My IBS Journey

So I have decided to get a bit personal with this post and talk about my journey with IBS. I am quite nervous about writing this post because it is so personal and as a dietitian I usually do not get too personal with my clients (I make the appointments about them!) So I haven’t really shared my journey with anyone before and now I am making it public to the world.

I started experiencing symptoms while I was still in high school (about 17 years old). They weren’t too bad to start with. I discovered every time I had coffee I felt really bad, so the avid coffee addict that I was decided to quit it cold turkey. I felt better for a while. Then I noticed I started feeling really bad (I wont go into detailed about the symptoms, but I’m sure you can imagine) every time I had dairy. I was never much of a milk drinker so I cut back even more. After a few years, I decided to see a doctor about my symptoms and see if I was lactose intolerant. I didn’t have my own doctor at the time so I went to a walk in clinic. I sat down with this doctor I had never met before and explained my symptoms and that they occurred every time I drank milk or had any dairy products. I expected him to tell me I was lactose intolerant, but to my surprise, he said I might have an eating disorder instead!

I was mortified from this experience. I knew I didn’t have an eating disorder, I knew I was lactose intolerant! I knew the symptoms weren’t all in my head, I knew they were real and that avoiding dairy helped! But I became terrified to talk about my symptoms with anyone after this. Even after I did finally get my own family doctor, I still didn’t feel comfortable talking to her about it.

(I want to pause here and make a side note for anyone suffering with an eating disorder or anyone that knows someone with one. Eating disorders are nothing to be ashamed of, they are a serious illness that should be handled with compassion and love from family and friends and treated with a team of health care practitioners. I have seen many clients and have friends with eating disorders and understand the difficulty of their journey. So I want to apologize for my younger-self’s reaction to the idea of them. I have hovered over that section of this post many times, debating whether to exclude it or not. But I have decided for the authenticity of this post to include it.)

My symptoms kept progressing though to the point where I knew I needed some help. I decided to do some research of my own and rather than turning to the internet, I turned to my local public library and found a nutrition text book. I spent the summer reading it and was fascinated by everything in it. Unfortunately it didn’t contain any information about digestive issues and what I was going through. But I was hooked on learning more about nutrition! I was attending the University of Winnipeg at the time, finishing up a degree in theatre production. The degree required me to take a science course, and to my delight, the introduction to nutrition course through the kinesiology department counted towards this!

I sat on the edge of my seat every lecture and could not wait to learn more! The instructor was a registered dietitian, and I soon decided that I should become one too! I finished up my degree and got accepted into the University of Manitoba’s Human Nutritional Sciences program.

My symptoms continued to get worse but my degree made me feel comfortable talking them. I spoke with my Doctor and asked for a referral to see a dietitian. My school insurance didn’t cover this service so I had to pay out of pocket.

My doctor booked my appointment with a dietitian all the way across town. I didn’t have any means of reasonable transportation to get there. So I had to ride my bike (longest ride I had ever done) But I was determined to finally find a solution!

Unfortunately the appointment didn’t go so well. The dietitian didn’t have any experience working with my symptoms and wasn’t able to offer me any advice. She did try to get me to start eating chicken for breakfast though. I secretly laughed in my head about the idea and knew there was no way I was going to do that. She did suggest I ask for a referral to a gastroenterologist. So I went back to my doctor and got on a waiting list to see one.

Since becoming a dietitian myself, I knew I wanted to be able to help individuals in my situation. So I did end up getting a lot of value out of my appointment with that dietitian. I try my best to ensure every client I see walks away with something of value, and to truly listen to them and their struggles. I have dedicated my practice and my studies to IBS and other digestive issues because on that day (and after completing my degree) I discovered that IBS is not part of our formal training. I am not wanting to talk bad about a follow RD here either (again I struggled with whether to include that part in this post and I am sorry about it). Every dietitian in Canada has gone through rigorous training and is absolutely amazing. But we tend to specialize in certain areas, digestive issues just wasn’t hers.

My first appointment with my gastroenterologist finally arrived! He was absolutely amazing. He really took the time to listen to me explain my symptoms. He was able to diagnosed me with IBS right away! Of course I wasn’t happy about the diagnosis, I was hoping for something with a magic instant cure. But I was happy to finally have an answer!

He started me with the usual treatment of increasing my fibre intake, but that didn’t work for me. We then progressively tried pretty much every medication available for treating IBS, but none seemed to work. I even went in for two colonoscopies to be sure of my IBS diagnosis. Finally when he ran out of options, he suggested a diet that was relatively new at the time but was getting a lot of positive research for managing IBS — The “FOODMAP Diet”. Yes, that is spelt wrong on purpose. That is what the doctor called it and how he wrote it down. He didn’t know anything about the diet but told me to look it up. As soon as I got home, I opened my laptop and started to search on google for it!

Oh boy, was it ever confusing! In all my years of nutrition training I had never heard of a diet this complicated before. One website would say one thing about it, another would say something different. There wasn’t much available at the time either. I also noticed that some of my “safe” foods were on the do not eat list and that some of my “absolutely not” foods were on their list of foods safe to eat. So I decided this diet wasn’t for me and I closed my laptop.

I continued to suffer throughout the rest of my degree. I then finally graduated and started my dietetics internship. The internship is a 9-10 month practicum training, working under dietitians in many fields. During this time, I discovered that I wanted to work in private practice and I wanted to specialize and help those with IBS. So I began my self training and made sure that the internship coordinator knew my intentions. She was able to set me up with other dietitians that worked in this area. I have since completed online training courses for IBS and the Low FODMAP diet as well.

Once I completed my Internship, I was finally a dietitian! Right away I began working for a local private practice and started seeing clients with digestive symptoms. I also started the low FODMAP diet myself. I was amazed by the results! I have since branched off and started my own private practice that focuses on IBS and the Low FODMAP diet.

I can’t lie and say that everyday is symptom free. Life happens! I do occasionally decide that a symptom here and there is worth the taste of my favourite dishes. But the majority of the time I do focus my diet on eating foods that agree with me.

I am supper lucky and grateful to be able to help others find relief now too! I hope you find value in my blog posts to come. I also encourage you to seek out the help of a registered dietitian that specializes in IBS if you are suffering from it and thinking about starting the low FODAMP diet. It is a very difficult and restrictive diet. A dietitian can help you through the process and ensure you are still providing your body with a proper balance of nutrients.

I provide one-on-one services in person (Winnipeg, Manitoba) and on the phone (Canada only excluding BC, Alberta and PEI). I am also an administrator, along with two other wonderful dietitians, on a Facebook group called Low FODMAP Canadians. This group offers great support and advice for anyone following the low FODMAP diet. If you are in Canada, I strong suggest joining it as well.

Disclaimer: This blog is meant to be informative and supportive and in no way be a substitute for medical advice. If you have IBS or you suspect that you have IBS you should speak with your physician about your symptoms and treatment options. I also recommend working with a registered dietitian before making any changes to your diet.