The post that so many of you have been waiting for… for I don’t know…. A YEAR maybe? I’ll be honest: I’ve been putting it off a bit, trying to finish first things first (like finishing the 2nd cookbook that comes out next month!!, planning the entire book launch, writing new meal plans, having a baby, navigating motherhood, etc).
But also because there’s just so much to this story and healing journey, that it overwhelms ME to even try to capture it all. So, grab a cup of tea or matcha or mushroom coffee (or whatever bevvie of your choice). You do you. Just cozy up, my friend.
Because I’m going to take you behind-the-scenes with my journey (and ultimate healing) of SIBO: small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. It’s something I never expected to talk about, but I casually mentioned it one day on my weekly Q + A on instagram stories last year, and since then, the requests to talk more about it have kept flooding in.
And when I was going through it (2 years ago now), I just kept searching and searching to find cures, solutions and to read about other people’s experiences. And I never found much.
1) because the term “SIBO” is a relatively new diagnosis. There is not a lot known about it. And 2) the typical way it’s treated is still about treating the symptoms. Not the WHY behind it: why it happens in the first place. And that’s always my own goal with any problem or health situation– getting to the root cause so I can heal things there, and using as many natural sources of healing as possible along the way to do so.
So whether it’s a case of SIBO itself, or some other health issue that needs healing (that’s a bit more off the radar to find answers), I hope that this helps. Even the process of it, overall. Of patience. Of trust in your body. Of being kind to yourself through the process. Of listening to your instincts. And of doing what you can physically first, and with food, and then diving into layers that are much deeper (if needed).
At this point, I’m no stranger to solving my own health things as they come up in my life (auto-immune triggers, a sudden onset of hypothyroid conditions, gluten intolerance, PCOS diagnosis, etc), and I’ve started to notice some patterns of true healing that I’ve been able to apply to most situations where not a lot is known about the cause. And instead of feeling sorry for myself (the thoughts of: why me? why is this happening? I’m the healthiest person I know, yada yada), I’ve now come to realize that these are my divine assignments sometimes. That has always given me peace, and patience even when I’m IN it. That maybe, if I figure it out, and piece things together, I can help someone else through it.
So. SIBO. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. It means too many bacteria are in your small intestine (not your large intestine, where they belong).
Symptom include: very extreme bloating, especially after eating (envision looking 3 months pregnant every time you eat). Probiotics and fermented food and drinks make it worse. Wine and carbonation makes it worse. And some of the healthiest foods (vegetables especially) can make it worse. It also usually means terrible digestion. And even more sensitivities to a lot of different foods.
I remember when I first heard the word and heard it described, I thought– oh, yeah. That’s 100% me. Wait– other people have that, too? I thought I was the only one. I’d been living with it for so long that it just kinda felt normal. I thought that’s how my “system” was… although when I thought about it, it did kinda get in the way of me feeling my best. I just didn’t even know other people had the same thing. It was a relief.
But add in some life stress– planning a wedding at the time, getting married, running a business full time, looking for a house, and pretty soon, those little symptoms were getting harder to ignore. Every night after dinner I felt terrible, no matter how healthy the dinner was. At first I’d think– ok maybe it’s because I had grains tonight? Or that little bit of cheese on my roasted veggies? Maybe it’s the dairy?
But soon, I realized it was happening no matter what or how clean I ate. Eat a meal, bloat until I looked pregnant. Repeat.
(This is such a weird thing to say, but when I finally DID get pregnant, honestly it was 6 months until the feeling of that big of a belly was foreign to me. SIBO had me well practiced.)
I remember a moment a few months before our wedding when I was eating super clean and working out everyday (nothing crazy, and not to lose weight, but just being intentional about eating foods that made me feel my best). But nothing was shifting. Nothing was changing on my body or energy how it usually did when I cleaned up my act even more.
I specifically remember trying on wedding dresses and still having a bloated stomach even though every other area on my body looked healthy and normal.
That was my first instinct that I should look into things more.
I researched a bit about the term SIBO, and started reading how people “got rid of it.” All of it entailed rounds of antibiotics, no wine, and a very, very strict diet of what to eat and not eat.
