I turned 43 recently and realized it’s been a decade since I did my year-long healing diet/cleanse to heal my digestion.
At first, after finishing my year-long cleanse, I was afraid I would relapse. But, knock on wood, my bowels no longer complain, no matter what I eat, my food allergies are gone and my immune system is stronger than ever.
My good digestive health for the last 9 years was not due to watching what I ate. For almost 8 years after my recovery I ate a healthier version of the standard American diet. I ate moderate amounts of sugar, gluten and dairy without much problem. I even developed a daily espresso habit.
How did my sensitive body handle these foods without being thrown off balance?
It’s because I learned some important lessons from being sick and had a much better idea of how to care for myself. After a year of deprivation I needed to take a long vacation from thinking about food, but I prioritized self care in my life so it would make up for the insults of my liberal diet.
Before returning to the Paleo diet a little over a year ago, I used the following 5 lessons to stay healthy after IBS.
I hope these lessons contain nuggets of wisdom you can apply to your own life too.
Lesson #1) Reducing ambition
For us sensitive, anxious, perfectionist types, ambition is the enemy of gut health. Striving to achieve often results in stress and anxiety. And we all know what a number stress can do on gut health. I learned from experience that my body doesn’t tolerate prolonged stress without falling apart.
I made a decision not to push myself past my limits. Despite my ambitious nature I settled for a simple life where I put my health above career achievement.
Before getting sick I worked as a journalist, under constant tight deadlines.
After IBS I got a part time job as a community organizer for a non profit. While I was overqualified for the job and it wasn’t intellectually stimulation, it had perks I enjoyed.
It was low stress, I had a lot of freedom and the ability to set my own hours. The pay wasn’t great but I found a way to manage.
I learned that my health was my wealth and that I couldn’t push myself like those around me did, without consequences.
Lesson #2) Eat home cooked meals
Before I got sick my meals were primarily take out or eating out. Sometimes I would make myself some pasta.
I didn’t know how to cook and only learned through necessity when I was healing and couldn’t eat out anymore.
The biggest gift I got from being sick was learning how to cook real food from scratch. In my opinion this is the healthiest way to eat as you have control of what you put in your body.
For years at least 80 percent of my meals have been home cooked.
Cooking has now become a creative outlet and stress reliever. I play in the kitchen and create weekly recipe that I post at www.paleokitchenlab.com.
Cooking from scratch like grandma helps avoid the additives, allergens and added sugars of modern food.
Lesson #3) No more medications but plenty of kombucha
I believe true healing never comes in pill form.
Popping pills to manage symptoms is like ignoring the messages your body is sending you.
It’s not our fault that our medical system is obsessed with pharmaceuticals. And as easy as it is to pop a pill, there are always side effects (like being hard on the liver or killing bacteria or poking holes in the gut), but doctors don’t discuss those.
Most pharmaceuticals don’t heal, they just ease the pain of symptoms. This prevents people from going deeper to correct the imbalance underneath.
For example, my digestive issues went from bad to worse after taking medications like the birth control pill, pain killers, antibiotics, acid blocking medications and antidepressants.
And a mix of pain medications and antibiotics gave my healthy husband a leaky gut. Which I thankfully helped him heal.
I’m NOT telling anyone to get off their medications! I’m simply raising awareness about exploring alternatives and also pointing out that some medications may be doing more harm than good.
I learned this lesson the hard way and had so many regrets about taking pharmaceutical drugs. But for the last decade I’ve mostly avoided medications.
I was forced to take one course of antibiotics after a tooth extraction, but knew how to tweak my diet and supplement with probiotics to negate the damage.
Not only am I medication free, I’m also supplement free. Supplements are a personal choice and I choose not to take any. That means no probiotic supplements either. Instead I choose yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha to get my good bugs.
