It can be difficult to remain positive when you are suffering from chronic illness, especially one that is invisible because it is in the gut.
In this episode of The Healthy Gut Podcast, host Rebecca Coomes discusses her own journey to health and how she developed the 5 key pillars to health to truly reform her health.
Plus, included in this episode is a free download of the 5 key pillars to health, giving you practical tips you can apply today to support your own health journey.
In Episode 1 of The Healthy Gut Podcast, we discuss:
✓ After suffering from chronic illness for 36 years, Rebecca was diagnosed with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). After completing treatment, she regained her health by changing all areas of her life.
✓ The importance of reconnecting with your body and improving your awareness
✓ Your nutrition has the power to harm or heal
✓ The importance of incorporating movement into your daily life
✓ Why changing her mindset had an enormous impact on Rebecca’s recovery
✓ Rebecca’s lifestyle needed an overhaul to support a return to health
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Rebecca Coomes is an author, entrepreneur, passionate foodie and intrepid traveller. She transformed her health after a lifetime of chronic illness, and today guides others on their own path to wellness. She is the founder of The Healthy Gut, a platform where people can learn about gut health and how it is important for a healthy mind and body and coaches people on how to live well with SIBO. Rebecca is the author of the world’s first cookbooks for people treating Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and the host of the SIBO cooking show and The Healthy Gut podcast.
Welcome to the Healthy Gut Podcast, I am your host Rebecca Coomes and I am so excited to be bringing this podcast to you. I am an author, a coach, a presenter, and a survivor or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO as it is commonly called. When I was diagnosed with SIBO in early 2015 I was completely thrown by my diagnosis. I didn’t know very much about the digestive system. And so I went out looking for information and I just became overwhelmed. There was a lot that I could find on the internet. But I wasn’t sure how much of it was accurate or valid or whether it was just people’s opinions. So I became passionate about helping others live well with SIBO and other digestive disorders.
The healthy gut podcast is a place where people with disordered digestion can come and hear specialist talk about gut health. It is a place where you can learn the latest in research, science and treatment options. Yes, we will have a SIBO focus but we will also be looking at other disordered digestions such as irritable Bowel Syndrome, inflammatory bowel diseases, and other gut and digestive issues. Importantly we are also going to be looking at the impact our lifestyle has on us. And I realized in my own journey that I had to address other issues other than my gut before I could truly regain my health. So we are going to be talking about things like our awareness, our nutrition, our movement, our mindset and our lifestyle.
I want to tell you a little about me so you can understand where I am coming from and what led me to be the host of the healthy gut podcast. I was sick for 36 years. I was born 2 months premature and I spent nearly 30 years taking antibiotics. My poor mom was a in a really bad way after she had delivered me and she wasn’t able to breastfeed me. So I was put on to formula and I didn’t do well with formula. I was a pretty colicky baby. So I was put on lots of antibiotics. I spent so many years of my life on antibiotics and I was also that kid that got sick all the time. No matter what it was, I got it and I got the worst case possible.
In my twenties I was diagnosed with endometriosis and at the same time I was diagnosed with SIBO I was diagnosed with hemochromatosis. I have had two major parasite infections in my gut. I’ve had multiple cases of food poisoning. I’ve had gastro several times and I have three abdominal surgeries. I now know I was just like a hot pot waiting to develop SIBO. I also spent 10 years of my life actively looking for an answer as to why I felt sick. I went to countless GPs and they ran multiple blood tests all of which came back and showed that I was in perfect health yet one could answer my question – why did I feel so sick?
I was bloated. I had suffered from chronic constipation. I could not lose weight and in fact I kept putting weight on sometimes at a kilo a week which is about two pounds. And I was just miserable. I was going from one diet to the next. I was virtually starving myself and yet I was getting fatter and fatter. Plus my health wasn’t good. I got everything going. I felt miserable.
