Two weeks ago, I described my journey healing endometrial cysts by following a carefully researched diet based on the Wahls Protocol. But endometriosis is not my only problem. Irritable bowel syndrome is part of my health package as well. Digestive problems run in my family. My grandmother died at only 38 due to ruptured bowel. My sister is quite badly lactose intolerant and my father thinks that living with constant intestinal gas is normal. I have had my fair share of intestinal cramps and sleepless nights due to stomach ache and bouts if diarrhoea in my life.
However, over the years I learned to view my irritable bowel syndrome as my body’s super sensitive detector that tells me immediately what’s wrong and right for me. If I didn’t have IBS, perhaps I could go for ages eating unhealthy stuff, thinking it is not affecting me and then perhaps end up with much worse problems. Today, I am actually grateful for my gut’s wisdom.
Because the truth is that healthy digestion doesn’t make your life miserable and your digestion is healthy when you barely know about it. At the same time, no matter how healthy you think you eat, if your bowel doesn’t function properly, it is not passing all the goodness to your body’s cells but straight into the toilet instead.
My diet is generally as healthy as can be. However, I do battle with sweet tooth and struggle occasionally with binge-eating tendencies. I have found how to satisfy my cravings in healthy ways most of the time but sometimes too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. Or sometimes something that is OK for someone else is not OK for me. And that’s why I have to listen.
My body knows how to communicate with me so that I listen. When my irritable bowel flares up, it usually affects me at night. I am very sensitive when it comes to my sleep. I have a history of insomnia. In my early twenties I spent four years on sleeping pills and remember all too many nights not being able to fall asleep until 5am and then trudging through a day like a zombie. Anything that negatively affects my sleep is bad. And my gut knows that.
Grain and nut watch
I generally avoid grains but sometimes I crave them. A couple of months ago I tried to introduce organic rye bread into my diet. I had to give up after four days after spending half of the night in the bathroom. Sometimes I try to satisfy my cravings with oats, which is gluten free, but even that only works for me in small quantities. The same applies for many other treats including coconut milk, peanut butter, almonds and cashew nuts. They are all super healthy, sources of many vitamins and minerals, but for me only work if I don’t overindulge in them. Also food that other people swear by may make my gut scream for help. At a meditation retreat a few months ago, I ended up being the pain in the ass asking for salad for breakfast and secretly eating canned tuna and sardines because local satvic organic vegan whatever high frequency food was simply killing me. I reached the point when I don’t care what other people think. I simply follow my gut’s orders.
When my IBS flares up but I don’t see a clear smoking gun – I haven’t gone off track, haven’t introduced anything too new, overindulged in anything – a useful tool is to check what I am eating against the FODMAP chart.
The FODMAP diet was developed by researchers from Monash University, Australia. The acronym stands for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols – that doesn’t sound very friendly, does it? Anyway, research has shown that these FODMAPs, which are commonly present in everyday foods, can trigger IBS in many people and that it is advisable for sufferers to reduce intake of those foods to keep symptoms in check. Essentially, high FODMAP foods should be limited or avoided.
This video nicely explains what these FODMAPs can do in your intestines.
These FODMAPs are in raw foods that are generally considered healthy and don’t have anything to do with typical junk or processed food. The list includes wheat, rye and dairy but also many fruits and vegetables you wouldn’t otherwise even think about – like mushrooms, savoy cabbage or even avocado and apricots.
I regularly eat many items from the high FODMAP list (in moderate quantities), without too many problems. For example stuff like onion, garlic and cabbage is in perfect agreement with me most of the time as long as it is cooked. Eating it raw would be a completely different story though.
Just listen to your gut
The bottom line is that we are all different and listening to your gut (and the rest of the body by the way) is seriously the best way to fine tune your diet for optimum health. If you are an IBS sufferer, consider yourself lucky because your body is talking to you very clearly.
I learned that the more healthy my overall diet is, the more clearly I can perceive any problems. For people who haven’t corrected the major nutritional sins like sugar, processed foods and too much bread and other white stuff, this approach might not work. It all comes down to the gut microbiome. If the gut microbiome is not healthy, you may have problems even with those foods that are otherwise perfectly good. When I was transitioning to my current way of eating, I had a period of time when I was struggling with broccoli and kale, neither of which is giving me any problems any more.
There is a growing body of evidence that an unhealthy gut microbiome is a major factor for development of many autoimmune diseases and even things like depression. It really does pay off to pay attention to what you eat. We are what we eat. Every single cell of our body is made of something we have put into our system in the first place. And if we put bad stuff in, the results can’t be good.