A woman in her kitchen checks her phone with fish swimming out of the device

Nourishing My Body Despite IBS

For years, I have eliminated one food after the other to reduce my IBS symptoms. First, it was most dairy products, tomatoes, then any sauce. Pumpkin and squashes, gluten, coffee, then anything containing caffeine. I stopped drinking alcohol and eating colorful veggies for fear of causing a flare. At 1 point, I was pretty much eating white rice and chicken all day, every day.

An unsustainable lifestyle

At the beginning of 2022, I gave birth to my second son. Despite his reflux and food sensitivities, I was dead set on breastfeeding. So, in addition to all the foods I already wasn’t eating, I started removing everything that could possibly upset his digestive system, too. There was basically nothing left for me to eat, and it wasn’t sustainable. The turning point came when my dentist found that my teeth were showing signs of nutrient deficiencies. This simply couldn’t go on.

At this point, I reached out to a dietitian and a lactation consultant. Both told me the same thing: it was highly unlikely that all these foods were actually causing reactions in baby, and I needed to eat more if I wanted to continue breastfeeding.

A change of perspective

Somewhere in all my research, I stumbled across the holistic health community on Instagram. For the first time in years, I saw people talking about a healthy diet that didn’t only include fruits and vegetables. They were talking about organ meats, seafood, butter, proteins in general. Things I love and actually can digest.

I have to say that I know basically nothing about nutrition, but I was intrigued. What if there was a way for me to fuel my body without causing flares? It couldn’t hurt, right?

This or That

When it comes to diet & nutrition, I:

A new diet

I jumped straight in and followed the advice I was seeing online. I can’t tell you whether it’s good advice or not – at this point, I was just willing to try anything. We started buying beef liver at the supermarket, eating more eggs and fish, and seafood. Instead of my usual chicken, I was now having all different kinds of protein.

According to the Instagram accounts I followed (again, no idea if their advice is scientifically valid), eating a balanced breakfast was really important, so I did. And they also suggested adding root veggies and fermented foods as an easy-to-digest option. Who knew I could have beets and sauerkraut? I didn’t, but I can!

I was still off dairy because that definitely triggered my baby’s reflux, but I was eating more foods than I had been able to in years!

More energy

Despite my ongoing sleep deprivation from having a baby, I quickly regained so much energy. I was waking up hungry, was feeling good most days, and did not have my usual afternoon slump anymore. I still had flares in the evening, but the rest of the time I was feeling weirdly…. normal.

My partner, who was initially extremely skeptical about my sources (he hates when I get information from social media), started agreeing that I was onto something. Even he clearly saw how much better I was feeling overall, even though my IBS was still there.

At this point, I just want to make clear that I didn’t magically cure my IBS or anything like that. I was still having mild flares often in the evening. Stress and anxiety were still major triggers. And I was still in the bathroom more often than a healthy person should be. But my energy levels and overall well-being had improved so much.

The ultimate test

Right before the holidays of 2022, I was finally able to reintroduce dairy without my baby getting sick from it. And since I was now able to consume cream and cheese again, I decided to conduct the ultimate test during the holidays at my in-laws.

For 4 days, I ate everything I was offered that didn’t contain gluten. Essentially, I ate like a completely healthy but gluten-free person. And I remind you that I live in France where food is anything but plain during the holidays! Despite expecting my IBS to flare at some point, it didn’t really. I had two nights where I had to use the bathroom several times, but it wasn’t too bad. Despite eating anything and everything, I was actually fine.

The takeaway

This entire experience has been eye-opening for me. For years, I had thought that food was triggering all my flares. In recent years, I had then finally accepted that stress and anxiety were actually by far my biggest triggers. Still, I was always so frustrated when I was feeling calm, would eat safe foods, and still feel sick!

Now, I suspect that food is even less of a trigger for me than I thought. I still have no idea what triggers my flares – but maybe I’ll find out one day. Until then, I’m just glad that my diet no longer consists of white rice and chicken alone.

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