For those of us with healthy digestive tracts and bowels, it can be hard to understand how disruptive something like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can be. In some cases, IBS can result in missed work and/or having to decline social events.
There are many misconceptions around what IBS is (and isn’t), what causes it and how it can be treated, so I thought I’d share some facts around what this digestive disruptor is and possible symptoms.
IBS is a common disorder that affects the large intestine and has varying symptoms that can include:
Abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and gas
Loose stool/diarrhea and/or constipation
Mucus in the stool
The discomfort that comes from IBS can be mild to severe and can come on suddenly. The varying nature of IBS symptoms makes it difficult to manage as the predictability of a flare-up, the experience when it is happening and when relief occurs is random.
Because IBS is a chronic condition, it requires ongoing attention and support to manage over a person’s lifetime. Many GPs recommend changes to diet and increased exercise but that’s not enough.
To properly support IBS, we need to understand the root issues that are causing the chronic condition – and this is different for each and every person living with IBS. So, while diet and exercise will help, the specifics are unique and need to be treated as such.
In my last blog, I introduced you to Erin.
Erin is currently one of my patients and I am working with her on a myriad of digestive and bowel issues that she’s been living with for over 30 years.
Erin has asked that her story be shared so that others understand that they don’t need to just “deal” with chronic conditions like IBS.
NOVEMBER – DECEMBER 2019
In one of our first sessions, I asked Erin how she had lived with the discomfort and challenges for so long. She candidly said,
“I was told by my doctor that there was no cure, no medical intervention or help so I just had to deal with it”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – in fact, I might have fallen off my chair, I’m not sure because I think I’m still in shock.
Basically, Erin said she was told to “suck it up and deal”. So that is what Erin has done for over THIRTY YEARS.
I was shocked. (I’m still shocked, to be honest.)
I couldn’t believe what I had heard.
I then asked her how she had managed all of these years. Again, her response was eye-opening,
“I survive every day. I’ve missed a lot of work because I’ve been house-bound, I’ve declined countless dinners with friends and family because I don’t feel well and need to stay home. It’s hard and limits me sometimes, but like I said, I survive each day.”
It was just before the holidays when I presented Erin with her first meal plan – the objective was to reduce inflammation and symptoms of her latest flare-up that was already into week three. The plan included:
Taking 1 Super Enzyme with each meal (Ox Bile to support healthy digestion)
7-Day meal plan (to be repeated over three weeks) consisting of whole foods, healing spices and natural ingredients
And 1 tbsp of (Organic Bragg) Apple Cider Vinegar in a cup of water 20 mins before dinner
Erin’s first reaction to the plan was an exuberant “I can do this!” – she didn’t even tell me that a large number of the ingredients included in the meal plan were ones that she didn’t like.
“The meal plan looked reasonable and included some beautiful options – some that were new to me and others that I struggled with, but I knew the end goal and I trusted Marissa. It took me about a week before letting her know that some of the items weren’t working for me, but when I did, she immediately updated the meal plan so I would enjoy the foods.
I bought the enzyme’s on Amazon that day and took the shopping list she provided to the store the next morning. I was ready for this change.
To compound my issues, I have also lived with moderate depression, generalized anxiety and moderate OCD my entire life and I know that my IBS contributes to all of them. I can tell when a flare-up hits my mindset changes and I struggle mentally. So, this change was welcomed.
I was really excited to start because I was confident that I was going to feel better physically and mentally. What I hadn’t planned on was how hard the change would be. It sounds silly but I had to shop for ingredients that I had never heard of, spend more time cooking and planning, and a few of the meals my family just wouldn’t try, so some nights I was making two dinners. I’m a person of habit, and I didn’t realize that the change I wanted required a lot of effort. But by the end of the first week I was feeling the change and figuring out a new routine.”
During our first few weekly check-ins, we discussed what was going well, what wasn’t and how Erin was feeling. Within a week, Erin was feeling better in terms of overall energy and daily digestion but still suffering gallbladder attacks, and she was struggling with having a very diverse meal plan and this was causing stress.
So, we decided to pair down her meal plan so she could focus on foods that would help restore balance to her digestion while easing the stress of having to prepare so many different foods.
“Marissa was so incredibly supportive and attentive to what I needed to be successful and worked so hard to accommodate the challenges I was having with managing those changes. Marissa checked-in on me often with small little ‘hello, how’s it going’ texts that made me, and make me feel cared for. She really is one of a kind.”
It was at this time that we also decided to move forward with a hair test/analysis to determine if there were foods, environmental elements, heavy metals and/or nutrient deficiencies that needed to be addressed. This would help us understand some of the root causes of her IBS.
The hair test process was as easy as collecting a few hairs from Erin’s head and submitting them to a medical lab that specializes in the identification of food and environmental intolerances, etc.
JANUARY 2020: THE BIGGEST SHIFT YET
Within a few days, we had the results back from Erin’s hair test. Shocked once again. The list of foods that her body was currently not tolerating was so surprising and to be honest, they caught us both off guard – mostly because as a picky eater, the list of foods she eats is limited, but most of those were on the “not tolerated” list!