My brain felt foggy. And I was starting to wonder if this was really what life was all about. On top of that I was developing a lot of food intolerances. So I started off with wheat and dairy and then it expanded to all glutean. And then I started to move to things like legumes and lentils, beans and the worst was when my beloved red wine started causing me problems. I just love a nice glass of red wine. But I found that very easily, I would end up with just a stinking headache after even just a small wine glass. And you know at that point, I think that was my tipping point, I thought if I can’t drink red wine what’s the point?
In my attempts to find answers and going to multiple doctors something happened to me quite frequently and that was that when they couldn’t find the answer to my condition because hey they we relooking in my blood and not my gut. Some doctors said to me, “Well perhaps it’s in your head Rebecca. Perhaps you actually don’t have any illness. You are just imagining it. You are a hypochondriac.” Can you imagine how terrible that feels when you know you feel sick, you know that this isn’t the way you want to live life and yet someone who has got a medical qualification suggests you are making it up?
I was really frustrated. I was also terrified that I was on my way to cancer. And I didn’t want t die prematurely. I felt like I still had a lot of life left to live and I was really scared I didn’t have much time left. So one night in absolute desperation, I sat on the internet for hours and I keep seeing this name of naturopath pop up. And I thought, people are talking about her, she must be worthwhile going and seeing. And luckily for me she wasn’t too far away. So I made an appointment.
I walked into her clinic and I sat down and she said, “How can I help you?” and I said, “I don’t know. I don’t know how you can help me but I feel so sick and I don’t want to live like this anymore.” I just need someone’s help. And the first words she said to me were, “I believe you.” Imagine if every health care practitioner out there said those three little words – I Believe You. Imagine the difference that that would make for us patients knowing we have the support of a health care practitioner.
Now my naturopath was saying to me she believed me when I said I felt sick. Now she didn’t know the answer to why I felt sick at that moment in time. But she was willing to work with me to uncover what was going wrong and suddenly I went from feeling like I was completely alone and isolated with no one helping me to then having one person on my team that knew something about health.
And not long after that she put me through the SIBO breath test which we did as a lactulose breath test with the lactulose solution. Then it came back positive. I had hydrogen dominant SIBO. I can’t tell you the relief I felt when I finally had an answer. I had a name for it. I had a name for this condition that had been making me feel sick for so long. I was literally leaping around in the air saying, “I have SIBO. Look at me I have SIBO! Isn’t that wonderful?”
And I decided that I was going to do everything it tool to get well in the shortest possible time. In fact I had decided I was going to be the quickest case of SIBO ever to have graced the earth. Relief was quickly replaced with anxiety. What the hell was I going to eat now?
I was already living a really restricted diet but going into the SIBO biphasic diet by Dr. Nirala Jacobi, Australia’s leading SIBO specialist, felt like I was going to mars. How on earth was I going to live my life now? What was I going to tell my partner who was already a little bit frustrated with my limited food choices? How would I tell my friends and my family? How would I live?
Faster forward a month and I was completely obsessive about my food. It was all I could think about. And I felt like it was the solution to my problems because let’s face it when you are the patient and you’ve finally got something that you can control, that you know will make you feel better, you do everything you can to make yourself feel better. But I was starting to see that this wasn’t overly healthy for me and one month in and starting to see some improvement in my symptoms but definitely not being at the end like I thought I would be. It dawned on me. Treating SIBO and healing my gut was just the start of my journey. And it was going to take so much more than food alone to change my health. And I realised that my life was going to have to change.
I was hyper aware of how food made me feel. But I wasn’t connecting with anything else. I would sit down for my meals and I would be really angry about my limited choices. And this wasn’t doing me any favours. That was putting me into a very stressed state. That was not helping my digestive system.
And it dawned on me one day – I am gonna have to start being aware of how I think and how I behave and how I live. If I am going to then have any chance of making progress with my condition. So I started taking note various that was causing me stress or anxiety. Obviously at first that was food. And I had to start thinking about how my food made me feel. I also had to look at other areas of my life. Things like my sleep, my stress, my relationships. How I moved my body and even my job. I realised with some alarm that it all had to change.
