Seeking that perfect gut-healing diet can be a journey filled with frustration and confusion. I know that many readers can relate to the feeling that once you start trying to figuring out your food sensitivities, the list of “offending foods” seems to grow and grow. I first thought all I need to do is “go gluten free!” after seeing a doctor and having tests that revealed gluten sensitivity in myself and then my children. Then, I realized I can’t tolerate dairy either. As if taking out the two most common food groups in the American diet weren’t enough I decided my kids and I needed to try the grain free GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet (It’s a diet like the Paleo diet but even more complex and strict). I thought eating grain-free was what we needed to help completely resolve the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), immune system issues, and brain symptoms that still lingered even though we were already gluten & dairy free. I figured the GAPS diet was strict enough to eliminate the problems that could be causing gut bacteria imbalances, autism spectrum issues, brain chemistry issues, and immune system/Lyme disease issues. While being on the GAPS diet for about a year allowed healing to occur within several areas of my daughters health issues, it totally depleted me and caused new problems- mostly because it was a high sulfur diet and a high FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccarides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) diet. The GAPS diet not only slowed down my detoxification pathways by overloading my system with high sulfur foods but continued to cause irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms and feed small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO). Many of the foods on the GAPS diet are not ideal to consume if you have SIBO or sulfur metabolism genetic glitches, so we quit the GAPS diet and then focused on clearing detoxification pathways and improving methylation in a multitude of ways. After nearly a year I was able to tolerate high sulfur foods in moderate amounts. During that time my daughter and I were also was diagnosed with Lyme disease, resulting in much of my energy and research being diverted into finding out the best path to help us heal. This post will focus on the gut healing portion that so many of my readers have asked about. Many of you out there have similar genetic issues that result in poor metabolism of sulfur, or you have SIBO and have found that the GAPS diet is lot of work, isn’t as precisely tailored to our situations, and can be super stressful to do with the whole family which ultimately doesn’t result in the healing you had hoped for.
How do you eat without feeling like you’re starving when the food sensitivities, genetics, or health challenges seem to continue to reduce the “allowable foods” list in your diet plan? The frustration that comes every time a doctor says “oh stop eating that too, your gut doesn’t tolerate it” is often too much to bare and feels so unfair when people all around you don’t blink an eye to what they put in their belly. Constant thoughts about food, meal planning, and figuring out what you can safely eat can become an obsession. Gut healing diets can often feel like a sort of eating disorder as one can become so focused how to eat properly and wondering if what you are eating is hurting your body. And of course everyone has an opinion about what YOU should or shouldn’t eat based on THEIR experience and gut- as if their gut has the same flora, genetics, and diseases as yours. It’s a lonely journey to heal your gut because the truth is there is no one’s diet that is perfect for you. Once I decided to embrace that my gut is wonderfully and uniquely mine, and my diet is not the same as anyone else’s, then I began to have a peace about this process. True healing comes as one learns to listen to their body, learn about general principles to guide choices, and be able to truly find a way to LOVE every piece of food ingested. I’ve come to believe that what I eat is not as important as loving what I eat. I believe that when we put the energy of love and gratitude into our food we bless it with a healing power that otherwise wouldn’t be there. However, when we eat foods that we know our bodies don’t tolerate there is also the feeling of guilt or fear that can override our best attempt to love what we are eating. I really believe that if you are not able to approach your gut healing diet with a feeling that you are choosing to eat this way because you love your body, then it’s not wise to spend all of the time and effort trying to “fix” your gut and feeling angry while trying to do so. I often would repeat these mantras throughout my day: “I love spending time finding recipes to cook healthy food for my body! I love eating these healthy, immune boosting foods! I love taking the time to cook this delicious food! I love being creative and making food taste good without onions, garlic, or grains!” The amazing thing is that I did become creative in cooking this way and discovered a sense of creativity within me I didn’t know previously existed- all because I choose to approach this diet with a loving attitude. If we feel hate or resentment towards the food we intend to HEAL our body, we take away from the power of that healing food in many ways and the efforts of the diet will not have the full healing affect we are seeking.
