Food Matters: What Gastroenterologists Don’t Want to Hear

I will try to not let myself rant too much on this subject, but it is something I feel very strongly about! After living with Ulcerative Colitis for almost two years now I have learned a thing or two about Gastroenterologists, and that is they never want to hear the two words: food matters.

My Experience with GIs

I saw many GIs in the beginning, when I first developed my UC symptoms. Every GI I talked to said that what I ate didn’t matter, and if I took the medicine that I would be fine. My GI literally said and I quote:

Oh ya, you can still eat at Taco Bell. Just take the Lialda.

food matters
Src: Giphy

I have been on Lialda, Colazal, you name it, I have probably tried it. Well, guess what? Even on these medications, I didn’t get any better. After doing more of my own research, I decided to quit the meds and go a more natural route with my diet. After all, how could a disease of the colon not be affected by food passing through it? Also at that point I really had nothing to lose.

Fast forward a couple months and my symptoms were pretty much gone. I had a checkup with my GI and told her what I had been doing. I told her that I quit my meds a while back, without her permission, and she looked at me with disbelief. I told her my symptoms are pretty much gone, simply by changing my diet. She still couldn’t accept that my diet is what had helped me. Long story short, I ended up walking out of her office after telling her I won’t ever back, and thanks for the help, or rather misleading me for months?

People need to remember that GI’s are medical doctors. They went to medical school and are trained by professors and textbooks, just like the rest of us. Well, guess what? What I do for a living is nothing I learned in school, I taught myself everything. And I would like to think I am pretty good at it. Personal experience is sometimes the best experience. GI’s, unless they have been through the pain of living with a digestive issue, have no clue what it is really like. Sure they can read that people have pain, but it is not the same. I am sure anyone with Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s, or Celiac Disease will agree with me on this one.

And then there is that “brushed aside” feeling you get at the end of your GI appointment. Makes you wonder what is the point of all this?

food matters gi appointment
Src: Ramblings

Now find me a GI that has Ulcerative Colitis and I might listen. I’m sure they exist, but are probably very rare. I live in Scottsdale, AZ (6+ million people) and have yet to find one. But I can tell you who not to go to lol.

In the end, I learned that food matters and to trust my body. Do the research and don’t always solely rely on what doctors are telling you. I’m not saying all doctors are bad, but this is one area where I think it is a lot worse than others.

Having Digestive Issues? Here is What To Do

I have learned all this the hard way over years of trial and error. I really do hope from the bottom of my heart that this helps you, as I wish I had something like this when I was in agony.

Digestive Issue Index

  1. Get Your Blood Tested
  2. Get a Vitamin Deficiency Test
  3. Get a Food Panel/Allergy Test
  4. See Natural Path Doctor or Nutritionist
  5. Go Gluten-Free
  6. Create a Food Journal
  7. Food Exclusion Diet
  8. Find Healthier Alternatives to Your Cravings
  9. Exercise More
  10. Relax More
  11. Supplements
  12. Drink Lots of Water
  13. Get More Fiber
  14. Last Resort: See a Gastroenterologist

1. Get Your Blood Tested

The very first thing you should do if you are having digestive issues is to get your blood tested, both for Celiac disease and for gluten intolerance. You need to be eating gluten up until the test for it to work accurately. I had my test done with my primary care physician, but most labs can now test you for it. My gluten intolerance was off the charts, even though I didn’t test positive for Celiac. I later found out I had Ulcerative Colitis. Another way to get tested is to get your gut biopsied.

2. Get a Vitamin Deficiency Test

Many people with digestive issues have vitamin deficiencies and may not even know it. I was severely low on iron and had to take supplements to get back up to normal levels. Don’t assume your vitamins are in check… just get the test. I recommend doing this even for healthy people. Again, my primary care doctor did this.

3. Get a Food Panel/Allergy Test

Many people don’t realize that doctors have tests in which they draw your blood and then test it against all sorts of different foods. I got a 250 food panel blood test and an amazing report back with foods I needed to stay away from. Gluten again was bright red on my chart. I had other odd ones such as cantaloupe, brown rice, etc… This helps majorly speed up trial and error.

4. See Natural Path Doctor or Nutritionist

Before going to a GI, I recommend seeing a natural path or a nutritionist. Both can give you alternative ways to deal with your digestive issue. Their solutions are way less expensive, safer, and less invasive. I actually sat down with a nutritionist for an hour after getting my food panel results and we worked out a whole plan together. Nutritionists can be very helpful!

