Hi there! My name is Lauren and I’m a registered dietitian. A few years ago I never thought I would be someone with major food intolerances and IBS, but here I am writing a food blog all about it. I wasn’t born with food intolerances, and it is a long story how I got to this point, but I am going to try to tell it the best I can. This post is all about my IBS story.
I decided I wanted to be a dietitian when I was in high school. There were quite a few reasons I came to this decision. I was able to take a cooking class at my high school, and I was shocked at how little my classmates knew about food and nutrition. I realized I was so lucky my parents are very health conscious and cook almost all of our meals from scratch. I also became a vegetarian around my fourteenth birthday. My parents made me research how to have a healthy vegetarian diet, and I was amazed at all of the information about the connection between nutrition and health.
Another big reason I wanted to be a health professional is because found out first hand the importance of health. When I was 13 I started getting chronic tension headaches. They escalated to the point where I had a non-stop awful headache that lasted for months in grade 11. I had countless tests done but the cause was never found. Luckily in grade 12 my daily headaches slowly lessened over the year from severe to moderate, and I started to have more days with just a mild headache. Things have continued to improve, but I still experience a couple mild headaches per week, and maybe one bad one per month. I now never take my health for granted.
I was able to get my grades up and got accepted to the Bachelors of Applied Sciences in Nutrition program at the University of Guelph. I went straight from high school to university. I was so excited to be feeling so much better that I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity. I volunteered for countless organizations and joined many student groups.
However, I also started experiencing some mild digestive issues during my undergrad. Like many people with IBS, I was embarrassed and self-treated. I was able to manage symptoms by making simple dietary changes (such as eating more high-fibre foods)! I know now that I should have gone to see my doctor instead of struggling on my own.
But things changed during my Masters degree…
Things Get Worse…
The day I was accepted into my Master’s program was one of the happiest days of my life. I had worked so hard for 4 years to get into the program. Unfortunately, my Master’s did not go as smoothly as I hoped, due to my health issues.
In Sept 2014, I began my Master’s of Public Health in nutrition at the University of Toronto. In October I caught a bad stomach bug and was very sick for more than a week. After I recovered from the bug I still didn’t feel right. I had severe digestive symptoms daily, including stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas and nausea, plus fatigue. This time I went to see my doctor right away. She ruled out other digestive disorders, and I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS).
I also struggled with generalized anxiety disorder related to my IBS. Through my university, I was able to see a psychologist and started Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). I also tried a few different medications for anxiety before finding the one right for me. I don’t believe we should be ashamed to talk about digestive or mental health.
There were a few different medications recommended by my doctor to deal with my IBS which I tried, but unfortunately, they did not help me. Simple dietary changes were no longer enough to manage my symptoms. I felt so overwhelmed and alone, and it was a struggle to keep up with my school work.
Over winter break I decided to research nutrition therapies for IBS, in particular the Low FODMAP Diet (LFD). The LFD is an elimination diet designed to be done with the assistance of a trained registered dietitian which helps to identify food intolerances. It helps approximately 3 out of 4 IBS sufferers. It is not the only dietary change which can help individuals with IBS. I decided to start the diet in January because I was so sick of being sick, and had already tried many other dietary changes.
Finally, Things Get Better…
I did not have access to a dietitian trained in the diet, and in the beginning, I made quite a few mistakes and experienced a lot of frustration. One of my biggest regrets is not trying harder to find a FODMAP-trained dietitian. I actually unintentionally lost some weight in the beginning because I was not eating enough (I did not need to lose weight). NOTE: LOW FODMAP IS NOT A WEIGHT LOSS DIET.
Even though it was hard, it was all worth it, because over time my symptoms slowly decreased. It took weeks, but I went from experiencing severe symptoms daily to rarely having symptoms. Starting reintroduction was scary, but I am so happy I did it. I tried testing a few foods in the spring, but the symptoms were interfering with my school work (homework is 24/7 unfortunately). I delayed one of my summer placements so I had a whole month off just to finish reintroduction. I know I was very lucky I could do this). I was able to identify the foods which trigger my symptoms and I continue to avoid them today. My biggest trigger is polyols, and I can tolerate moderate amounts of fructans, GOS and lactose, and small amounts of fructose. (NOTE: everyone will have a unique reaction to FODMAPs & you may not react at all to some)
I can now eat foods which I know I don’t react to (including ice cream luckily!) I was even able to complete a research course/literature review on IBS and the low FODMAP diet, supervised by a professor/gastroenterologist. Finally, I was able to complete my Master’s degree and achieve my long-time dream of becoming a Registered Dietitian.
During my Master’s degree, I thought a lot about how one day I wanted to have my own practice and help others with digestive issues. I talked everyone’s ears off about how frustrated I was with the low amount of Canadian FODMAP resources. After I graduated and became a dietitian, I moved home and started looking for jobs, but there were not many that appealed to me. I kept thinking about how I wished I could be helping those with digestive issues instead. Then it occurred to me, what am I waiting for?? The only thing holding me back was me.
I let go of my fears. I reached out to multiple FODMAP experts and continued my digestive health education. I spent months planning my business and started my own food blog to share my favourite recipes. Now I see clients one-to-one for nutrition counselling and coaching both in person and over phone/video messaging. The low FODMAP diet is just one of the tools I use in my practice to help clients struggling with digestive issues. I truly believe I have the best job!
If you are interested in my services, contact me to set up a free 10-minute phone consultation!
My three key messages for this blog are:
I’ve gone through my share of health struggles, but I honestly believe it has made me stronger, and am grateful it has led me to this point.
Disclaimer: My story is just one example of how nutrition can be used to manage IBS symptoms. Every individual person will have a different experience of IBS and will react differently to the Low FODMAP Diet.
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I’m always happy to answer FODMAP questions 🙂 Leave a comment down below, send me an email or contact me on social media!