For most of my life, I didn’t know much about digestive issues apart from what I learned about IBS and other gastrointestinal conditions during my dietitian training. This changed when I became my very own first client. I got incredibly  sick after a trip to the Peruvian jungle, and my digestive system never fully recovered.

Bloating, abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, gas, brain fog, lack of concentration, depression, headaches, skin rash, and insomnia became part of my life. The symptoms were on and off at first, but kept worsening to a point where I experienced them nonstop. After a couple of months, I consulted a medical doctor who told me that I was eating too much animal-based food. This advice wasn’t very helpful, and I later found out that this doctor was vegan and had a strong bias against meat.

Fortunately, though, he referred me to a gastroenterologist (also known as a gastrointestinal or GI doctor) who was finally able to diagnose me with a parasite infection (Blastocystis hominis). Many doctors believe that this type of parasite is nonpathogenic (does not cause or produce disease), but fortunately, my GI doctor felt that my symptoms warranted treatment. I received a first course of antibiotics, then a second one, but my symptoms returned despite eradicating the bug. I had already started eating a gluten-free, grain-free, legume-free, and dairy-free diet, but it didn’t make a big difference. After ruling out celiac disease (although it can’t be truly ruled out since these tests aren’t reliable if you’re not eating gluten, as you’ll learn later), post-infectious IBS became my new problem. Many IBS cases can be traced back to a gastrointestinal infection, as you’ll learn in Chapter 2. The GI doctor couldn’t offer much to alleviate my symptoms, but she suggested I look into fructose malabsorption. I was fortunate to be in Australia at the time, where awareness about food sensitivities was greater than in North America.

As soon as I returned home, I started doing some research. Even though IBS is not life-threatening, I knew it couldn’t be good for my body to be in so much distress day after day. I knew I didn’t want to live like that for the rest of my life. And I knew there had to be something I could do about it. The food we eat every day is in direct contact with our intestines, for better or worse. I really hoped it would be possible to soothe the inflammation and provide nourishment to heal my gut.

I started researching fructose malabsorption, as well as FODMAPs (more on these later) and food-chemical intolerances. I experimented with low-fructose, low-FODMAP, and low-food-chemical diets, combined with my already gluten-free, dairy-free diet. I got to the point where I ate just five foods: chicken, meat, eggs, ghee, and very small amounts of green beans, seasoned only with unrefined salt. It was restrictive, but I felt significantly better. It showed me that there was a link between my diet and my symptoms.

I then stumbled upon the concept of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and decided to get tested. SIBO made a lot of sense considering that I reacted to almost all carbohydrate-containing foods (SIBO symptoms are due to excessive intestinal fermentation of all types of sugars and starches). The results of the breath test were positive and I was relieved to finally know what was wrong with me.

I started on a course of natural antibiotics and embarked on a modified version of the GAPS diet (see Chapter 3). I sometimes wonder if I had had SIBO all along and that perhaps the parasite was not really responsible for my symptoms, but simply hid a more profound gut-dysbiosis problem (gut flora imbalance). In any case, I had finally started feeling better and was able to slowly improve my food tolerance and variety.

I now manage to stay 100-percent symptom free. I also believe that my new way of eating gave me the added bonus of making me healthier overall. Even though I now know that I can’t eat foods I thought I once couldn’t live without, like oatmeal, peanut butter, cheese, bread, and sugar, I don’t even want to eat these foods anymore. I have found a tasty new way of eating that has helped me recover my digestive health and get my life back.

Update: Now 5 years later, my digestive health has continued to improve and allowed me to reintroduce more foods that were previously problematic for me, such as many FODMAPs, dairy, rice, corn, oats, tomatoes, nuts, coffee, and many types of starches that I couldn’t look at without bloating in the past.

Not only has this brought more variety and pleasure in my life, but I’m convinced healing my gut and eating nutrient-dense REAL food were exactly my body needed to also balance my hormones, since I also have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), one of the most common female hormonal imbalances, and the first cause of infertility in women. Despite all of that, I was blessed with the ability to conceive naturally, have a smooth pregnancy, and have the wonderful homebirth I planned for. I’m so grateful to have a healthy and happy toddler in my life, thanks to following the wisdom I acquired in this book to help me build my own optimal diet.

I wrote this book to help some of the millions of people, like you and me, who suffer and are given bad dietary advice, or are told that diet has nothing to do with their digestive health. You’ve been waiting long enough: It’s your turn now! There is nothing like finally understanding the cause of your digestive problems and being able to fix them by eating REAL, nourishing foods that help your digestive system heal itself and your body to function at its full potential.

From my own experience and my work with other fellow sufferers, I have developed a comprehensive and effective approach that should help you see results within a few weeks—without having to eat just five foods or make the same mistakes I did! Whether you have IBS, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, reflux, or any other gastrointestinal problem(s)—and despite your doctor’s advice that there’s nothing you can do—REAL food may be just what you need to get your symptoms under control and start living the life you deserve.