5. Go Gluten-Free

ulcerative colitis gluten-free diet

After you have had all your tests done, this is the most important next step! Go gluten-free, trust me. After two weeks of eating gluten-free and cutting out the bad foods from my food panel, I saw a complete 180 in my symptoms. By going gluten-free you will not only feel better but also have more energy, be more alert, etc. As of writing this I am getting close to the one-year mark of eating gluten-free and couldn’t be happier. It is a journey, you pretty much have to re-learn what to eat, but it is worth it. That is one reason I started this blog, was to help to others learn how eating gluten-free doesn’t have to be hard.

Also, eat lots of blueberries and bananas. These two fruits are generally tolerated by most people. Bananas are an easier source of fiber (which is hard for people with digestive issues to get sometimes) and blueberries are amazing for gut flora and your immune system.

6. Create a Food Journal

This is something everyone with a digestive issue should be doing at the start. Thankfully if you get a food panel test this becomes a lot easier, but keeping a food journal will help you narrow down exactly what causes pain and discomfort. Then it is as simple as staying away from those foods. Sometimes at the beginning this means eating a lot of the same thing and introducing new foods slowly, it is a process, but it works.

7. Food Exclusion Diet

This can sometimes go hand in hand with creating a food journal and getting a food panel/allergy test. But a super easy way to see if diet helps your issues is to simply start yourself on a food exclusion diet. Start with super simple foods, one or two, that you know don’t irritate your stomach, and go from there. What you want to focus on is keeping track of the foods you have to exclude from your diet. My recommendation would be start with something like bananas and a lactose and soy-free yogurt. Those are two things my body tolerates really well. Slowly build up your list of foods from there and exclude everything that causes you discomfort. And of course, like I said above, keep a food journal to know which foods you can and cannot eat.

8. Find Healthier Alternatives to Your Cravings

So my one achilles heel has always been caffeine. I used to drink a grande raspberry mocha every day from Starbucks. Unfortunately, my stomach doesn’t like their milk, soy milk, or coconut milk. So I have had to cut Starbucks out of my diet altogether. Yes, very sad. But there are always alternatives out there. What I found was Avitae, which is a great coffee alternative. It is basically caffeinated water. Yes, I know that sounds bad, but it is much healthier than Starbucks, and settles fine with my stomach. One of these days I will hopefully be able to cut caffeine completely out of my diet.

I also switched to almond milk. I have done lots of research on milk, soy milk, coconut milk, etc. over the past year and people don’t realize all of the benefits that almond milk has! Also, almond milk settles fine with my stomach. Make sure to get the unflavored kind if you are cooking and the brand without carrageenan.

9. Exercise More

Exercise is so important in your overall health and well-being. When you exercise you simply will feel better, period. This was hard for me at the start because I was always in pain. So introduce this more and more as you start feeling better.

10. Relax More

Relax more! Anyone that has lived in chronic pain probably knows not to take any day for granted. Life is way too short! One thing that I did to relax more was that I started seeing a chiropractor. I am a skinny guy and have always had joint issues. Seeing a chiropractor for me is very therapeutic and I always leave the Chiro office feeling like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Find ways to relax, whatever it is.

11. Supplements

I’m not a huge fan of lots of supplements, but there are a few which speed up the healing process in your gut. I have linked the exact products I use.

  1. Metamucil (adding fiber to my diet did wonders, check out my Metamucil review)
  2. L-Glutamine powder (I take this mixed with lactose-free yogurt every day)
  3. Probiotic (I recommend something over 25 billion strains and one that is refrigerated. Ultimate Flora was on the only one my stomach liked)
  4. Glycine and L-Proline (have you heard of bone broth? these are the healing ingredients in bone broth)
  5. A multivitamin is also good, especially if you have vitamin deficiencies like I did.

12. Drink Lots of Water

icelandic glacial water vs fiji water

I drink a lot more water than I did when I was a kid. I actually prefer drinking alkaline water myself. I believe keeping as much acidity out of my body the better. Beware of products like Propel, as they are way more acidic than even tap water.

13. Get More Fiber

I can’t stress this enough, get more fiber! After chatting with many people who have had Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease, after introducing more fiber into their diet, it usually always has a positive effect. Taking Metamucil before each meal and eating bananas on a regular basis has done wonders for me.

14. Last Resort: See a Gastroenterologist.

And if you have tried everything above and still not seeing results, then I do recommend seeing a gastroenterologist. You might need to get an endoscopy or colonoscopy, which can only be performed by a medical professional.