Now instead of trying to make all of the changes all at once, I just started to become aware of it. I started to connect with my body. And I used something called a food and mood diary. And that helped me to write down what was going into my mouth and then how I felt and what was happening at the other end whether I was going to the toilet. It was a really great way for me to keep track of what was happening every day. And the great thing is that as my symptoms calm down. So did my hyper-awareness of them. I also watched this occur and enjoy the changes as I could see my health progress.
From a patient’s perspective, the food that you can eat feels like it’s the most important part of your treatment. It is something that we can control 100%. And we can often see a direct relationship with what we are eating and how we feel.
Now the other issue around having a very controlled and limited nutritional program is that it can lead to disorder eating.
I suffered from an eating disorder when I was younger and I could see that eating for SIBO could very easily trigger another episode of an eating disorder. And so I had to be really mindful of the way I ate and the way I approached my food. And that went back to being aware of what I was doing. I really believe that joy can be found in food. If you know where to look for it. food is supposed to give us nourishment and health and it does taste delicious and yet those of us with disordered digestion can often feel very angry and negative toward our food.
So if you are listening to this podcast today, look at how you can think more positively in your food and when I started to approach my food with love and joy and move away from anger and frustration, I enjoyed eating so much more. And also I felt like my health improved once I started being more positive about my nutrition.
After years of being chronically ill, I recognised as well I was not moving enough. And I am one of those people that goes from zero to 100. I am either lying on the couch doing nothing or I am training for a triathlon and I have been known to do both of those things. But I was in a really weakened state at that time of my SIBO diagnosis. I had been very unwell for quite a long time and because of my SIBO I was carrying a lot of extra weight. I didn’t feel that I could do it on my own. So I went and found a personal trainer who could work with me. I turned up at his studio and I explained to him that I had just been given this diagnosis of SIBO and I was looking for someone that could work with me. I wasn’t able to go into intense sessions at that point in time and I needed a trainer that was willing to work right at the base level with me to help build my very basic level of strength before even suggesting to increase the intensity or change the diversity in my exercises.
Now I am really happy and lucky to say that he did. He was really happy to be part of my journey and two years on I still work with him every single week. And what is great is that I have been able to educate him on this condition called SIBO but also that he is helping me learn more about my body.
Moving your body is important but it is also important on how you move your body and making sure that you move it for the right way according to your current health journey. If you are feeling quite unwell and then you go and do a really high-intensity session, you may be putting your body under too much pressure. You may find that you actually feel better by doing something much more gentle like walking or yoga.
And listening to your body, listening to what it’s saying to you how it feels is also really important. Going back to being aware. I have days where I feel really strong and I am very comfortable going and doing a more high-intensity session. But there are other days where if I haven’t slept well or if have been feeling a little bit stressed that I recognised that my body needs something less. And I will do something gentle like I will go for a walk or I might go and do some yoga or even I will just do some meditation and focus on my breathing. Just to help my body return to a calm state.
The 4th component that I realised I had to address as I returned to health was my mindset. Our mindset is so important in helping or hindering us to get well. My mindset was in a terrible state. Not only had I been chronically ill, but I was also the survivor of sexual abuse and terrible bullying when I was at school. So I knew all there was to know about hating yourself. If there was any opportunity for me to feel really down on myself I took it with both hands and ran with it because that’s all I had ever known. I’d also only ever know being a sick person. I identified with it. In fact, you could say I even kind of wore it as a badge of honour. When you are chronically sick you know what sick is but you don’t know what healthy is.
Let me tell you about the time that I was sitting down to lunch and I had a beautiful pasture fed steak and some salad. Luckily for me I was able to eat raw vegetables while I was treating my SIBO. And as I sat down to eat, I was so angry at my food. I was angry that I couldn’t go and eat burgers and fries. I was angry that other people looked like they could eat whatever they wanted and not have any symptoms. I was angry that I had to spend money on this food. I was angry that life didn’t feel fair. It didn’t feel like I could live the way I wanted to. And I was feeling stressed and anxious and I stopped and I made that connection and I become aware with my mindset. And I thought, “If I approach my food with such anger what happens to it when it comes in me? Do I get the nutrients or is my body not able to deal with it because all it’s known in the process leading up eating has been anger and frustration and negativity.”
