The Whole 30 with IBS. Real Talk.

Several people have asked me to document my progress on Whole 30, which I also decided to do out of my own curiosity because (total honesty) I didn’t believe everything they’d written about IBS. Why? Because most likely they don’t have it, and the theories were all hypotheses. I happen to have it and ergo am a wonderful digestive guinea pig. However, as anyone who is aware of IBS knows, it’s not at all simple to track. In fact, it’s one of the most complex and least understood disorders out there, affecting 1 out of every 6 people along some spectrum of indigestion and no one in the same way. So while I wasn’t skeptical of this program having a positive effect on my tum, the reasoning behind it in my opinion was going to be the omission of sugar rather than anything else, and that’s only in my particular case. Allow me to explain:

First of all, we should begin by establishing What Whole 30 is. Depending who you ask, you will get a short or very detailed answer. To nutshell this, I will provide rules not reasoning. Reasoning I am happy to direct you to, though, at THIS site.

I’m going to give you a general overview of what not to eat (this is totally not how they would want me to explain this, but I’m trying to keep us moving. So for a more positive approach of what you CAN achieve, rather than what you CAN’T do, please see the above site). But for 30 Days, you can eat within reason any amount of food during the day that does not have the following in it:

*MSG or Sulfites
*Junk-Food-Esque creations that happen to be created from approved ingredients (like don’t eat one of those fake pancakes you made from eggs and a banana. The goal is to not even want a food that in its natural goodness is comprised of sugar).

You aren’t allowed to cheat or you have to start over essentially. Yes, I just said that.

Now. Back to the grind here. Several theories exist in the medical field regarding the causes of IBS. I’m not personally giving credence to the vaginal birth theory that those born naturally have better guts, for the sole reason that my brother and I were both C-sections and he doesn’t have any digestive issues. C-section babies, we’re ok, don’t let the world tell you different. Anyways, IBS is divided into several categories, pertaining to whether your resulting gastro problems are in the form of Diarrhea, Constipation or a combo of both. These theories include:

1) Leaky Gut
2) Microbial Imbalance
3) Both of the above leading to general Gut Inflammation

Leaky Gut is when the small intestinal linings are perceived to be permeable and foods that cause an inflammatory response in the body cause a reaction because the blood stream prematurely absorbs elements from these foods as it leaks through. This triggers a immune response which manifests in inflammation of different varieties throughout the body.

Microbial Imbalances can be in theory caused by said leaky gut but can also be a reaction to bad bacteria really enjoying something you ate in particular and multiplying. The microbe imbalance can affect overall digestion, leaving some food not digested and ergo, sent prematurely out the patoozal (that’s the scientific term). On the other hand, you can cause this by wiping out a lot of good bacteria with even one round of antibiotics. You can get synthetic bacteria at your local health store, but again I want to add that I’ve tried this and gotten sick from it every time. It’s not a fix for everyone, nor is this always the source of stomach pain.

And either of these situations can cause inflammation as your system is upset, and it could be caused by anything from microbial gas to your immune system attacking you from a leaky system. It’s a bad cycle and just wow, lots of options for indigestion, eh?

Now, in terms of what’s been more generally projected to be a food plan for IBS sufferers to look into is the FODMAPS Theory. This is an overview of a number of short chain carbohydrates that can cause irritation based on how they can be broken down the wrong way in the small intestine. If they don’t get properly digested and absorbed there, they go to the large intestine where awaiting microbes go to town and produce gas. Avoiding them, ergo, may help you. Below are the different groups, and several examples. Some are bolded to illustrate my own particular irritants, but again these are just a few sample foods for these groups of many:

FODMAPS Theory: Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols

  • Oligosaccharides (eg. Fructans and Galactans)
    • Fructans ex: wheat, rye, barley, onion, garlic, leaks, brussel sprouts, asparagus
    • Galactans ex: green beans, beans, tofu, lentils
  • Disaccharides
    • ex: lactose & all dairy (I can have butter and greek yogurt)
  • Monosaccharides
    • ex: Fructose- raisins, pears (I LOVE PEARS!), honey, watermelon, mango, dried fruit.
  • Polyols
    • ex: fruits, cauliflower, mushrooms, sweeteners including sorbitol (I can have sorbitol, it’s in a gum that calms my stomach!), mannitol, maltitol, xylitol and isomalt

Are you starting to see why this is so wild? Within any given group there can be irritants and non-irritants. And within those irritant groups, that is further subdivided not only by the amount of them I have but what time of day I eat them as well as whether or not I’m stressed out when I eat them. While I won’t say this negates the whole theory, it’s a testament to the complexities of IBS.

So keeping this all in mind and also the fact that this isn’t my first digestive rodeo, I designed my own day-to-day using foods that typically don’t upset my stomach.

Typical Ingrid Day on Whole 30

2 eggs
1/2 Avocado

Arugala Salad with grilled chicken, carrots, mushrooms and vinegar
Gala Apple

Strawberries, Blueberries and Apple Fruit Salad
Large iced coffee with almond milk from Dunkin Donuts

2 Turkey Hot Dogs
Grilled Asparagus (grilled in Olive oil unless otherwise noted)
Grilled Onion

Days I cheated: 3

How I cheated: Ran out of my own food at super long meetings at work and ate bread products. Once had ice cream but really deserved it – with sprinkles.


Here are my overall summaries of parts of the program I found effectual, ineffectual and those I found to be pleasant side effects:

Ineffectual Elements of the Program:
*Still got stomach aches, just not as many. And in an interesting note, never on a day that I ate a food I wasn’t supposed to.

Effectual Elements of the Program:
*Could drink coffee and not feel unwell, however most likely this was again due to the removal of sugar. Definitely felt less bloated, which could certainly be from bread bloat.

What I have found is that if you’re reasonably eating a healthy diet, there really is no need to omit certain foods that otherwise aren’t causing tremendous problems. If you don’t have a gluten allergy (note I said allergy, not intolerance) then eat what you’re comfortable with. If bread bloats you, dial it back. If rice helps you digest food, eat rice.  If you have IBS, you will already know that there are foods you need to avoid because for whatever reason they belong to a reactionary food group or they are in that food group and you’ve simply had too much of them. So my genuine thought as a woman on the digestive frontlines here is that the reason these restrictive “resets” will work is because they are leaving out a portion of normal irritants. However, if you have IBS you’ll need to still navigate carefully because there are still irritant foods left for you on these resets that could fall into your irritation group. Fructose and Lactose are only a portion of the potential problems, unfortunately. If you’ve grown up with this disorder, which in its vagueness and therefore vastness has most likely caused you to seek out ways to navigate the way you eat food, chances are you have some idea of what makes you sick. If cutting out very processed foods helps you then incorporate that into your diet. But I actually at the end of this don’t believe removing everything from grains or all dairy from your diet is an answer. It can’t be sustained and sometimes bread makes my stomach feel better when I’m ill. My educated hypothesis is you will still be navigating some element of approved food groups because IBS is simply too multifaceted, unfortunately. I personally find it to be a medical garbage dump for a number of digestive disorders we don’t yet understand.

But to end this on a happy note, while the program definitely helped me get my food prepped in the morning and make sure to get more proteins and veggies in, I’ve also incorporated rice and greek yogurt back into my daily routine. Another lesson learned is vegetables are just insanely expensive. Good grief, Charlie Brown, don’t get me started.

That’s another post.


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