Summary

Again, I am not a medical professional, but I urge you to do the research yourself first, before wasting tens of thousands of dollars (yes, that is how much I spent) on doctors. Unlike what GI’s will tell you, food matters! Everything we put into our bodies affects us in some way or another, for good or bad.

If this was helpful, or you know someone that this article might help, please share it!

17 thoughts on “Food Matters: What Gastroenterologists Don’t Want to Hear

  1. I can relate. I was having all kinds of digestion problems. I had no insurance and barely any money, but after a little research I went gluten free. Less than two weeks later I was back to normal. The current Doctor I go to now has a daughter with a gluten intolerance and is very knowledgable about this subject. She even says staying away from gluten will help with my arthritis. My weight dropped just by going gluten free, I just started eating differently. No exercise or anything, it just dropped off(40lbs). I would recommend this for anyone even if you don’t have problems.

  2. Brian, thanks for your website. I’m a physician (primary care) and I agree with you that sometimes us doctors focus too much on what we learned in school or find in the literature. All of my digestive problems disappeared completely after going gluten-free, and since then I always take patients seriously when they say they can’t tolerate something, and I always tell them that diet matters, exercise matters, enjoying life matters. Lately I’ve had joint problems and I was ready to go on the immune suppressants the specialists recommended, but I’ve managed to put it off thanks to a ton of metamucil and probiotics, so I’m going to check out some of your other recommendations like bone broth. I think I’d probably end up before the review board if I recommended a gluten free diet for everyone, but I get around it by telling them to limit junk food (and then list a bunch of high-gluten items like beer and pizza). Good luck with all your endeavors!

    • Wow, thanks for taking the time to comment Carrie! It’s great to hear from a physician, and one that admits that they aren’t perfect. I know there are a lot of great doctors out there, but unless they have experienced UC, Celiac, or Crohn’s it is really hard for them to relate with how diet truly affects our digestive system and our entire well being.

      Glad to hear you found relief with gluten-free like I did! I too am a huge believer in Metamucil and probiotics. It’s a much healthier and cheaper way to get symptoms under control. Lots of those medicines like Lialda have horrible side effects, I have tried them all. Thanks again for stopping by.

    • Hi Carrie, this is a completely different track but just to offer up an alternative for the chronic pain. Check out the book Healing Your Back Pain by John Sarno. I read that book and another by a patient of his, adopted the beliefs he presented, and within 2 weeks had ended 12 years of chronic joint pain (primarily lower back, but also knees, shoulders and more). This was 2.5 years ago now and I have the occasional flare-up every few months during stressful times that last a couple of days, but then they go away. So I went from 12 years of nearly constant chronic pain, to the occasional bad day. Good luck.

        • Great to hear Brian, had no idea you’d gone through something like that as well. I saw the Sarno video project after it was kickstarted but purchased the DVD last year (still looking forward to it!). I’ve learned quite a bit about this since my experience and want to move into helping people with chronic pain as I believe in the US we’re in the 100s of millions of people who suffer from it, most needlessly.

          Right now I do digital marketing and I’m on the computer a lot, although you have me beat with the 18 hours per day, I’m not (usually) at that level! Even still, on top of the other pain I mentioned, prior to curing myself I also had carpal tunnel for a few months in my mouse hand, which got extremely painful, and also had vertigo 2 or 3 times (I forget). That scared the crap out of me. And there was more.

          I read your post and I had a similar experience. MRI, surgeon telling me I had basically no fluid in my lower discs and the back of a 50 year old, but to avoid him since surgery usually didn’t work,. Years of trying different methodologies (yoga, MELT, Foundation Training, etc), lots of gadgets, some of which provided temporary relief, and tons os frustration and hopelessness.

          I ‘m sure it plays a role with UC as well. It’s funny, I just spoke today with a woman who experiences physical symptoms that are textbook TMS, and I told her about my experience. I know it was her first introduction to the possibility of what I was saying, but she was receptive to it, which was cool.

  3. Excellent blog. I’d add that it’s essential for people with UC to try an exclusion diet. I found that by eliminating all dairy, all fruit, all cabbage family (incl mustard & cress etc), all sugarbeet family (incl beet sugar and spinach) and all pepper family, I also eliminated UC from my life and haven’t had a relapse or symptoms for 10 years while I’ve stuck to it. It was all about allergies to those things. I also found that whilst I can tolerate gluten perfectly well, any bread which has “flour improver” containing ascorbic acid in it, also causes me to have a major relapse. Bread without it is actually quite hard to find – you really do have to read the small print! Ciabatta bread and rye loaves tend to be OK, but the latter contains an awful lot of roughage which may be too much for some guts!

