What does it feel like to get a SIBO diagnosis? What does it look like to go through treatment, with meal plans and herbal antimicrobials? Addie Wales, MIMC patient and @yoganinjagirl, shares her experience through nearly a year of SIBO treatment. Keep reading for her journal-like entries—and to learn how her story of SIBO and intuitive eating could help you.
Part 1: A SIBO Diagnosis
This is not a story of a postpartum transformation or weight loss or anything like that. And it’s not a “before and after.” The photo on the left represents my body “enduring” and the photo on the right represents “healing.” They were taken 4 weeks apart, during which I ate a SIBO specific diet (grain free, dairy free, low carb, no sugar, no fiber).
I’m thankful to finally have a diagnosis for my SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth) [from MIMC], but I know it will be a long road to healing and there may never be a true “before and after.” I will constantly be looking for underlying causes to my symptoms and do whatever I can to heal my gut. I’ve become a bit obsessed lately (I think my husband is tired of being quarantined with someone that only talks about gut health and digestion 24/7), but it’s a complicated issue and there’s lots to learn!
Part 2: Is the Elemental Diet for You?
My doctor [at MIMC] put me on a low FODMAP diet (it felt SO restricted! onions, garlic, blackberries, cauliflower, sweet potatoes were all off limits & the list goes on), along with herbal antimicrobials.
I made a lot of progress [in 4 weeks], but my body still felt inflamed, so I asked my doctor if I could do the Elemental Diet (strictly drinking liquid amino acid shakes). … It’s often considered an extreme form of treatment and used as a last resort due to its difficulty to adhere to, but in the grand scheme of my health journey, 3 weeks seemed like nothing.
There are horror stories out there about extreme fatigue and die-off symptoms, but my case was different. I had plenty of energy on the Elemental Diet. I was able to work out at my normal level of intensity and my body recovered more quickly than usual. I achieved 3 new fitness PRs! I’m finishing out the 3 weeks feeling super empowered (to know that I can stick with something hard for 3 weeks!).
As I start to eat food again, I have a bit of nostalgia for my #ShakeLife. Meal prep was SO easy. I felt nourished and full. I didn’t have to space my meals or plan them around workouts. It’s time to start diversifying my gut microbiome in order to have a healthy diet long-term, but I will say that the list of foods I CAN eat now feels varied and abundant! Funny how drinking only one thing for 3 weeks will change your perspective on that.
Part 3: Herbal Antimicrobials vs. Prescription Antibiotics for SIBO Treatment
After 3 weeks of my liquid diet, I reintroduced food and immediately all of my original symptoms recurred. The treatment eradicated a small amount of my bacteria overgrowth, but nowhere near enough. After speaking with my doctor we decided to move onto another round of herbal antimicrobials followed by prescription antibiotics.
I’m not thrilled that I have to do antibiotics because they come with other side effects (they could have caused the SIBO in the first place), but at the same time I’m trusting my doctor and trying not to control the process. For the time being, I’m continuing to eat low FODMAP (low fermentation potential, low carb, low sugar, no dairy, no gluten, no additives, no alcohol). My diet is the one thing I can control to help keep symptoms to a minimum.
I’m lucky to be home during this time and have the ability to cook healthy homemade meals. We ordered takeout from Duluth Grill last weekend. I planned out my meal ahead of time to ensure it would be within the guidelines, but unfortunately ended up feeling sick for the next 24 hours. 😔 As a foodie, I look forward to the day that I can share a meal with friends at a restaurant and not have to worry about being sick the rest of the day!
Part 4: The Mental Stress of SIBO
After seeing nearly no improvement from my first 2 rounds of herbal antimicrobials and the Elemental Diet, I felt discouraged. I was eager to get back into eating the foods I love (🍠 🍉 🥦). My doctor [at MIMC] encouraged me to do another round of herbal antimicrobials (my 3rd round).
I’m finally starting to feel more normal in my body! Less foods are causing adverse reactions. I ate 1/2 cup of watermelon 2 days ago, 1/2 cup of cauliflower yesterday and 1/2 cup of oats today! I’m slowly diversifying my diet and reintroducing foods that I love. My stomach is flat. My skin is clear.
At this point, I have no idea if the methanogens are still attacking my small intestine, but I’m happy to report that I’m feeling better and have my hopes up. Daily yoga and meditation have played a huge part in my mental state.