The most notable items that we needed to remove for immediate relief:
Romaine lettuce and kale
And the list continued!
Now, some of these don’t seem like they are consumed often, but the depth at which items like Molasses extend to other ingredients (e.g. sugar cane, sugar beets, etc.) is surprisingly significant. And, the list represented 85% (if not more) of the items Erin ate regularly.
The test also revealed a strong intolerance to the metals silver and titanium. Erin consistently wore a stack of silver bracelets for over nine years (never removing them), has metal fillings and a titanium implant post in her mouth.
These metals can cause a multitude of symptoms in the body. High Titanium levels can cause skin rashes, hives, muscle pain, headaches and fatigue. Exposure to soluble silver compounds may produce other toxic effects, including liver and kidney damage, irritation of the eyes, skin, respiratory, and intestinal tract, and changes in blood cells.*
What did all of this mean?
It meant clarity.
We were getting to the root cause of what was causing Erin’s digestive issues.
We spent over an hour together reviewing her test results and once again, without hesitation, Erin said she’d make the necessary changes to feel better and repair her digestive and bowel health.
Now, not every patient feels as strongly as Erin does, nor are they as compliant to stick to the recommendations. Some would give up at this point. Lifestyle change is not easy. It takes work, commitment and effort. But if you trust and believe in the process, the positive and sustained improvement is well worth it!
Within the first week of the meal plan changes, I received the following email from Erin, which she has agreed to share:
“Hey Marissa –
Week one down and the rest of my life to go, right!?!? Oi.
Ok, here is my reality. I’m feeling better. A lot better. Not perfect, I still have days when my tummy feels weak and I’m in and out of the bathroom, but I’m in a much better place. I still don’t love the ACV, but I know it will grow on me. I also still dislike avocado and that will never change. I really think people are lying when they say they love it. I’m at a loss on that one. But I’m adding it as we discussed and it’s working. So yeah avocado and yeah Marissa for finding ways for me to not hate it entirely! You seriously rock.
I saw my doctor yesterday. He doesn’t really get ‘alternative’ health, but he is happy that I’m feeling better and said to keep doing what we are doing as it’s working. He said you clearly know what you’re doing. That was nice. He’s a smart guy and you know that I trust him, so that felt like a win.
But I guess the biggest update is that my depression has been really bad. I spent a couple of days in bed this week, not able to do much. I feel so sad. Deeply sad. Shouldn’t I be feeling on top of the world, celebrating, taking extra-long walks because my tummy feels relief?
I guess I have been in a state of mourning. How is it that changing my diet can spark such despair? How can food impact us in such a way?
The bright side is that I’m on an upward swing and logic is finding its way through the darkness. I know that the changes we are making are GREAT and not FOREVER as you said. We will keep going until we decided to introduce some of my favs back.
I think my depression was looking for a reason to visit and the fact that the soup I made wasn’t great (I dried out the turkey and the carrots weren’t cooked enough) just got me. It happens.
But thanks for your check-in note this morning – you always put a smile on my face and reminder in my heart that I’m not alone. You are such a smart lady and I love having you as my cheerleader.
Ok, I bet you weren’t expecting such a long response. I think we have our weekly call tomorrow – chat then!
Hugs, E. xo”
The next day on our call we had our regular check-in, the nice thing was we spent a lot of time talking about how change can be hard and how the feelings of overwhelm are completely normal.
A page from Erin’s Daily Planner
Consistency is the best approach until the changes become our everyday routine. It was a very honest conversation that helped me gain some insight into both Erin and how some patients need different types of support. One of the things Erin shared during that call was an update on how her family was managing through this process.
She spoke candidly about how her last bout of depression was particularly hard on her family as they were struggling with HOW to support this significant change while watching her struggle. But they were working together as a family to create a lasting change.
Erin said the new plan was well-received by her family and they were all eating the same dinner, which was a huge release of the stress she had been experiencing in the early days of her program. In fact, her extremely picky daughter was loving a large majority of the meals as well.
There was one specific thing that Erin said that really struck me. In passing, Erin mentioned something that I feel is very important to her success. She said that her husband, who has never lived with any chronic illnesses, was now joining her in her ACV and water before dinner. She called it, ‘his sign of solidarity’.
I truly believe in having a strong support system. While I am often that initial person for my clients, I thrive on watching my client’s family’s band around them and take on the changes as a team. It moves me in incredible ways and creates new and deep connections for my clients and their families.
I’ve never met Erin’s husband, but his support, his wiliness to drink ACV with her, well that my friends, is just wonderful.
Erin is now in her fourth week of the new program and we have shifted once again, but this time it’s because she has to have her gallbladder removed. This will once again change how we support her ongoing progress and ensure she continues down her path of life-long success in proactively managing her chronic IBS.
We’ll share how the removal of her gallbladder will/will not impact her road to recovery and how we are shifting to support her journey.
Erin and I are sharing this story because we both believe that it’s so important to understand how chronic conditions, like IBS, can impact every facet of your life.
And once again, I’d like to thank Erin for her courage to begin this journey with me and for sharing it with everyone.