    • Hey Ruth! Thanks for stopping by. I have added exclusion diet to the list above now :) This goes great along with a food journal and food panel test. Focusing on foods that you need to stay away from should definitely help people, it sure did for me. There are strange things that I can’t eat like cantaloupe.

      Interesting feedback about the bread, and congrats on the 10 years! That is awesome.

      • Hello Brian, thanks for your reply.
        Your comment re cantaloupe is one I find particularly interesting, as I’ve been baffled for many years as to why I can eat cucumbers, courgettes, marrows and squashes without a problem – yet can’t touch melon (in UK – I think it translates as canteloupe in the US?!) without a major relapse. As they’re the same plant family (Curcurbita), I’m guessing it must be something to do with the sugars in the melon/canteloupe? which don’t exist in the vegetables in the family. But as I’m OK with sucrose and dextrose as far as I’m aware, it’s very strange. Unless maybe there’s some acid in the canteloupe which isn’t in the vegetables?

  4. I’ve been saying this since I realised food does matter, I can relate to everything you have written and can’t erge people enough to try everything you’ve recommended
    . I’ve done so much of my own research while being ill, I really believe our gut is our second brain. I was already GF before I had UC but have since gone diary free too which has really benefited me.

    • Thanks Leanne! I can’t agree more. Our gut and brain are connected in ways science can’t even explain yet. I am also dairy free. My biggest struggle is caffeine at the moment. Sometimes a gluten-free almond milk Latte from Dutch Bros is still my guilty pleasure :) The important thing is staying away from the gluten for me.

  5. I recently noticed a lot of bloating and gastritis pain when eating gluten. Now I’m also noticing head cold like symptoms after eating it. I don’t want to be carafate dependent again so I’ve avoided the doctors since it’s usually a pill with them. I now just avoid gluten as best I can. I don’t panic if I have it accidentally because I am still learning. In order to have this proven by the medical community though, I need to eat gluten. How can I explain or avoid this so I don’t have to make myself sick to be validated.

    Also, you can add all varieties of GoGo Squeez applesauce to your GF list.

  6. Here’s what worked for me: My MD was kind enough to do a Celiac test on me, but by then I had been gf for over a week. So it was negative. However, he didn’t do a thorough one, and based on my experience he decided I was NCGS and directed me not to eat gluten. I then developed a moving pain that ended on my ileus and stayed there. Thinking I had appendicitis, I went to the ER and that doctor sent me to a gastro eventually. The gastro was experienced in Celiac and I have a family history of UC. So he backed up my MD and said I should consider myself Celiac because one can trigger the other in people with my genetics.

    On a practical level, I also learned that I had a massive problem with fiber so for a long time I used a diverticulitis diet (no fiber, no bits of food, so for example, nut butter ok, nuts chewed, not ok), and I had several courses of antibiotics to stop the local infections. Afterward, I was unable to tolerate probiotics or fiber at all. It took careful planning to restart my gut flora and now I can digest soft beans like lentils ok again. I think my gut just needed a break from whatever bad flora was there and a restart. But it was dicey to say the least.

    I have been working with a functional medicine MD (they don’t take insurance, it’s 100% out of pocket) and receiving some treatments for assumed Lyme disease (the CDC destroyed the Lyme test in the USA) and re-nutrition therapy with vitamin IVs. There have been a few extremely helpful things in my recovery plan:

    1. gluten free diet
    2. glutathione/vitamin c/ multivitamin IV therapy
    3. ketogenic diet (temporarily)
    4. Valtrex + Celebrex (an experimental treatment for lab tested out of control reactions to common viruses like mono and cytomegalovirus)
    5. seeking out and destroying the mold that lives in my home (the air conditioner unit, the wooden windows replaced, the eaves power washed, etc) Black mold is a particularly bad one for me.

    I’ll be honest that I want more science and more transparency into what GMOs are in the food system and what their health effects are. I was fine until around the late 1990s, early 2000s and that’s a significant time period where more GMOs were entering the food chain. At this point we don’t even have a reliable record of where they are grown in what countries, what quantity, and where they are traded to. But if you look at glyphosate side effects, many of those symptoms match how I feel. I’m not against people making money, but I am opposed to them destroying my health in order to make money.

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