I do want to talk about the diet that seems to be most beneficial for me, especially since so many of my readers are in the same genetic boat with similar health challenges, but I want to emphasize the perspective that loving our food is more important than finding the perfect diet. The diet combination that has been best for me and my two children to help treat IBS and SIBO and help our immune system has been a combination of a low FODMAP diet along with a Paleo/ SCD diet and being mostly low sulfur as well. I found that reducing the foods that feed SIBO by combining these three diets is much more effective than just doing the low FODMAP diet alone, which many people do with some success as well. This advise of combining these different diets has also been encouraged by many expert practitioners, specifically those at NCNM SIBO Center as well my highly regarded doctor who is treating my Lyme disease. My children have been mostly on the basic low FODMAP diet and I try to be as Paleo as possible with them, which seems to work decently well. The other thing I have done is treated SIBO with the antibiotic protocol- Rifraximin and Neomycin and low dose Erythromycin as my gut motility agent to keep the small intestine regularly moving food through it (the Migrating Motor Complex). I’m never one to use synthetic meds, but in this case I made an exception as Rifraximin is not absorbed and didn’t seem to have any major side effects in me. My daughter has had great improvement on this diet. Since switching her to a low-FODMAP diet her chronic anemia has been completely resolved. Even after doing the GAPS diet we couldn’t get her ferritin levels above the low 20’s. After only 3 months on the SIBO treatment protocol her ferritin level jumped to 78 and her deficiencies in vitamin D and magnesium completely regulated as well. It’s a testimony that a lot of absorption issues are a result of bacteria overgrowth and can be treated fairly quickly on this type of diet. I’ll be getting my blood results next week and I’m feeling hopeful.
My hope is to now be able to provide a resource of information to others about gut healing diets and how to manage the process of cooking from scratch all of the time and trying to live a “normal” life. I also want to provide information about healing naturally from chronic disease as I have many pearls of wisdom I have gained from my own experience. Lastly, and this is exciting, I am starting a company that will produce gluten free/paleo/low FODMAP snacks for others to enjoy (details coming soon)! The snacking part of these diets is the most frustrating and least convenient and I want to provide a way for others to have some “grab and go” snacks that they don’t have to worry about being hurtful on their diet plan. Also a I’m finally completely my first cookbook, based on this diet described above, and will be available soon as well. The work of sharing what I’ve been learning is filling me with excitement. I love to share, and have been greatly blessed by those that have done the same for me.
For those with gluten sensitivity- you may want to read this article outlining the latest research about the real culprit behind the rise in gluten intolerance, which is bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), that often mimics celiac or gluten senstivity. This research made me question my theory that I just randomly developed celiac disease in my 20’s for unknown reasons. I believe that a low FODMAP diet will become quite popular soon, especially since the rate of food sensitivities are on the rise due to a leaky gut. This explains why that is happening in a nutshell:
And another article describing how gut bacteria really do affect our mental abilities and is highly linked to mood/brain functioning:
For more information about small intestinal bacteria overgrowth: http://www.siboinfo.com/
SIBO is an often unidentified cause of gluten intolerance, bloating, IBS symptoms, malabsorption issues, diarrhea, constipation and many other issues. Those of you on a gut healing diet that have not found resolution to your health challenges may find that testing for SIBO could be beneficial to help narrow down a diet plan that helps you recover. I believe that following a low FODMAP diet in addition to just being gluten free is an important consideration if you suffer from the symptoms described.
Good luck to you all and HAPPY eating!
Cathleen Baxter, DPT, Wellness Coach
Updated Oct 2015- Please read my most recent post about the food issues that come from restricted diets. I think the low-FODMAP diet is ok in the short term, but long term can starve the good bacteria in the large intestine as well creating nutritional deficiencies. I have really let go being a strict diet, however I do believe that short term gut healing diets can help- like the GAPS diet, which helped my daughter heal from autism spectrum issues that were induced by Lyme disease. Bottom line, do become radical about any diet, the consequences can cause emotional issues and nutritional deficiencies in the long term.