But then, also– we were getting married in a vineyard, and I knew that I wanted to just enjoy everything about both the day and that season of life– so I put it on hold until after the wedding.
But later that Fall, it became apparent I had to do something about it. Things were so bad that I was now needing a little coffee every day to get my digestion going. The bloating was next level. And my energy was tanking. I’d wake up every morning feeling heavy and sluggish, and it was making it hard to work.
Every afternoon by 4pm I had to change out of my jeans and into yoga pants because my stomach was so bloated and uncomfortable. It was affecting my work, my energy, my mood, and my confidence as a woman, ya know? Therefore, it was time to do something about it.
I also knew that the gut is where your heath starts. If it’s off or struggling, then your whole body, brain, neurons, and cells are too. The gut is the second brain, so they say, and it made me so sad to think about it not doing well. My health was at stake here. And that’s something to mess around with.
I also knew that a few years down the road, we would start talking about having a family, I knew I wanted to make sure my body was as healthy as possible before then, as strong as possible, and as functional as possible too.
First things first, I booked an appointment with my naturopath. I knew there was a breath test you could do to identify if you had SIBO or not. There were technically 2 kinds of SIBO: high methane or high hydrogen. One made things slow down digestively and one made things speed up.
I did the test, and sure enough, it was confirmed. With one of the highest numbers she’d ever seen (high methane). Welp. My instincts were right (noted, always listen). High methane was also the harder of the two to treat.
What came next:
- Changing up the food immediately, which I knew was coming. And the most obvious place to start. Enter the strict diet: a low-FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols, which are basically carbohydrates and sugar alcohols that can ferment in the large intestine and can result in abdominal bloating, pain, and bad digestion.
- High FODMAP foods are things like garlic, onions, brussel sprouts, all stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, apricots, beans, lentils, dairy, honey, etc). More on this below.
- A round of traditional antibiotics, paired with digestive enzymes & liver support.
Normally these are both things I try to avoid if it’s at all possible: strict diets and antibiotics, that is. One messes with your head and makes you miserable, and the other can mess with your gut and overall immune system. But in the right circumstances of course, they can be necessary. For me, that means when all other options have been looked at first. Unless I’ve done everything else I can think of first, and fully researched all the options.
Which I had.
And at the time, there really were no other options.
I’d heard about herbal antibiotics, but in talking to my naturopath, she let me know that while they were less “intense” on people’s systems, they could also take months to be on, and they don’t always work… and sometimes because you’re on them longer they can be just as damaging.
She suggested going more intense at first, trying to kill the bacteria in the small intestine and letting them know they were not being encouraged to grow there (and hoping they’d get the hint to take up root in the large intestine where they belonged). We wanted them out of the small intestine.
So, I did. Low-FODMAP life it was, and a round of antibiotics. And, truth: I’m a positive person, and it takes a lot to get my down. This phase I was going through wasn’t what you’d call fun. In fact, I kind of felt depressed. Food– creating it, dreaming about creating it, cooking it, etc, is my life. It’s my business, too. It’s my identity. And above all of that, it’s a huge source of joy and creativity for me. So the lack of freedom and fun, and the additions of even more restrictions food wise, it felt like it took me down a few notches of happiness.
Mentally too, it felt exhausting to learn a new language of what I could and couldn’t have.
The thing with SIBO is that it’s not just taking out unhealthy foods to be healthier (as like was the case when I went gluten-free, it just eliminated a lot of packaged stuff, and the grab-and-go and the mindless stuff)– but you are actually taking out very healthy, real, and clean foods, too.
Things like broccoli, avocado, kombucha, brussel sprouts, celery, cauliflower, soups with garlic and onions in the base, quinoa, nut milks, honey, maple syrup, apples, peaches, plums, yogurt, all beans and lentils, hummus, etc. YEAH, hi. Just all of my favorite things and all my staples.
(Side note: I know now that this is usually where problems can start– when you eat the same things over and over and over again. Our bodies need a wide variety of things to not develop sensitivities to them).
