My SIBO Story
Kristy Regan’s Health Journey with SIBO
I went to see a naturopathic doctor with complaints including diarrhea, bowel grumbling, and fatigue. After an initial elimination diet that didn’t change my symptoms, my doctor had me take a SIBO test. My test came back positive. Upon hearing my diagnosis of SIBO and the prescribed strict diet, I was angry, frustrated and sad. I’ve always considered myself a gourmand, the person who loves beautiful food, adores cooking with and for other people and cherishes communities who come together to share a meal around the table. But I was determined to take care of my health and well-being. My doctor told me to start the SCD (specific carbohydrate diet) and check back in. She also gave me one round of herbal antibiotics, a type that I know now isn’t widely used or successful. My doctor was very supportive but knowledge about SIBO was in its infancy.
SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet)
I started on SCD shortly after I was diagnosed with SIBO. Since the diet recommended fanatical adherence I was fanatical. I made all my own food and only ate out after advance conversations with a chef to make sure I would be able to eat something safe. All that and I was a bit better but still had major symptoms including diarrhea, constipation, anxiety, and malabsorption. I lost about 40 pounds over the course of a year even though the total amount I was eating hadn’t changed.
Sick and Skinny
Having never been a slender person, losing 40 pounds was a weird phenomenon. Along with people lamenting my strict diet (if I couldn’t eat a croissant I would just die!) I was given numerous compliments on my weight loss. I appreciated being thin for the first time in my life but I didn’t want it to be at the expense of my health.
The Emotional Component
Before and during my diagnosis I experienced multiple stressors. I decided to go back to school to get my medical prerequisites and apply to medical school. Right before I started my first semester of school, a friend and former roommate committed suicide. As is often the case, it totally took me by surprise and was devastating. I did the best I could, talked to friends and kept busy with homework but I can’t say I really knew how to process such a difficult life event. Additionally, school didn’t quite fit the way I thought it would. I didn’t have a background in the sciences and being a kinesthetic learner, found being back in a traditional classroom extremely challenging. Nevertheless, I kept going because I had a goal. I was accepted to the two naturopathic medical schools to which I applied and decided to attend NCNM in Portland, OR.
On the recommendation of my CA doctor, I made an appointment with Dr. Sandberg-Lewis on his student mentor shift in Portland at NCNM. My first SIBO test in Portland showed that my numbers (for hydrogen and methane gases) had roughly tripled. I started the SIBO Specific Diet. This decreased some of my symptoms but I found the decreased variety of foods to be quite challenging and the time I spent cooking at home felt like a PT job. I also started to see Dr. Louise Rose for LENS neurofeedback to help with anxiety. After several rounds of herbal and regular (rifaximin) antibiotics, my SIBO test result numbers went down but were still positive and my symptoms were still present. I was struggling in medical school and my living situation was also stressful. I knew I had to make changes but felt like I was barely staying afloat.
The Right Mix
At the beginning of my second quarter in medical school, I went on medical leave from the ND program while still taking nutrition classes at NCNM. This was crushing at the time but I look back and wholeheartedly know that earning my Master’s degree in Nutrition was the best choice for me. After I switched to the Master’s program, I was able to take a lighter schedule. Additionally, I changed my housing situation and started spending more time and effort on self-care and healing.
After an appointment with Dr. Sandberg-Lewis I decided to try the elemental diet as a treatment. I did the elemental diet for two weeks and it was both physically and emotionally challenging. I don’t recommend it for everyone, but it worked and it was really worth the sacrifice. When I took a SIBO test it came back negative. I began to expand my diet and continue to heal.
During this time I decided that I wanted to learn more about SIBO and help others via nutrition and wellness. I created a proposal to work with Dr. Sandberg-Lewis as a nutrition student and when he accepted the proposal I eagerly started my internship under his direction.
I am not 100% symptom free all the time but most days I feel whole and well. The silver lining of my journey is that I am honored to work with people with SIBO and am able to offer them my expertise both from dealing with SIBO on a personal level and also because helping people with SIBO is the focus of my practice.
SIBO is unique to each person, with wide ranging symptoms, underlying causes and reactions to medications and diet. Healing from SIBO may be quick, or more likely; it may be a longer road with twists and turns. Educating oneself and finding the right provider(s) is of paramount importance.
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