When I was healing I didn’t take any probiotic supplements either. But after I stopped my diet I discovered kombucha. It was a daily habit because my body craved it and I am sure it helped build up my immune system.*Note: Probiotics are not the answer for everybody. People with SIBO should avoid them and those with yeast or candida infections shouldn’t drink kombucha.
Lesson #4) Knowing when and how to exercise
I’ve never been an athletic type, but I really got into indoor rock climbing a few years after healing.
Everyone knows exercise is good for you, but it’s often more complicated than that.
Vigorous exercise can be stressful to a compromised body and can contribute to adrenal fatigue by raising cortisol.
Some people will experience much better healing results with rest rather than exercise.
Exercise is beneficial only if the body is up for it. Feeling good after a work out doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you, that’s just the endorphins talking. Knowing the right time to rest and the right time to move is deeply healing.
Other than walking, I didn’t exercise during my healing process. But I’m pretty sure I had adrenal fatigue.
Extremely light exercise and lots of rest helped me heal, but vigorous regular exercise kept me healthy afterwards. The benefits of exercise includes moving lymph fluid (good for mood and detoxification), balancing blood sugar and managing stress.
Regular exercise helped me balance my blood sugar so I didn’t get hypoglycemic if I skipped a meal, and allowed me to eat a diet higher in carbohydrates without getting fat or sick.
Having a low stress job, exercising regularly, cooking my own meals and drinking kombucha allowed me to eat a non Paleo diet for years and still feel great!
Lesson #5) Connecting to my body
This has been the most profound of all the lessons. Five years ago, I began studying chi gong, which helped me get out of my head, connect to my intuition and find emotional stability.
Chi Gong focuses attention on body sensations. It’s a moving meditation that’s a great alternative to sitting meditation, which makes most people antsy.
A body-centered practice like chi gong helps sensitive types become more resilient to stress, overwhelm and emotional turmoil.
Why is it important to observe our body sensations? It’s because many of us have cut ourselves off from feeling them and this disconnects us from knowing what is truly going on with ourselves.
If we live mostly in our minds, our anxieties and neurosis will begin to run our lives and dictate our actions. This increases the experience of overwhelm and confusion. Our anxiety grows out of control as our mind imagines all the things that can go wrong.
When you’re sick you need inner guidance and intuition the most. Otherwise you get lost in mountains of conflicting health information. It’s a misery.
Learning to connect to your body’s wisdom will serve to guide you on your path to healing. Learn to listen to your gut and it will tell you what it wants and needs.
A body centered practice like chi gong helps connect you to your gut, inner wisdom and a deep sense of peace and stability. Overwhelm and stress will no longer affect you in the same way. You can stop the progression of an anxiety attack.
My practice of Chi Gong has allowed me to take on the challenges of being an entrepreneur. It has allowed me to live with ambition without allowing it to destroy my health.
Awareness of what is going on with my body, allows me to rest, adjust and take on challenges that are stressful.
Other practices that reap the benefits of chi gong are yoga, emotional freedom technique, Feldenkrais, yoga nidra, gyrotonic, Alexander technique and other styles of moving or sitting meditation. These are called somatic practices and work primarily with the body and mind connection.
Having and healing IBS has shown me my limits as well as my potential.
The weak spot in my body will always be my gut, it will be the first thing to go if my body gets out of balance. But that doesn’t mean I can’t live in harmony with my sensitive gut and learn how to keep it happy.
By truly getting to know myself and my body, I went from being an anxious hypochondriac to a confident superhealer. Knowing how to take care of myself is a priceless superpower.
These lessons not only changed my life but will continue to support me into old age.
What lessons have you learned from your healing journey?
Angela Privin is proof that IBS is NOT an incurable disease or a disease at all. IBS is a body out of balance. It’s an invitation for change. After solving her own IBS mystery more than a decade ago Angela trained as a health coach to help others.
Angela uses both science and intuition to help people figure out what’s out of balance in their body. She works with lab tests, dietary changes, supplementation and nervous system rebalancing. Get help rebalancing your digestive system and solving your IBS mystery here.