How I Tried To Get Better
When I’m looking to get a good ego boost, I not so subtly egg my dad into saying his favorite thing about me: my resilience. And when I was trying to find a way to live a life free of a churning stomach, resiliency became the name of the game. I was determined to find that single medical test, procedure, medicine, or diet that would bring the misery to an end. I tried and failed and tried and failed. And then I tried something else with any doctor, nurse, neighbor, or rock who would listen to my story. I learned a lot along the way as I homeschooled myself in GI, pharmacology, and nutrition – so that’s kind of cool. But what wasn’t cool were the results. While some attempts offered false hope in the form of symptom treating band aids and short-term improvement, it was clear no long-term momentum was ever being gained. But I think it’s important to share the exhaustive list I tried (maybe your answer is actually somewhere in this list!), so here’s my list of IBS fighting failures.
My Medical and Pharmacology Rundown
- 1 General Practitioner, 3 Gastroenterologists, 2 specialists at Johns Hopkins, and an infectious diseases doctor.
- Countless blood tests and stool samples, an ultrasound, 2 CT scans, 2 MRIs (that required the nastiest grape flavored drink – yes, I just gagged a little thinking about it), a colonoscopy, and a Fecal Matter Transplant.
- Tests for lactose intolerance, SIBO, celiac, leaky gut, pancreatitis, parasites, bacteria, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, and more.
- 10 days on Flagyl and Cipro (antibiotics), 6 weeks on Vancomycin (antibiotic), Zofran (anti-nausea medicine), Lomotil (extra strong Imodium), Tofranil (anti-depressant that sometimes helps the gut), Cholestyramine (a bile acid sequestrant), Xifaxan (more antibiotics), and oh so much Imodium.
- Every probiotic, digestive enzyme, or over-the-counter gut-soothing medication I could get my hands on.
The grand result: Womp. Womp. God bless the doctors who let me nag, challenge, and plead with them for over a year. I know so many wanted to and tried their best to help, and then there were others that quickly wrote me off as another cureless-IBS patient. I went to my car and cried after appointments with these people.
But in the end, none of it worked long-term or gave me answers I was looking to find.
I’d like to pause here and make sure it is known that I believe some doctors and pharmacists can be true miracle workers.
I whole-heartedly embrace that medicine saves lives and humbly believe that the medical field is so very brilliant. My mom and sister are dedicated nurses, my dad worked in the medical field his whole career, and a best friend of mine is a pharmacist. I wouldn’t have made it through any of this without their wealth of knowledge and expertise, or the care of all the selfless people that took care of me while in the hospital and during my procedures. I’d also never discourage someone from trying all the things on this list. I tried them because obviously they worked for someone, somewhere and I genuinely hope for the possibility that they could work for you.
I don’t think many would deny though that there is so very much to be learned and discovered about the world within our gut and the integral role it has in our bodies. And it seemed for me, the healing my gut needed couldn’t be found within the walls of the hospitals, offices, or pharmacies I walked into week after week.
My Diet Rundown
You’ll find that opinions are all over the board when it comes to the role that diet plays in gut health and ailments. Some say food is irrelevant, while others insist it’s everything. And Google really likes to play mind tricks on you. For example, try asking Google, “Why is coconut oil good for you?” and then ask Google, “Why is coconut oil bad for you?” and then you’ll see what I mean.
From the very beginning, it made intuitive sense to me that what I was putting into my gut must be impacting it tremendously. It was often confusing though. One day, I’d eat broccoli and all was fine. The next, I’d so much as nibble on broccoli and would be down for the count for hours, if not days. But nonetheless, I was determined to find that specific list of foods that let me live like a normal person (well, a “normal” person that ate a very specific list of foods).
When it came to trying diets in search of symptom relief, I went hard, and I mean really really hard. I read everything I could find, made safe food lists and meal plans, and then never ever cheated. Not once. Not a single nibble on the office breakroom cake, not a sip of alcohol at that wedding, and not a single bite at a restaurant for fear of its unknown ingredients. I tried to give each food plan a long, fair shot, knowing things wouldn’t change overnight.
It might not be something we notice every day (or notice at all until it’s gone), but we derive so much happiness from eating. Think Thanksgiving with family, an ice cream cone on a hot day, a glass (or three) of wine with your girlfriends, quality time with your husband at a restaurant, or even the simplicity of looking forward to lunch to break up your work day. Or what about that glass of champagne to celebrate a great achievement, baking cookies and soaking in the anticipatory smell, inviting friends over for dinner – okay I’ll stop. The list goes on and on and for months on end this was all gone for me. If it’s gone for you too right now, I sympathize with you oh so very much. While I was sick, I struggled with how bad I felt (all the time), but beyond the physical pain was the pain of facing the hard reality that as long as my stomach remained dedicated to its protest, I couldn’t find joy in food and the social bonds it creates. I couldn’t be me and enjoy life the way I always had.
But I was determined to find health again, and if a joyless diet was how I was going to get there, then I was going to commit to it entirely. Here’s the rundown of the “healing” diets I tried:
|The BRAT Diet||Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast (and for me, some plain chicken and broth).||1 month following my surgery and C. Diff diagnosis. My surgeon recommended it for my upset stomach and I really wanted to get better as fast as possible.||I wouldn’t be writing this if the BRAT diet put me back on track…|
|A probiotic heavy diet||My staples included all the sour dough, sauerkraut, and kefir I could get my hands on.||About six weeks while I was trying to fight off the C.Diff||Despite trying to fend off the bad bacteria with any good bacteria I could scarf down, I relapsed with C. Diff just a few days after my antibiotic regimen ended. It seemed these probiotic foods alone couldn’t save me.|
|FODMAP Diet||A low lactose, no excess fructose, low fructan, low polyols diet. I ate a lot of meat and very methodically analyzed the veggies, fruits, and sweets I consumed.||3 months (during which I obsessed over what vegetables my body could and could not digest, in hopes of eliminating my symptoms.)||I experienced some symptom relief when I first started the FODMAP diet, but the full-fledged IBS returned and no long-term improvement seemed to be had.|
|Anti-Candida Diet||A diet that aims to starve out the candida and bad bacteria in the gut through elimination of the sugars that feed them. No gluten, no lactose, no sugar. I survived primarily on plain chicken and unseasoned ground turkey.||3 painstaking months (during which I constantly dreamed about ice cream and carbs, literally).||Some really interesting things happened while my body cleansed of Candida and toxins. Many of the foods on this diet are actually still at the core of what I eat today. At the time, I struggled because this was billed as a super strict diet. It didn’t inspire or excite me to cook delicious flavors. Instead, I saw it as a rigid list of do’s and don’ts.|
|Involuntary Cleanses||Multiple days strung together when my stomach was just too darn upset to tolerate even a crumb.||An unfortunate part of each diet. Blah.||After a day or two on an empty stomach, my flares would settle and I’d return to what I considered my “new” normal.|
The Long And Short Of It…
For me, it seemed my miracle didn’t exist on a prescription pad, in a loud, claustrophobic machine, or in a tasteless, straightjacket diet. So after months of testing, pill popping, and ice cream dreaming I finally just stopped. I stopped emailing and calling. I stopped researching diseases and tests. I slowly stopped taking all the medications. I stopped searching for a magical diet. And instead, I turned to something that could never be formulated, processed, or nutritionally engineered because it had to be grown. Plants. Beautiful, delicious plants.
It was time to heal.