5 things I wish I knew about gut health + top tips for dealing with flares
Updated: Nov 25, 2021
One of my most requested blog posts to date has been for all things gut health related. Gut health is definitely a buzzword right now and seems to be a topic that everyone is talking about in the health and wellness circles, and for a good reason!
There is so much incredible research and information coming out on the importance of a healthy gut. Having spent the last few years going through some pretty intense issues and symptoms myself, I completely appreciate how valuable this emerging field is.
While I’m not a doctor or qualified health practitioner (so I won't be going too deep in this post into anything that falls into that territory), what I can talk about is my personal experience, and where I’m at on my journey to a healthier gut so far.
MY GUT HEALTH STORY
I’ve spoken a fair bit about my health issues that led to me being diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (you can read about my IBD journey here).
The short version of a very long story is that I had ongoing gut problems for a few years prior to being diagnosed that was put down as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Turns out, I’m also just super lucky and have both IBS and IBD. Check out my post for a quick explanation of the difference between the two.
Fast forward to now, and my IBD is fairly under control with medication I have to take every day. But, I’m still battling daily with other gut issues that my doctors have encouraged me to try to manage and address through lifestyle.
I’ve tried many different things when it comes to sorting out my gut issues and trying to manage symptoms.
One of the biggest ones I did was completing The FODMAP Challenge, which gave me some success in identifying what my biggest triggers might be. I did a 2 part blog post on my whole experience, and you can find part 1 and part 2 here.
Even though I had some success with finding some FODMAP triggers and trying to re-introduce foods, I’ve still been struggling daily with some pretty yuck gut issues.
So, I’m trying something different. I’m currently seeing a nutritionist/naturopath who specialises in gut health and hormone issues (which is something that needs a whole other blog post about!), and she’s been great so far.
I know not everyone agrees with alternative approaches, but I’m at the point where I’ve tried a lot of the conventional things and am wanting to look at things more holistically given the complexity of my health issues.
It’s still too early to tell how things are going with my new nutritionist as I’ve only just had my initial appointment with her, but I will definitely do an update down the track.
I'm working with her to have some further testing done to find out exactly what’s going on in there, and we’re going to be focussing on treating the whole picture - my diet, lifestyle, and stress (a huge trigger for me). I’ve also been put on some new, personalised high-quality supplements to support the process.
TAMING THAT TUMMY - THINGS I WISH I KNEW
As I mentioned, I’m not qualified to give medical advice, so you should definitely always speak to your doctor as the first port of call. That being said, having so many ongoing gut issues over the past few years, and not really knowing anyone else who’s gone through the same thing, has taught me a few lessons.
If you’re suffering with symptoms, don’t just sweep it under the rug. Although some gut symptoms are normal, if you think what you’re experiencing is abnormal, go to your GP as a starting point. I put up with so many years of pain because I thought it was normal.
Which flows nicely into my next point - find your voice and learn to be your own advocate. There are so many amazing qualified health professionals out there who can help, so if you feel like you’re not being listened to or taken seriously, don’t be afraid to make your voice heard or seek out someone else who you feel more comfortable with.
Don’t stop until you get some answers. If you genuinely feel in your body that something is not right, it’s okay to keep pushing and looking down different avenues (see above point). Before being diagnosed with IBD, I knew that something really wasn’t right (that wasn’t just IBS), and luckily I had an amazing GP who helped get me referred for a colonoscopy (that ultimately led to my diagnosis).
Listen to podcasts. This might sound like a strange tip, but the amount and breadth of information that I’ve been able to access and learn just from listening to podcasts is incredible. There are some amazing podcasts out there that have helped equip me to be my own advocate. Some of my favourites are The Plant Proof Podcast, Leanne Ward Nutrition and The Doctor’s Farmacy.
Talk to your GP or health practitioner about getting the right tests done and ruling out any nasty conditions that could be causing you issues. For example, IBD can only be diagnosed through a colonoscopy/endoscopy, however if you have IBS the scope will come back clear. There are also other tests I had to check the level of inflammation in my stool, which helped point those red flags towards my eventual diagnosis.
MY TRIED AND TESTED WAYS TO DEAL WITH FLARES
Whether I’ve been in a flare from my IBD or IBS, through eating something or being so stressed that it triggered my tummy, I’ve tried pretty much everything you can think of when it comes to symptom relief.
So, I’ve compiled a nice little list of the things I regularly do and use when I’m suffering (especially with pain):
Peppermint tea - I find it calms my nausea and helps ease my stomach discomfort.
Iberogast herbal drops - I add them to my peppermint tea or other herbal tea to help with any gastointestinal symptoms. I buy mine from Chemist Warehouse.
Hot water bottle - simple and cheap!
Low-residue diet - similar to colonscopy prep food, sticking to low fibre foods that are easier to digest to make sure I’m still eating enough nutrients until symptoms subside (lots of ‘white’ food). If I really struggle to keep anything down, I swear by Twisties - they’re the only thing I can tolerate when I’m nauseous.
Meditation - I completed a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course at the beginning of the year and have been incorporating a meditation and mindfulness practice into my daily life as a way to help manage the psychological stress I know triggers or worsens my flares.
Dial back on the exercise - for someone who is an avid gym-goer, I’ve had to start listening to my body more and doing more gentle forms of movement when I’m unwell. My favourites are gentle yoga, Pilates and walking.
Buscopan - more of a last resort but I use it if my stomach pain is bad. I use Panadol sometimes too but find Buscopan helps more.
Other drug interventions - definitely see your GP about these, but depending on my symptoms I’ll use an anti-diarrheal, or an anti-nausea drug as a last resort.
I hope this helps even a few other people out there who are suffering with gut issues to realise that you are definitely not alone, and maybe even use a few of these tips to help when things aren’t so great.
If you have any other tips or things you swear by when you’re experiencing some gut symptoms I’d love to hear from you below or on my Instagram at @thehealthy_lawyer