Haunted by SIBO: Savoring holiday foods wih chronic sickness

Fork and knife photo by Marco Vech.

SIBO is a medical condition that stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. For people with SIBO, the composition of bacteria in the small intestine becomes less diverse while certain strains (such as E Coli or Klebsiella) take over. This can cause diarrhea, bloating, stomach cramps, fatigue, constipation, gas, and more.

Now that you know what SIBO is, it’s time for the twist: I have not been diagnosed with SIBO but I spent months listening to its whisperings.

In March 2023, my doctor discovered I had E Coli. I had many SIBO-like symptoms that remained even after I had taken antibiotics to treat my food poisoning. In May 2023, I went to a hospital and had a breath test done. The test indicated the possibility of methane-dominant SIBO (now known as intestinal methane overgrowth). In June 2023, I met and worked with a registered dietician who put me on a restrictive diet which involved avoiding foods that “ferment” in my stomach. She also told me to get a gastroenterologist who specializes in SIBO.

From February to July of 2023, I visited a few gastroenterologists and had some more tests done which came back normal. As I dealt with embarrassing amounts of gas, cramps after eating, and constant bloating, navigating the medical system gave me a “logistical headache.”

My logistical headache, however, was one ailment I could fix. I eventually decided to stop seeing doctors and stop getting tests done. I now work with a nutritionist, who has a non-clinical approach to food.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’m grateful I no longer measure out my food which is what I did all summer. (For example, the registered dietician said I could have only 2.65 ounces of cucumber at a meal.) I now take a holistic approach to food.

First, I focus on the quality of ingredients. For family get-togethers this season, I plan to make cornbread with organic maple syrup instead of refined, processed sugar. As a bonus, I will use sheep yogurt instead of cow milk which makes the bread more moist.

Second, I allow my stomach to rest between meals. Rather than pecking every few hours, I sit down three times a day and savor breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Listen, I use organic spices and I want their smell to rise up to my nose and dance in my mouth. That’s not gonna happen if I grab a bag of chips and scarf it down as I walk out the door. For Thanksgiving, I will decline the nuts and crackers served a few hours before the meal so my digestion is fully rested for dinner. Then I plan to sit down and feast freely – without guilt over calories and loving the flavors.

Third, this is a bit out there but I do what suits my energetic temperament. It’s been said that coffee is bad for you and tea’s a healthier option. But for me, black tea makes my throat scratchy and I feel flustered while drinking it; whereas, a moderate amount of organic, high-altitude coffee in the morning calms me. I imagine my heart beating slower as I am sipping it.

With all the modern medicine out there, I’ve become a more traditional eater. I want foods that suit my sensibilities even if the science says they’ll ferment in my stomach. Doing otherwise would be as stressful as spending the holidays with people I don’t want to, which I quit doing. It’s a gift I gave myself and I don’t regret it.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are not medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making major changes in your diet and make dietary choices that feel right for you and your lifestyle.

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