My Crohn’s Story
Bloating, constipation, gut-wrenching spasms, vomiting… you name it, I probably suffered from it in my teens, 20s and early 30s. Additionally, I experienced fatigue, nutrient deficiencies and numerous infections, coughs and colds throughout the year. If there was something going, I usually caught it.
After numerous visits to my GP and a homeopath in my early teens, I was told I probably had IBS and there wasn’t much that could be done about it. While I made some changes to my diet (for example cutting out wheat) and I ate relatively healthy, there wasn’t a day that I didn’t have bloating and there probably wasn’t a month that I didn’t experience bad spasms and vomiting. Sometimes they were so bad that I’d be screaming in agony wishing that somebody could cut out all my insides to make the pain go away. I totally started to feel that my body didn’t like any food I ate.
I didn’t just suffer physically though. Being bloated most of the time made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin, which also had an effect on my self-image, self-confidence and mood! The spasms and vomiting meant that I was off work sick at least one or two days a month.
In 2010 I went for intolerance testing on the recommendation of my GP and out of 220 foods that I was tested for, I was intolerant to about 80 (yikes!). The doctor who did the testing said he hadn’t come across somebody with so many intolerances and that some of my readings were the highest he had come across in his practice. I was intolerant to all grains and dairy and most legumes, nightshade vegetables and some fruits and nuts. Basically most things I was eating at the time were now on the intolerant list and when I went to a dietician for guidance in changing my diet I was told I was too skinny, that I needed to eat more and to look up recipes on the internet! Great help (not!). I tried giving up a lot of the foods I was most intolerant to and for a while I got amazing relief with hardly any bloating and spasms. I remember thinking ‘so this is how I should feel’. But it was short lived.
During the summer of 2011, I began getting ulcer-like stabbing pains in my stomach, worse than I had ever felt before. I couldn’t eat or drink anything (even those things I wasn’t supposed to be intolerant to) without doubling over in pain. My doctor kept prescribing IBS medication and none of it worked. At my insistence, I was sent for tests and found out that I had the autoimmune condition called Crohn’s disease which is an inflammatory bowel disease. I was actually relieved that the cause of my pain was discovered, even though there’s no cure. I was put on steroids and immunosuppressant drugs, was told that food had no effect on my condition, and that, due to strictures (a narrowing of the intestines), I should stick to eating low-fibre foods (e.g. refined carbohydrates).
Despite what the doctors told me, I didn’t believe what they said that food had no effect. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on medications and eating beige and lifeless food (white bread, white rice, white potatoes etc). I went to see a naturopath who introduced me to the concept of intestinal permeability, often called ‘leaky gut’. This is often related to food intolerances and autoimmune conditions, like mine. I started getting to know my body and the effects of different foods on it.
Stabilizing blood sugar and inflammation was the first step towards healing my leaky gut. A lot of the low fiber foods recommended by doctors were actually doing me more harm than good as they made my blood sugar spike and encouraged inflammation. I researched how others had healed their Crohn’s through diets – including macrobiotic, GAPS, Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), Low-FODMAP, Paleo and the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol (AIP).
Since April 2014, I’ve been following a mainly AIP diet concentrating on nutrient dense real whole foods (no processed foods, no refined sugar), gut healing supplements and lifestyle factors like sleep, stress management and detoxing. I started with a lot of cooked foods that were easier to digest and as my gut healed I introduced more. While I felt the best I had ever felt on this diet I started to get IBS-type symptoms once again.
In early 2015 I was diagnosed with an overgrowth of bacteria in my small intestine (SIBO) that was contributing to the IBS-like symptoms. To help manage my SIBO, I underwent a course of anti-biotics and I’ve moved to a low-FODMAP version of AIP making slow reintroductions to see how I manage different foods.
So as you can see, my recovery is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I am often adapting my diet to suit my needs! I’m a firm believer of what might work for one person might not work for another and you need to experiment with what feels right for you while listening to your body.
I’m actually now grateful for my diagnosis. Crohn’s made me take stock of my diet and lifestyle, and sparked a passion for nutrition and wellbeing and helping other people achieve their health goals.