My SIBO Story

SIBO- What in the heck is that?

Often diagnosed as IBS, SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) is a gnarly condition. Essentially, people are not really supposed to have bacteria in their small intestine. Large intestine, sure, but the little guy should be basically bacteria-free. What happens with some people (particularly those who are more apt to get food-borne illnesses, including food poisoning, norovirus, salmonella, etc- yes, you can have a genetic susceptibility that makes you more prone!) is that the infection in their gut kind of sticks around after clearing the majority of the infection and you start feeling better. This is officially known as Post-Infectious IBS (IBS is basically a trashcan diagnosis for “your gut sucks and we don’t really know why”).

The signature characteristics of SIBO are bloating, especially after meals, digestion trouble (I used to say that I felt that I just couldn’t digest anything), sometimes nausea, and often either diarrhea, constipation, or a mix of the two. Those with SIBO will often physically bloat to such an extent that they may look pregnant, no joke. SIBO also causes malabsorption of nutrients, particularly iron, B12, and vitamin D. I actually got so anemic that I was sleeping 16+ hours a day, could barely function, and ended up doing a 20 hour sleep study because my sleep doctor thought I had narcolepsy!

SIBO is super uncomfortable. I had it for two years before I was officially diagnosed, and then about another year before I got the right treatment. Unfortunately, it is a very “new” (relatively speaking) diagnosis, and the majority of gastroenterologists don’t even know it exists. Funny enough, one of the gut doctors I met with prescribed me the antibiotic I ended up taking a few times because “some studies had been done showing that it cured IBS”. But he didn’t know WHY it worked. And it worked great! …for the 2 weeks I was on it. I ended up going to a primary care, two gastroenterologist clinics, AND an IBS specialty clinic before seeing a naturopath who thought I should take the test. My results were pretty dang bad.

My naturopath prescribed me the antibiotic again (Xifaxin), and I was feeling much better. We then did a natural treatment for a few months, where I felt somewhat better, but then started getting worse and worse again. We did another round of Xifaxin (for the record, insurance companies do not like prescribing it. It is about $1,500 bucks because the US doesn’t have a generic version. However, you CAN get a generic version from Canada for about $100 and a few weeks of waiting!). We did this regimen a few times over the span of about a year. We were also treating my anemia and B12 deficiencies at the same time, but because I still wasn’t able to absorb them, it wasn’t getting a ton better.

I started trying to do my own treatment based off of what I learned on the internet. Allison Siebecker, known as the “queen” of SIBO, put together a diet called the SIBO-Specific Diet. It is a mix of the SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet), and FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols).  It is insanely restrictive- I could pretty much only eat chicken, seafood, hard cheese, and a small handful of vegetables. I was exhausted and starving, all the time! Being hungry all the time made me super angry and moody, and it was pretty rough for those close to me. I decided to continue searching for a doctor who could help me.

Finally, I found an ND who specialized in SIBO. I was immediately blown away by her insane knowledge on the subject- this is someone who is reading all the research out there, like the second it comes out. You can listen to her podcast about SIBO here. As it turns out, there isn’t much research to support the SCD or SIBO-Specific Diet. There is a lot of confusion between the two diets as well, because something “legal” on the SCD often isn’t on FODMAPs. Dr. Kimball took a look at my test results and immediately pinpointed the problem. There are two types of gas produced by the bacteria (a third is being discovered/researched right now). Some people have hydrogen-dominant SIBO (more common, easier to treat, and linked with diarrhea). Others have methane-dominant SIBO (harder to treat, less common, and constipation-based). Some lucky characters are lucky enough to have both- like me! Luckily, the hydrogen was more prevalent, however, even a small amount of methane is significant, as it is more resistant and trickier to treat.

Once again, I went back on Xifaxin. This time, we added in another antibiotic- Neomycin. While Xifaxin has been super easy to take, with literally 0 side effects, Neomycin was a b*tch. I felt fairly sick for the full two weeks I was on it, and quickly learned that a normal breakfast was not enough food in my tummy to absorb the drug without some serious nausea. However, once I got off both and started a strict FODMAPs diet, I felt better than I had in years. It’s now been about 6 weeks off the drug, and I can’t even believe how good I still feel. I have been following the FODMAPs diet quite closely, drinking tumeric tea almost every day, taking pancreatic enzymes after I eat, and doing a lot of cooking with bone broth, and it’s been amazing to feel like I can actually digest food again!! I know that there is a good chance that I will have a relapse at some point in my life- in fact, I have been told that if I get another food borne illness, I probably will relapse. However, I feel confident that I can get through it again, now that I actually know what to do to feel better.

