We all experience an upset stomach every once in a while, but my digestion went absolutely haywire. All without warning and without any resolve for years. But today I’m sharing a gut health update: where I’m at today after years of struggling with post-infectious IBS from having a C. difficile infection 7 years ago.
Many of you know about the digestive struggles I’ve had over the years. If you’re not familiar with my full story you can read about it here, but for a brief overview, I had a gut infection known as Clostridium difficile (C. diff) back in 2012. While the infection was successfully eradicated through treatment, it wreaked havoc on my digestive system for years after, causing a diagnosis of post-infectious Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Unfortunately, it also led to a severe IBS flare up in 2016 that involved chronic symptoms that took over 3 years for me to recover from.
Today I want to talk about my gut healing journey and where I’m at today — at the end of 2019 — after several years of coping with seemingly impossible-to-solve IBS symptoms and working diligently to get myself out of what was once a debilitating condition.
I am so far out of the darkness I was in that my level of gratitude for the health I now have is immeasurable. You really take health for granted when you have it. Or in my case, normal bowel movements.
Note: some of the information shared in this post is a wee bit descriptive of the symptoms I used to have. Just a heads up if you don’t like reading about toilet things!
Healing is not Linear
When my digestion was at its worst a few years ago (this was during my major flare up), I was waking up in the morning to urgent, nauseating diarrhea every single day, multiple times in a row. I also struggled with chronic abdominal pain, severe gas, the passage of mucus, hives, and an inability to tolerate many foods at all for nearly two consecutive years. It was unlike any degree of IBS discomfort I’d experienced in the past and to say I was distraught about my new standard of living would be an understatement. I had a very hard time coming to terms with it.
There were times when I really doubted that I’d ever recover or experience normal digestion again. My discomfort engulfed my life. It was all I thought about because my life became dictated by what I could or couldn’t eat, frequent trips to the bathroom, chronic pain, and anxiety about it all. My symptoms were so persistent that on days when I’d lose hope, it was unfathomable to me that I’d ever get better.
But fast forward to the beginning of 2018 when I started to make significant improvements from the work I’d been doing on repairing my gut. I was tolerating food more, having more good days in a row, experiencing less diarrhea and less gas. My food journal was filling up with more pages of “today my gut was perfect!” And “I had a normal bowel movement!” Or even better, “I’ve been symptom-free for a whole month!”
Ah, the joy of re-living those moments.
While I certainly had days when I felt immensely discouraged by a relapse in symptoms after one or two “good days” in a row along my healing journey, it became really important to me that I never lost hope and that I kept pushing onward. It was not a pleasant time in my life but maintaining a positive outlook as much as possible made the world of a difference. I knew my body could heal. It just needed the right tools and time to do its thing.
How I Healed My Gut
As a holistic nutritionist I knew to do some specific things and to do immense amounts of reading and research to try and understand every possible angle of what was going on inside my body, but I also underwent rigorous protocols from a couple Naturopathic Doctors throughout 2017 and 2018. What my body fundamentally needed was support in rebuilding the health of its microbiome which had taken a hit from the courses of antibiotics I had been on and the infection I had. My intestines were so sensitive and irritated and they, too, needed help to repair. This is what my ‘gut healing’ journey consisted of. My gut was my top priority every single day, and diligence was perhaps one of the most important factors in my recovery.
One of the most frustrating parts of my journey was that there were times when it seemed like nobody could help me. I followed many different recommendations that didn’t always help. Why? Because there are so many possible underlying factors, and also, because these things usually take time. I didn’t get better after one weekend of taking my probiotics. I didn’t address my dysbiosis — an imbalance of good:bad gut bacteria — by just cutting out sugar for a few weeks. While eating a paleo-style diet was a big part of my healing journey initially, I didn’t improve after just a couple days of sticking to it. The low FODMAP diet was an integral part of my symptom management later on in my journey, but I had to stick to it for a few months to really give my body the support it needed.
Where I’m At Today
It took me around a year to start noticing more significant improvements, but a total of around 3 years to have proper, good digestion on a regular basis again. That is not meant to be disheartening — if anything, I hope it gives you hope knowing that things simply take time! If you’re struggling, it’s important to keep in mind also that everyone’s digestive systems and gut health histories are different. This means that some may notice improvements rapidly because their underlying issues are easier to address, while others may take longer (like myself) because there’s more complexity involved (e.g. past infections!)
Today, the problems I used to experience everyday are now a blur; a thing of the past. 2019 was the year where I continued to make even more improvements, from okay digestion to pretty good to really good.
As I sit here typing this, I now experience:
- Normal, formed stools each day (by normal and formed I mean that I do not experience diarrhea anymore, nor do I experience loose stool. For a long time during my healing journey, I’d still deal with loose stool fairly regularly even after my diarrhea subsided)
- I no longer pass mucus! *applause*
- I don’t deal with chronic hives anymore! *also applause*
- My dietary range has essentially returned to normal (note: there are some foods I still choose to avoid out of preference for maintaining my gut health — I’ll dedicate a blog post to this soon)
- I’m still somewhat prone to getting more gassy than the average person from certain foods, but it’s no longer severe whatsoever. Most of the foods that were problematic for me in this way no longer are.
A few months ago I had a Comprehensive Stool Analysis done and after all I’d been through with my gut, I almost expected the results to show some kind of residual bacterial overgrowth, or even some C. diff toxin still present. But to my delight, my results came back very positively with no signs of harmful bacteria or parasites present, and certainly no C. diff. If anything, my results were proof to me that my intestines are finally working again as they should, and perhaps most importantly, my microbiome is thriving again.
Do I Still Experience Symptoms?
Generally speaking, I would say no. But if I do, it’s occasional and it’s mild. If I go overboard with certain foods, if my stress levels get out of hand or if my sleep schedule is off, my gut isn’t gonna be particularly happy. But it’s very important to note here that nobody on this planet — regardless of how robust and healthy one’s gut may be — has perfect digestion 100% of the time. There will always be the odd time that something makes you feel off, or worse, makes you run to the toilet. It happens!
What matters most to me is that I no longer live in a state of daily discomfort. I enjoy food again. I can live my life. My ‘normal’ may be different than yours, or even different than what mine was when I was younger, but I’m no longer sick and I’ve reached a far better outcome than I ever could have imagined. I’m so proud and thankful to be where I am today.
If you’re interested in diving deeper into this subject for your own gut health, we cover all the specific strategies and foods for supporting and improving digestion in The Digestive Reset Program, a 4-week self-paced online course I designed to help you reset and revive your gut.
The body is resilient, I can tell you that. No matter what health problem you’re facing, know that there are answers and there is light at the end of the tunnel.