So I stopped, I paused, I took a big deep breath in and then another one and then another one. And I looked back at my plate of food and I looked at that meat and those vegetables and realised that what was sitting in front of me was the best possible nutrition that I could eat right then and there for my current state of health.
And so I started visualising all of those nutrients coming into my body going out to the cells that needed them the most and supporting my body to get well. I also realised I needed to switch off my electronic devices. I was a corporate marketer for many years working in high powered stressful jobs. So lunch was always on the go. I would sit on my computer and I would be typing away scoffing food down and often on a call at the same time. And I realised that needed to change that. I couldn’t focus on getting good nutrition into my body if I wasn’t focused on eating. So everything would be turned off and I started applying that for every meal. I also slowed down with my eating. I realised that I have been speed eating for most of like. I could win awards for how quickly I could eat food. But I didn’t think that that was going to do my digestive system any favours.
So I applied a strategy which I read somewhere that with every mouthful I would put my knife and fork down back on the plate and my hands in my lap and I would not touch my cutlery again until my mouth was empty. And I would focus on chewing many times. At first it felt really laborious. It felt like I was actually having to do quite a lot of work to actually achieve that. But within a short period of time that became my natural state. And in fact if I ever have to eat on the go or in a hurry now, it feels really odd whereas that used to be my norm.
I also did something did something to help myself with my mindset. Because again I realised I needed a team of people to help me get well. And mindset is so important. I sought the services of a psychologist who is very skilled at dealing with people that had experienced major traumatic experiences and abuse like I had and we still worked together today. And I have come along such a long way. Those negative thoughts don’t control me anymore.
And now I can truly believe that I have the right to be healthy and happy and with every passing day and I focus on getting my health back and I tell you what, it’s a constant journey. I don’t see it as a finishing line but will be my constant journey until the day I take my last breath. But I now know that I have got the right mindset to support my body to do that.
The 5th component was my lifestyle. I needed to change my lifestyle to support a healthier life. I had been a very drinker in the past. I liked in the UK for many years and Isocialisingg there is done in the pub because the weather is pretty is pretty ordinary for most of the year and then when the sun comes up everyone heads out to parks and gardens and socialized with alcohol there. So you are literally drinking every week, all week. I used to congratulate myself on even one night off a week on the alcohol.
I wouldn’t say that I was an alcoholic but I definitely had a problem with alcohol because it was used so frequently. I also liked to party and I would stay out very late with friends. I used to stay if I never had to sleep again that would be a good thing because sleeping is just so boring. Who wants to stay asleep when you could be awake socializing with people.
My diet was haphazard. I would be on some restricted diet, trying to lose weight or I would be binge eating or I would be drinking. And it just wasn’t conducive to health. Because I was such a fun time party girl, I had a lot of friends who loved the fun time Rebecca. They wanted me to be the fun girl that drank with them, that partied with them.
When I got my SIBO diagnosis, I decided to stop drinking and I initially gave myself three months because my naturopath had said that I should expect that I would be on my SIBO treatment program for 3 months. And whilst that felt like an eternity at the start, I felt that I was capable of giving myself 3 months off the booze and also by eating the SIBO biphasic diet. But something has happened to me that I wasn’t expecting. I planned to go back to my old way of living at the end of 3 months. But as I started to feel better, I realized I didn’t want to go backwards. I wanted to move forwards. And I didn’t want to go back to drinking alcohol heavily. In fact I wasn’t sure if I would drink again.
And whilst these days I do have the occasional glass of wine, all that is now is just the occasional glass. I am very comfortable in socializing without any alcohol which h is a really great place to be in. but I had to walk away from some friends. I had some friends say to me, “I liked the old you. Why did you have to change? The old you would have done such and such. This and that. The old you was fun. The old you used to stay up really late.” And so I had to become aware and had to think about my mindset when it came to including those people in my life. And I had to, for the first time in my life, choose health and my happiness over other people’s desires for how I live and how I lived in their life.
