it to begin shutting down- the thymus is your organ that helps you stay not sick.
Every time you eat gluten, especially for you, my dear celiac reader, these things are happening inside your body.
Tell your friends your farts, or lack thereof, are the least of their worries, thankyouforcaring.
3. Why do I have diarrhea when I start my period? As if starting my period weren't crappy enough..wait...
This is the worst. Inflammatory substances called prostaglandins cause your uterus to contract. They then cause your uterus to relax, allowing the flow of blood. These same substances work to relax your bowels and cause diarrhea before your period. Eat less seed oils and more light meats and soups before your period and stay really hydrated.
4. What is the best plan for days we can't get enough food down or not well enough to eat?
That is a tough one. I am sorry you have to deal with that. First, can you not get enough food down because your stomach is that bad? You'll want to hard-core steps 1-4. If you are too inflamed to handle any food, I recommend doing a fat fast. Make large batches of the soups included in the 3 Day Jumpstart and freeze them for days like this. Work super hard to make sure you are resting and saying no to anything extra. I cannot stress this enough- these diseases have a huge lifestyle component. If you are hard on your digestive system of body in general, it has no choice except to act up in an effort to slow you down and pay attention to it. It's wise to heed this call.
I pray this guide helps you in your gut health adventure. Nothing is so broken that it can't be fixed (as long as it still breathes, obvs.) The body is meant to be at homeostasis. If we remove the things that are making us imbalanced, the opportunity for balance is restored.
You can start today. Let me know when you start to feel better.
To your gut health,