And with any big orientation in things in your daily life, it can feel overwhelming in the beginning: you feel nervous, like you have to look everything up, and it kind of puts you on edge, worrying and thinking about food way more often than you’re used to. It’s just the brain learning something new, but it’s tiring! The same happened when I went gluten-free.
So, now I was gluten-free, pretty much dairy-free (butter only), garlic/onion free, soy free, egg free, and now FODMAP free too (which felt like it took the food I was eating and reduced it down to 10 foods total). For a food blogger, lover, and cookbook author… woo wee. It was a little rough to wrap my hands around.
And as someone with a past in very restricted eating and having no joy and a bad relationship to food… well, I was nervous about reducing down to so few things.
But, as always, I knew that I was in charge of my experience. I was in charge of my mindset. And feeling sad about it isn’t going to make it any easier. So, I tried to have the best possible attitude as I started out, as I do with most things– like, OK no problem, this is just temporary and for healing, and soon I’ll be back to normal.
I tried to make it fun and challenge myself to come up with as many low-FODMAP recipes as possible and rise to the occasion and try new things. For a while, food was purely my medicine, and about healing, which was also a nice thing to be reminded of. That kept me going for a while.
And at the same time– it made me thankful that this is what I do. I could figure it out. And in fact, having these constructs lead me to a lot of the recipes that are coming in cookbook #2 (coming out this November). It made me get even more creative with things.
That first month passed… and then another. And… I wasn’t feeling any better. As the weeks went on, I started to feel a little discouraged and resentful. And like I was missing out on so many things I loved. It’s one thing when you give things up and you can see the benefits or at least feel so much better. This wasn’t the case.
I began researching– trying to find any and everything I could to see if there were any other things that worked for other people. What I found: almost nothing. SIBO was a tricky beast, it seemed. There wasn’t just a quick fix. And there were almost no resources out there.
Over the next few months, I ended up doing 2 rounds of antibiotics and 4-5 months of low-FODMAP eating overall. It helped, I think. Slightly. But I still wasn’t feeling great. So I just did the best I could– to keep modifying and making stuff at home that seemed to go easier on my system, and just doing the best I could when I was eating out/with others, the best I could.
It meant a lot of white rice (it’s the easiest food to digest and therefore the most gentle when you’re healing), a lot of sauteed greens and cooked veggies, more fish and meat than I was used to, and looooots of soup (made without onion, garlic, and celery).
Vodka cocktails too instead of wine (less sugars, less sulfites, less “stuff” going on). I became a vesper girl, instead of a rose girl on date night for a while there.
But slowly, it felt like this way of life was becoming more than just a temporary thing, which wasn’t ideal. I started to feel discouraged.
I kept thinking that there had to be another way. So, I kept researching. Kept trying to learn as much as I could about the gut, gut bacteria, and if any other people struggled with what I was going through. I tried the herbal antibiotics for a few months, and adding in various supplements to help under the advice of my naturopath doctor (biofilm disruptors, even more digestive enzymes, etc).
I did liver detoxes. Colon hydrotherapy. Coffee enemas. And kept reading and trying anything that promised slight help.
The limited food choices were becoming my normal, but emotionally and relationally (food is involved in so many parts of our lives! Imagine date nights, dinners at friends houses, etc), energy wise and vibrancy wise, I was feeling drained and just not on my A-game.
One day, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, and Dr. Steven Gundry was being interviewed. I’d never heard of him, but he’s an OG in the health and physician world, and he had a new book out called The Plant Paradox.
He was talking about something I had never heard of: lectins in food. And at first I kind of rolled my eyes. Great. Another “diet” to confuse people and make them fearful of real foods. More “good” foods and “bad” foods. More things to eliminate. BUT… he was talking about inflammation of all kinds: autoimmune cases. Cancers, even. Mysterious symptoms and health conditions that don’t really have a known reason… I kept listening.
It tuned out that lot of the higher lectin foods were ones I was currently eating. Aka all the low-FODMAP stuff.
Case study after case study, when all else wasn’t working for people and they adopted this more lectin-free life, they healed.
