Gut Health Update

Ever been asked if you were pregnant? ...when you were definitely NOT?!? 

-- Janie shamefully raises hand with red cheeks -- 

Fall of my sophomore year in college, I was at my home gym in the locker room, and a woman blatantly asked me the dreaded prego-question. 


Asking a young woman this question, who has dealt with a horrible eating disorder, numerous mental battles with anxiety/body image, and is no doubt 100% a virgin, is quite possibly the worst and most dangerous thing ever. Like why you gotta do me like that lady?

WHY O' WHY?!?!?

Why am I bringing this up? Well, as weird as it may seem (and putting all of my hurt emotional feelings aside), this question sparked in me an interest in gut health and figuring out why my stomach often looked different from everyone I knew. I realized that my abdomen was more often than not naturally distended to a rather severe degree, and it looked like I was in my third trimester of pregnancy. And I'm not exaggerating here -- if I didn't want it to be so obvious, I would try to suck it all in which was uncomfortable as well, especially having to suck in for a long time! When I thought back to how long this abnormal abdominal distention had been happening to me, I believe it started mid-late elementary school (although I can't pinpoint it exactly). For so long I thought I just got dealt some unfortunate genes, and this is the way it's going to be forever. And I basically said goodbye to any ounce of hope I had for ever being confident or even slightly comfortable in a swimsuit again. 

Besides a distended stomach (and I'm not just talking about bloating here), I've been experiencing a handful of other very frustrating symptoms too. So this summer of 2017, I decided to put my time and energy into exploring the "what-on-earth-is-wrong-with me" and the "why" behind all of my gut issues and make steps to healing my gut once again.

After seeing a few doctors and GI specialists, attempting to try some different gut-healing diets to pin-point my food sensitivities, getting put on some medications, and finally taking a Hydrogen Breath Test, I got diagnosed with SIBO.

What does SIBO stand for?

SIBO stands for "Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth." 

What were my symptoms?

  • Frequent constipation with lower abdominal/intestinal pains on either side
  • Not feeling relieved after a bowel movement (if I wasn't constipated ) ...Yaaa we're going to get close here talking about poop :)
  • Abnormal abdominal distention
  • Gas
  • Belching
  • Uncomfortable bloating
  • Pain in the middle of my left side randomly
  • Occasional nausea while eating or after eating
  • Weight gain
  • Random cramping in my stomach
  • Occasional acid reflux
  • Occasional fatigue 
  • Food sensitivities

What is sibo?

Small Intestine Bacteria Overgrowth sounds kinda strange and scary. And at the most simple definition, it is exactly what it sounds like -- you have an excess of bacteria in your small intestinal tract. This is actually a major cause for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). The bulk of gut bacteria should usually be in the large intestines, but sometimes when there is GI motility dysfunction, this overgrowth in bacteria in the small intestine occurs. This could be the result of not enough stomach acid, intestinal damage from toxins, or decreased speed of the small intestine transferring material to the colon. The bacteria can interfere with normal digestion and absorption of food, and it's associated with damage to the lining or membrane of the small intestine (leaky gut syndrome). Overgrowth then produces "excess quantities of hydrogen and/or methane gas. These gases are not produced by humans but are the metabolic byproducts of fermentation of carbohydrates by intestinal bacteria" (ndnr). Thankfully, there is testing that can be done to measure the hydrogen and methane gas being produced in your system, which is the first step in figuring out if you have SIBO too. 

How do you get SIBO?

There are a handful of different ways you can get SIBO, like diabetes, celiac disease, and medications but here are some other ways that are most commonly seen:

  • A diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, and alcohol will feed certain strains of bacteria
  • Low stomach acid
  • Antacids
  • Ileocecal valve syndrome
  • Lack of breastfeeding
  • Damage to muscles or nerves in the digestive system

What's the best test for Diagnosing SIBO?

Hydrogen Breath Test. The breath test is known as the gold standard for diagnosing SIBO. It's inexpensive, non-invasive, and the most accurate from it's ability to provide more detailed information compared to other testing methods. 

What was my experience with it? The day before I had to eat a very specific bland diet (only like 5 foods are allowed) and fast for 12 hours before the test in the morning. Once I was ready to start the test, I had to drink a cup of this sugar water -- it was SOOOO sweet!!! Thankfully you only have to drink it once! -- and blow for 3 seconds into a tube connected to a syringe. Then, they took my breath sample and measured it on a special breath-test device thingy. I repeated these breath samples every 15 minutes for an hour and then every 30 minutes after that. It was super easy, but the whole test can last anywhere from 2-4 hours. Mine took 3 hours exactly, but it changes with every person I think. 

What Do you do once you have SIBO?

1. Antibiotics: If your tests come back positive, the doctors will prescribe a few specific antibiotic meds to assist your gut in getting back to normal. 

2. Change in Diet: Unfortunately, as much as I am anti-diet in most cases, I will have to make a sad and pretty big shift in my diet to be best for my gut health. A low carbohydrate and low sugar diet is enforced by the doctors if I want to be good for my gut that's dealing with SIBO. Why low carb? Carbohydrates feed the bacteria in SIBO and help it keep overgrowing, which is the opposite of what we're trying to do here. 

There are several diets that have apparently been very beneficial to people with SIBO, but the best results have come with the SIBO specific diet. It combines the Specific Carbohydrate Diet with a Low FODMAP diet. Here is a reference food guide for the SIBO diet.

Read this for more info on dietary treatments and different food guides if you know you deal/have been diagnosed with SIBO.

3. Other tips

  • Chew food very well
  • Space out your meals
  • Eat mindfully
  • Avoid foods that you know cause gut irritation (if you don't know what foods you may be intolerant/sensitive to, keep a food journal and jot down what you eat and how you feel for a while, try an elimination diet, or get tested for any food intolerances)
  • Eat whole foods
  • Eat low sugar :'( and lessen carbohydrate intake in general (SO SAD!!!)
  • Find ways to calm your internal stress (meditation, yoga, walks, read a book, or other self-care avenues you love)

Well that's a wrap!

There is so much to learn about SIBO, and my journey with learning to deal with it is just getting started, but I am so thankful for a diagnosis finally. To those of you struggling with GI issues -- I know how frustrating it is to be in the dark about what's actually going on/what to do/who to go see professionally/what tests to do/how to eat/etc., but don't give up. Keep moving forward, making connections, asking questions, being curious, finding good doctors, and know you're not alone dealing with digestive pain and problems. For me, I am just now diving in to the healing process after years of unknowns, and I have no clue YET on how I will go about handling this new and very particular change in diet, especially in social settings, but here goes nothin'.