Part 5: SIBO + Orthorexia—And Learning Intuitive Eating
It’s embarrassing to admit, but food consumes my thoughts. There I said it. I plan out all my meals a day or even a week in advance. 📅
I likely have an undiagnosed case of orthorexia. (An obsession with eating healthy.) This didn’t just come out of nowhere. It stems from a lifetime of allergies and a recent diagnosis of SIBO (which I likely had for years). I’ve been trained to read labels thoroughly and track every single ingredient that I eat. For me it has nothing to do with body image, but it’s an unhealthy form of control. I’ve developed a fear of foods and a fear of feeling sick after eating.
To be honest, it completely takes the joy out of eating and makes food a daily stressor that prevents me from living my life normally. My dad recently commented that, “food is my religion.” I was a offended because I realized it was true. ⛪️
I’ve only recently admitted this to myself and my husband…I made an appointment to work with a registered Dietician Nutritionist. I’ve decided it’s time to get my disordered eating in check so I can get my life back. Like many INTJ personality types, I like to have control. I’ve been using food as the object of my control on and off for years, but when I became diagnosed with SIBO this March I took it to a whole new level. My meals are planned out a whole week in advance. Every ingredient is measured and recorded. It’s mentally exhausting. I haven’t shared a meal with my husband in 6 months because my meal plan is so rigid. That’s just sad.
I want to have food freedom. I want to eat intuitively and stop restricting calories, stop counting macros, stop shaming “bad” foods, stop fearing carbs, stop binging on sugar. I want to learn to trust my body’s hunger and fullness cues. I had no idea that anti-dieting was a thing until I learned about it on Instagram recently, but I’m so glad it is and there’s a community of professionals training to teach intuitive eating. I’m hopeful to hear that others have moved past disordered eating and into a life with food freedom. I hope to one day, post-COVID, connect with friends over a meal of wine and pizza or pad thai or WHATEVER sounds good without feelings of shame and guilt after. This is my journey.
Part 6: Food Freedom and SIBO Recovery
I identified as gluten free and dairy free for 10+ years of my life. A lot of people that know me are confused, so I want to explain my journey from being “the allergic girl” to becoming a “bread girl.”
I gave up delicious things like pizza and donuts for over 10 years, but I told myself that sacrificing gluten and dairy was worth it in order to live a healthy life, free of bloating and gas.
I thought that giving up food groups was what I had to do to avoid my digestive issues. I got used to not eating like everyone else, not being normal.
Gradually the food groups that I had to avoid started to expand: soy, sugar, grains, corn, anything processed, etc. It happened slowly over the course of years and I became accustomed to reading labels and always planning ahead before going to a potluck or party. I thought it was just the way I’d always have to live my life. My digestion sucked and I had to avoid lengthy lists of foods.
In 2020, I had the time & finances to get help. I worked with [MIMC] and did research on my own. I learned that gluten wasn’t evil; I was just having a hard time digesting FODMAPS because I had SIBO.
Now that my digestive issues are healed, I no longer have to focus my energy on food rules and restrictions. I realize this is a privilege because I am healthy now and I won’t take it for granted, but for the time being, I am not identifying as gluten free or dairy free and I am eating everything (in moderation).
In the future I will do my best not to jump to conclusions about certain food groups being evil. Instead I will work with a professional to get to the root cause so that I can heal from within (instead of taking extreme measures just to subside the symptoms).
No judgements to anyone that is gluten free, but I encourage you to ask yourself why you are and do your own research. Then weigh the pros and cons. For me, the mental stress of having food rules was more unhealthy than eating some bread every once in a while. Celiac is a serious diagnosis and I’m fortunate not to have that. This is my journey and everyone’s is different.
Looking for support with intuitive eating or SIBO diagnosis or treatment? MIMC can help—our practitioners are here to support you on your health journey, mind, body, and soul! Schedule your appointment today.
Addie Wales is a Ninja Warrior athlete and yoga teacher. She’s been practicing yoga for 14 years and has over 1000 hours of teaching experience. Addie has a playful approach to movement and her love for movement is contagious. She’s passionate about teaching functional yoga that helps people move better and feel better in their bodies. She’s also an advocate for intuitive eating.