Well, why not try just one more thing?
Lectin-free. Well then. Let’s go.
So I started scooping out the seeds of my tomatoes and cucumbers (one of the things he talks about in the book). Making the switch mentally from low FODMAP to low LECTINS. And just tried to do so with the grace and patience for myself– I could always go back if I wanted to, but why not try anything that had a slight promise?
And truthfully, a new set of YES foods felt so refreshing. I could add in some of the big things I loved and missed. Tomatoes. Hummus and/or beans if it was sprouted or pressure cooked (hello new purchase of an instantpot). Celery for soups. Cheese! (As of recently, I think Dr. Gundry released a cookbook too– I haven’t seen it, so I can’t speak to the ease of recipes or what’s in there, but it could be a good resource to start with).
Mentally and emotionally I felt better and like I could participate in life things more. And in my kitchen too.
And you know what? It helped. A lot. Like within a 6 weeks or so I noticed that a few things were getting less intense symptom wise. My energy was slooowly coming back. I could do this.
But, even with a lot of improvement, my SIBO wasn’t fully gone.
So I knew there must be more to the story. In the past, whenever I’ve gotten to this point– of fully covering my bases on physical stuff, I know there’s a whole other thing to start looking closer at: my emotional and energetic body.
It can hold so much stuff that we’re not even consciously aware of.
It was time to start digging in there, even though there was nothing consciously I could think of that would be blocking me in any way.
So, I did my thing: started asking myself better questions while I journaled to see if I could come up with anything that could be getting in the way of my healing. Nothing. I went to more yoga. Nothing really there either.
But I kept staying aware and curious about it, and started looking for some other healing methods I’d never tried before (breathwork, reiki, medium readings, etc).
So when I heard about Gabby Bernstein’s spirit junkie masterclass live in NYC (yup, the one that I now lead a group through every June), the timing felt just right. Why not? I went for business inspiration because she’s always been a long time inspiration for me in that area, but deep down I wouldn’t have minded more healing powers myself, esp at that time.
I’ve told this story before, about sitting in the auditorium and just not really sure why I was there (amongst the tarot card readers, physic mediums, healers, etc). But this part I haven’t: on the second day during one of her deeper guided meditations on business, she was asking us to feel where we felt resistance it in our body. Was it the heart? Third eye? Head? Our throats?
All of a sudden, my answer was so clear: mine was right on my upper stomach, like a tight little ball. My small intestine.
Before I knew it, I just broke down in tears. Like REAL HOT BIG tears that came streaming out of my face, in the middle of a huge crowd. I let it. It actually felt so good.
Without going into the specifics of why– the point is this: it was an emotion that was something totally unrelated– about why I could be blocking myself or playing small in my business, that I then felt in my small intestine. Like, WILD. The connection.
And then (after I went to the bathroom to clean up the mascara streaming down my cheeks), I felt so calm. It was like a release. Something had been stuck there, for who knows how long, waiting for my attention.
My stomach didn’t feel as crazy.
But that night too, I felt better. I thought maybe it was a coincidence.
And then, the next day too. To my amazement, it wasn’t just a short term thing. Something had shifted for me.
My SIBO symptoms became noticeably less.
I knew there was some connection– and something deep down that was energetically holding me back and blocking me… which manifested itself as SIBO.
When I got home, I booked a appointment ASAP with my breathwork energy healer, to further uncover anything else that was there.
I did, and more tears. More realizations. And way more healing that happened after.
But within a few weeks, it was gone. SIBO, gone. After almost a year and a half of trying everything I could think of.
I tell you all this because it’s so true. Maybe because you’re dealing with your own version of healing, in some capacity, or know someone who is. But this much I know is true: no matter how aware or “healthy” we are, we can all get out of alignment. And here’s the key: especially when things are busy or stressful and we are in GO MODE. Our bodies can hold on to things emotionally and energetically that we may not even know about, that can keep us stuck or blocked– and if left unaddressed, can manifest in all kinds of physical ways.