What’s your experience with SIBO or gut issues? If you have a lot of bloating, I highly recommend taking the SIBO breath test- proper treatment will change your life! Though I’m not a SIBO expert, I have done a buttload of research, so feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

 

Eating on a Budget

I am a total priss about food. And I LOVE takeout.

But you know what doesn’t love takeout? My wallet. And honestly, neither does my gut (more about that later). One day, after listening to this awesome podcast from BiggerPockets Money (if you aren’t familiar with BiggerPockets, it may change your life- especially if you are interested in real estate investing), I stumbled upon this Frugalwoods article. I decided that I would cut out takeout- not an easy feat for lazy ole’ me! Coincidentally, a couple days after I decided this, I had to start an extremely restrictive diet, and I would have had to mostly remove takeout and restaurant dining from the situation anyway.

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For fun, I decided to tally up my grocery and restaurant food bills from February. I was beyond shocked. My grocery bill, which I thought would be maybe $200, was $430.18. Even worse, my restaurant charges (which I, again, thought would be small- I only ate out once or twice a week!! Or so I thought…) was a whopping $478.29. I was spending nearly one thousand dollars a month on food. When compared to the national averages, this was appalling, even given the cost of living in my area. And remember, this was me thinking I was being conservative with my food spending. I buy on sale! I buy extra large meals at restaurants so I can have it for lunch (and dinner!) the next day! I am frugal, dangit!

Given that the average American spends $605 a month on food, my $908-and-some-change was not looking too hot. And I have no excuses- I have a wide variety of grocery stores to choose from within 5 minutes of home, I work from home, I have a decent cooking space, etc. I am signed up for all the gas/grocery rewards programs (side note: if you haven’t done that, make sure you do!! Discounts on both gas and groceries.) So I decided to employ a two restaurant meals per month policy and cut back both my grocery and unnecessary expenditures for March.

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And let me tell you- I failed. BUT, I did save about $317. And that is not a small amount! And like I said earlier, I am massively prissy about my food. I only eat organic, cage-free meat and eggs, and my unfortunate diet right now means that I am eating almost exclusively protein. I don’t eat red meat, so I am eating a lot of chicken, cheese and fish. I can’t have much in the way of carbs, including wheat, corn, potatoes, rice, and whatever else is actually tasty. Many vegetables are off-limits, as are most fruits. (Yes, SIBO sucks!!) This is the SIBO Specific Diet, which is essentially FODMAPS + SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet). I’m at the point now where I can eat small amounts of wheat, rice, and potatoes, but still no garlic, leafy greens or dark green vegetables, fruit, onions or garlic, etc. It’s rough! But I’m getting there. I did learn how to make amazing gluten-free Red Lobster copycat biscuits with coconut flour, which was delightful! I have also purchased a yogurt maker, and make probiotic-rich 24 hour yogurt.

Anyway, back to the budgeting! My total spending on non-home cooked food was $136.20. I ended up getting takeout/delivery twice and having dinner with friends or lunch on the go three times. Not great, but soo much better than $478! My total grocery spending- amazingly- only went up a few bucks, to $454.65. Whaat, so I can spend almost the same amount on groceries and cut my takeout bill by 72%?! Sounds like a deal. My goal for this month is to cut back on both groceries and restaurants. I do feel like I’m doing okay so far- I spent about $13.50 at Trader Joe’s to make turkey and bell pepper burritos, and I ended up with five meals. That breaks down to $2.70 a meal for organic and cage-free ground turkey, organic avocados and three types of bell peppers, tortillas, and goat cheese. I did use some of my 24-hour probiotic yogurt in place of sour cream.

What do you currently spend on food every month? If you don’t know for sure, keep track for a month and find out. I bet it’s more than you think! If you were able to cut that bill back by 64%, what would you spend that extra money on, or save it for?