It was really hard walking away from friends. Some of these people that I had been friends with for many many years. In these days we have a difference relationship. They can see why I have done what I have done. I am so much healthier and I am so much happier. But our friendship has changed. And I now spend more time with people that are more interested in health than people that are more interested in drinking and partying.
I had also been in this very stressful corporate jobs from my whole career. And my last job in fact was one of the worst. It was overwhelmingly stressful with a boss that didn’t like me and I didn’t particularly like her. And I used to be eaten up with stress. I would wake up feeling sick with the thought of going into work. And often my phone would be beeping from 6 or 7 am from my boss texting me things which immediately set my anxiety through the roof.
And being stressed constantly is not supportive to getting well. So I made a pretty big decision and I quit my job and I set up my own marketing consultancy and whilst that brings its own level of stress, I was doing something that absolutely loved and I got to work with people who I absolutely adored. And so whilst there was a little bit of stress around not knowing where my next pay check would come from, it didn’t scare me because I knew that I was capable of bringing in new work. And so the stress that I felt was minimal in comparison to what I had felt in the corporate world.
My sleep also needed to be addressed. I am the eternal night owl. I will very happily stay up until 2,3,4, in the morning. And if there is a social situation and there’s people to talk to then I am very happy to stay up awake talking to them. But staying up late and not getting good quality sleep consistently is not conducive to getting well. And whilst I am definitely not at the point where i would say I have nailed this component of my journey, I am a lot better.
And I do something, a little trick to try and remind myself every single night to get to bed. I set an alarm on my phone that goes off at 10 pm every night. Now sometimes I may be able to get into bed and I am there at 10:30. Other times it’s closer to midnight and occasionally when I am working to really big deadlines I had to stay up late. But that now has become the exception rather than the rule. And I know that with every good quality sleep where I am sleeping through the night and I am not awoken through all the gut problems that I used to once have. That good quality sleep is really supporting me.
So the end of this journey I realized I had 5 key pillars to health. Awareness, movement, mindset, and lifestyle. And 6 months after my initial diagnosis with SIBO I was given the all clear. It was absolutely wonderful to know that something that I had struggled with for my entire life was finally gone. Now by no means do I think that I will necessarily be free from SIBO for my life. I know I am at risk for redeveloping it because I have endometriosis. I suspect I have adhesion sin my abdomen from my abdominal surgeries and I am not sure if my gut is yet in a bit perfect health. But I am definitely working towards getting it there.
So the healthy gut podcast will be talking about those 5 key pillars to health along with the information and research that is coming out on SIBO and all things gut health. Today I am absolutely passionate about helping people live well with SIBO and other gut disorders. Yes, we may have a chronic illness and yes it affects millions of people every single day but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Imagine if every single person out there had a dream team with their own with helping them and supporting them to regain their health, what a different pace our world would be.
I look forward to sharing the interviews with you that I have got lined up. I have got some absolutely wonderful specialists coming on the Healthy Gut Podcast. I am Rebecca Coomes from the Healthy Gut podcast and I look forward to sharing a wealth of information with you over the coming episodes.
If you would like to know more about the 5 key pillars to health head to the HealthyGut.co/pillars and you can download a free information sheet on the 5 Key pillars and how you can apply them to your life and health today.
I love hearing from my guests from the podcast. So don’t forget to write me a review in iTunes. Tell me what you think of the Healthy Gut podcast. I also want to know who you would love to have on the show as a guest and what topics you would like me to cover. So don’t forget to put that in the comments as well. And if there is anyone that you know that you think could benefit from listening to this podcast don’t forget to share it with them.
If you would like to connect with us you can find us on all major social media platforms. We are the HealthyGuts on Facebook. On Instagram we are the.healthy.gut. And on the other platforms we are the healthy gut. All the links to those links are in the show notes below.
I can’t wait to speak to you next time. Thanks for listening.