And that if we don’t slow down, have times set aside for quietness and care, if we don’t have time to listen to our instincts and intuition, it will keep showing up until we finally want to look and deal with what’s really going on. And it can all be happening without us even knowing about it, which is so fascinating.
Now I’m a full believer that anything weird or off that’s physical happening in our bodies, is usually a sign that something emotionally or energetically might be blocked too or in need of some attention. For me, at least that’s proven to be the case.
It took a good year and a half, but it hasn’t been back in 2 years now. Call it a coincidence if you want, but I know it’s true (for me). It’s all connected: your physical body, your mental body, your spiritual body, and your emotional and energetic body. They are ONE thing, and when one part gets off balance or out of whack (and stays there for a while), the rest can easily get thrown off or tired out and overworked.
So, sorry, if you were reading this post in hopes of a quick fix, this is not that.
There wasn’t a magical one thing that changed everything. It was the combo, and ultimately the journey of covering ALL the bases that helped for me. I know everyone is different, but I hope in sharing my own experience and story that it inspires you to find your own path and methods.
Take-aways/things I now know/what I would tell my best friend if she came to me tomorrow for help:
1. There’s no getting around it: SIBO is usually caused by stress. Being in GO mode. Even if your body doesn’t “feel” stressed or you don’t recognize it as such (ha, me to a T). If you have a lot on your plate, there’s a chance your body, your adrenals, and your nervous system are indeed being stressed. Thus, the importance of having stillness in your life, ways to emotionally process things (like journaling, a team of healers, float tanks, infrared saunas, massages, and other practices that help quiet the mind, etc), and having daily rituals and practices that help you tune in. More on the importance of rituals and daily practices are coming in the new book, so make sure you’ve ordered your copy. It’s truly all connected to our food, which is what I explain.
2. With food– even more proof that having balance and a lot of variety in what you eat is KEY. Looking back now and in talking to so many more people about it, SIBO is becoming more and more common. I’m not a doctor, but I’m fairly certain that there is a correlation between high fat/low carb diets and SIBO because of the natural lack of fiber (from whole grains and fruits that are usually lacking). In prepping for our wedding, etc, I wasn’t eating any grains and very rarely fruit, because it felt better on my body at the time. But I think I took it a little too far. A little more balance and variety would have been good. I don’t think it has to do with this factor alone, but I think it was a contributor. Yet again, proof that “diets” that cut out entire categories of food are never sustainable, and can be in fact even detrimental to our bodies over time. I do suggest to start reading more articles online about healthy living. This review of Built Bars shows how beneficial protein supplementation can be.
3. A little wine and chocolate in your life never hurt (when done mindfully), but when your body is compromised or trying to heal and is stressed out, these things can make it worse. I’m not saying to go extreme and have none, just to reduce it and be more aware of it. These are also two foods/things that people consume more of when stressed, so it can be a endless cycle if you’re not aware of it and processing your emotions in a healthy way.
4. Find a great naturopath. And then find great healers too. And/or therapists too. You’ll need both approaches most likely. And neither one hurts to add in, and often complements and speeds up whatever process your body needs.
5. Don’t be a victim or have a victim mentality. That only delays whatever healing could happen. Stay as positive as you can, see the lessons and gifts that you are being presented with, stay trusting, and above all, believe in your body’s capacity to heal. Manifest it. Meditate on it. Create intentions of being well and not identifying too much with something being “wrong.” Take time to talk to your body, with care, and infuse it with good energy everyday. I know it sounds crazy but it WORKS.
Was this helpful to read? It’s true, it took me so long to write and formulate my thoughts, so I truly hope that it can help even just one person out there. Has anyone else dealt with SIBO? Please chime in and let us know below if you’ve come across any other great tools or resources along the way. I always want this space to be a wealth of resources and inspiration, no matter what you’re going through, and sharing is the only way we speed up the process for each other. Let us all know below!
Love this post? You’d love the cookbook then too. And psst, did you know the 2nd book comes out this Fall? Check it out here. And be sure to check out the seasonal meal plans (or the new easy DINNER ONLY plan) if you want even more help and resources to make REAL FOOD a more simple, joyful and intentional way of life!