Today I wanted to open up for the first time about the details and story of my gut health. I’ve mentioned IBS before but haven’t shared what that’s looked like for me over the past few years, and to be completely honest, I’ve felt pretty nervous to talk about it all because it’s so personal. But at the same time, I’ve really wanted to share my story because I know so many of you have struggled with digestive health issues, too.
Most importantly, though, I had to make a big perspective shift. I realized after years of shaming myself for not being in “perfect health” as a nutritionist and as someone who lives a healthy lifestyle, that no person on this planet is in perfect health 100% of the time. We all have things we struggle with or have struggled with, and that’s what has propelled me to share my story.
In the Fall of 2012, I was handed a slip that read: Clostridium difficile Gastroenteritis.
C. diff is a species of bacterium that can lead to life-threatening infection and inflammation of the colon, and is most often contracted in hospital settings after the use of antibiotics. As you may know, antibiotics kill bad bacteria, but they also kill off friendly gut bacteria which is what creates the perfect opportunity for C. diff to proliferate.
A few months prior I was on antibiotics for an unrelated infection, completely unaware of what the next few years of my life would hold.
I had been dealing with severe diarrhea for several weeks, upwards of 8 or more times per day, and an inability to eat anything without a stitching, slicing pain throughout the entire span of my intestinal tract. My doctor prescribed an antibiotic, followed by a probiotic, to eradicate the C. diff. I immediately improved and was so relieved that I could finally eat again and that I was finally feeling better. Or so I thought.
As time went on, I began having trouble tolerating many of the foods I’d eat. Although I was no longer having diarrhea, things just didn’t seem normal like they used to. I broke out in hives regularly, my stomach was upset more often, and I was frequently bloated. A follow-up test with my family doctor showed no signs of C. diff., and instead, I was told I had post-infectious IBS and sent on my way.
Having just graduated as a nutritionist, I knew that there were many things I could do to support my gut. I took extra probiotics, digestive enzymes, and I followed a paleo diet initially because dairy, grains and legumes were absolutely not okay anymore. I explored various digestive protocols on my own terms and I eventually began to feel pretty good, so I started eating some of the foods again that I previously eliminated, even though I still wasn’t digesting optimally.
In the Spring of 2016, I remember it so vividly: I was drinking tea one evening, my stomach started to feel upset, and I abruptly began having diarrhea again that night for the first time in years.
I thought I had the flu, but 2 days passed, 2 weeks, 2 months – severe diarrhea 8, 9, 10 times a day. Every single day. I couldn’t eat anything without having to run to the washroom. I had to leave work, I had to leave gatherings, I developed a phobia of food, and I began losing weight that I couldn’t afford to lose, being an already small person.
I started to think I was having a C. diff relapse, which was my biggest fear on the face of the earth.
Another trip to my doctor yet again thankfully showed no trace of C. diff., but things were not correcting themselves so I was referred to a gastroenterologist. From there, in the summer of 2016, I underwent multiple procedures for Crohn’s, Celiac disease and other related conditions that involved blood tests, a colonoscopy including biopsies of my large intestine, an endoscopy, and a barium enema x-ray that was hands down one of the most uncomfortable and awkward experiences of my life.
The results were vague and as follows: you have some inflammation, your colon is abnormally spastic, and everything else looks pretty much fine. I was told I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and that was that.
I was in denial for a period of time. I refused to accept that I’d have to live with this relentless diarrhea, urgency, and abdominal pain every single day for the rest of my life, even though that was already my reality. I remember constantly, frantically waiting for this to all just go away and return to normal. I kept wondering when it would resolve itself and asking why it hadn’t yet, to which I remember the gastroenterologist say:
“This may never go away, Meghan. It’s probably time you see this as a chronic condition”.
In September of 2016, after nearly 7 months of the return of debilitating symptoms, I began following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet after reading the book, along with being strictly paleo, which yielded notable improvements. I also began working with a naturopath and a couple other practitioners throughout 2017 who helped rule out intestinal bacterial overgrowth and leaky gut. I was put on a couple rounds of antimicrobials, and other classic digestive supplements to reduce inflammation and promote healing.
I began following the Low FODMAP diet. I’d heard of this diet before and only barely experimented with it, but when I began following it strictly, I am not exaggerating when I say that it improved my symptoms significantly. Their app has been a life changer for me.
Through the work I’ve done on healing my gut and now being so aware of what foods I can and cannot tolerate, I have come a very, very long way. I no longer have diarrhea 10 times a day like I did a couple years ago, and most importantly, I no longer have a fear of food as I can tolerate a lot more.
Although I’ve made big improvements, it doesn’t mean I’ll never have a symptom or flare-up again if I eat something I shouldn’t. I still need to be very careful what I eat and what I put into my body, but I’ve been able to find a balance that works well for me.
It took me a very long time to accept that my body is now a little different in how it processes things, but I’m a big believer in learning from all experiences, good and bad, and if it weren’t for this experience, I wouldn’t know what I now know. I wouldn’t know my body as well, I wouldn’t have learned so much or became as passionate about the digestive system, and I certainly wouldn’t have become as creative in the kitchen as I now am! ;-P
If you’d like to hear me chat about my experience, you can watch my video below: