This is a guest post series from Matt Robinson, digestive illness coach at Natural Digestive Healing.
This is the third post in our Big Picture series. (Read Post One and Post Two.) If you are using this series to its fullest, remember to get out a pen and paper so you will be ready to jot down ideas and think about the questions and concepts posed along the way.
In the first post, I discussed the value of a big picture outlook, and introduced the concepts of balance and prioritization as they relate to healing from digestive illness. In the second post, I expanded on those concepts, and walked through the first steps of developing a big picture-focused healing plan. In this post, we will use your Go-sion and your SMART goals to design a healing plan. As we go, remember, your healing goals and plan are living documents. Today, we will design a good first outline, but allow yourself the space to rework the plan if needed. We will get into that in the final post in the series.
In this post, we will deconstruct the healing pyramid and insert your goals and Go-sion to produce a healing plan. At the end of each section, I will give you an example of that portion of my healing plan.
First, a note on journaling. A good diet/symptom journal will go a long way to increasing your healing potential. It will keep you from past pitfalls, and it will help you figure out what is working and what is not. If you are like me, I often forget what I ate this morning, let alone three weeks ago, but your journal can tell you. It can tell you what your gut felt like on a certain day. It can tell you trends in symptoms. It can tell you whether you missed a dose of probiotics or other medication. Your journal will be your most important companion on your healing journey.
Think about: A diet/symptom journal, used daily, is a primary weapon against digestive illness. I would go as far as to say that those who use this tool well heal much more regularly and in much less time than those who do not. You can design your own, or you can use one of the free templates in the sidebar of my blog under “Tracking/Journaling Tools.”
From Matt’s Journal: Here is an example daily page from my diet/symptom journal.
Dietary Changes (SCD, GAPS, etc.)
Dietary changes are your foundation, and the first place to start in healing from digestive illness. A personalized diet that works for you will dramatically increase your healing potential. Indeed, diet increases the effectiveness of other natural healing modalities such as probiotics, enzymes, and omega-3, and it can also work together with conventional medical treatments such as steroids, sulfa drugs and immune therapies. It is the base of the pyramid because it can make or break your healing experience.
Think about: What dietary changes will form the base of your healing plan?
From Matt’s Plan: (Relevant goals: Stop Diarrhea, increase energy, wean off medication) Start the SCD, and do it without cheating for 90 days, then reassess progress. If I see positive gains after 90 days, then continue on the diet for one year. Reassess after one year. Journal diet, symptoms, mood, weight, exercise throughout the process.)
Note From Steve: I agree, a custom diet is a the foundation for your healing. Diet is not neutral, it is either contributing to your health or hurting it. Our book is the only step-by-step plan that shows someone suffering from digestive illness how to figure this part out.
Gut-specific treatments are those that target the gut. Diet is one example. Other examples are:
Probiotics: L. acidophilus, for those on the SCD.
Natural Anti-microbials: If persistent gut dysbiosis is a primary cause of digestive illness and if changing the gut flora produces healing, then natural anti-microbial compounds, combined with diet and probiotics make sense. I have written more on natural anti-microbials for IBD here.
Note From Steve: In other words, if you see some changes from SCD and other treatments but are not where you want to be, it’s a great idea to get tested for other causes of dysbiosis and then treat accordingly.
L-glutamine: Free-form L-glutamine is the primary fuel source for repair and regeneration of intestinal mucosa, and when taken on an empty stomach, it reverses the osmotic potential in the gut (sends water out), acting as an anti-diarrheal.
HCl and digestive enzymes: Dr. Campbell-McBride, in her book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome…, states that most people with GAPS (illness resulting from gut dysbiosis) have low HCl production. Restoring HCl, can be one link to restoring healthy digestion. Caution: for those with Crohn’s or Colitis, HCl can increase your diarrhea. Test this first, and if you see an increase in symptoms, discontinue HCl and/or enzymes.
Note From Steve: Jordan and I have talked with hundreds of Crohn’s and Colitis sufferers who have had great success with HCL. We advocate, as with any change to your healing plan, that you only change one thing at a time. Therefore, you would only experiment with HCL while keeping everything else constant. Then, it is very easy to understand if you have a paradoxical reaction such as diarrhea from HCL. Adverse reactions to HCL do happen, even in people with low stomach acid. Dr. Wright explains why in his book, saying that they have the most inflamed stomachs and must be slowly ramped up to higher dosages of HCL.
Think about: What gut-specific treatments make sense for your goals? When will you add them?
From Matt’s Plan: (Relevant goals: Stop Diarrhea, increase energy, wean off medication) After 90 days on the SCD, re-evaluate progress. If SCD is working, then slowly, slowly add L. acidophilius. Work up to therapeutic dose. Once up to a therapeutic dose of L. acidophilus for two weeks, begin to utilize the probiotic retention enema 1-2x/month; 1x test, then regular use. Once I’ve been doing retention enemas safely for 3 months, add L-glutamine. Evaluate progress at each step…)
Body Systems Support
Our bodies, and consequently our illnesses, are complex. Never is just one system affected by chronic illness. For example, chronic gut inflammation can lead to malnutrition, thyroid issues, and adrenal fatigue, to name a few. So, when healing from chronic illness, it helps to envision healing happening in layers—start with the inside, the most critical pieces and move outward. Start with the gut – with what you put in it. Evaluate, and then begin to treat the dysbiosis. Evaluate, then begin to look at other systems. This is where you will want the support of a good naturopathic physician or nutritional therapist who understands digestive illness and healing from it. Below are just a few areas you can address:
Look deeper into digestive function with stool and blood tests
- Thyroid function
- Adrenal function/fatigue (common with chronic illness)
- Nutrient deficiencies (Vitamin D, Zinc, or Magnesium, for example)
- Hormonal imbalances
- High histamine levels
These and other “layers” can be why we (with digestive illness) often experience depression, mood swings, low energy and sex drive, slow growing hair or brittle nails, or increased symptoms from allergies.
Think about: What other symptoms are you having. Where and when in your healing plan do these elements begin to be addressed?
From Matt’s Plan: (Relevant goals: Increase energy; find the cause of my itching/rashes; learn food intolerances; learn bacterial composition of my gut; learn my digestive effectiveness) Visit naturopath for comprehensive digestive stool analysis and food sensitivity testing. Do adrenal function test for my fatigue. Discuss chronic fatigue and itching/rashes (why are they happening)? Actually follow the doctor’s orders unless they conflict with SCD (then discuss an alternative).
Note From Steve: Regular testing is very important to long-term management of health and understanding acute disease treatment options. I get various lab values tested every few months. We have seen quite a variance in food sensitivity testing and found them to be unreliable. It’s cheaper and faster to test the actual foods yourself as you create your own custom version of diet that works for you.
Lifestyle and Social-Emotional
Because stress is such a trigger for digestive illness symptoms, it is arguable that this category should be lower on the pyramid. I agree. No model is perfect. I think, in fact, that this category should be ubiquitous throughout your healing plan, from beginning to end.
Lifestyle issues can have a major impact on your healing. Some life components that fall under this category include:
Sleep: Are you getting enough, and is your sleep of good quality?
Rest: Sleep and rest are the same, but different. Sleep is the ultimate rest in life, but how many of your waking hours are restful? Do you experience peace throughout the day?
Exercise: Regular exercise can take the form of a simple walk up the stairs (if you are really sick), a walk around the block or in the woods, yoga, weights, cycling, swimming—you get the picture. However, when you are healing, exercise should leave you feeling invigorated, relaxed, and energized. For you athletes (I know!), now is not the time to challenge your body. Your illness is enough challenge for your body—one thing at a time.
Meditation: Regular meditation has worlds of benefits, including decreased stress, increased mental alertness, decreased inflammation, alleviated symptoms of depression, and much more.
Note From Steve: We’ve found that those with a daily stress reduction program, like meditation or our 2-Minute Stress Relief program, reduce their symptoms much faster and feel better longer. It’s importance cannot be overstated.
Alcohol, smoking, etc.: None of these should be in your life. Some few people can tolerate small amounts of dry red wine or certain hard alcohols. Certainly, I had trouble with this one, and would still love to have some wine. Over time, my theory has evolved to: There are no neutral foods; if it is not helping, it is hurting. I know, I miss beer too, but I would miss my colon more should I lose it.
Think about: How do you need to adjust your lifestyle to improve your healing potential?
From Matt’s Plan: (Relevant goals: Reduce my stress; relax more; be mentally “free” to play with the kids) Continue regular exercise. Start mindful meditation 20 min, 2x/week; work up to 20 min/day. Every day, do something I really enjoy.
There is a theory out there that every chronic illness has a psychological component to it. We are not judging, today, whether that theory is correct; however, I challenge you to think about the question: If there were a psychological component to my illness, what would it be?
Stress plays such a pivotal role in exacerbating (and maybe even causing) digestive illness, that we cannot ignore it. Some areas of life to explore in your healing journey:
Sources of stress: What are your sources of stress? How will you minimize them?
Community: Do you have a community of people with whom you can share your victories and your struggles? Do you have people who can hold you accountable to your healing plan, and who will support you when you need it—even when you do not ask for it?
Think about: How will you address the psychological component of your illness?
From Matt’s Plan: (Relevant goals: Shift my attitude from self-focused to others-focused. Find contentment in each day) Find time to write creatively—for me. Do something to serve my wife and my children each day—think: What do they need?
Congratulations! You have made it. You are healthy, and you want to stay that way. Look back through your journal and your healing plan. Highlight the things that have worked and make certain they are a regular part of your everyday life. Cross out those that did not work and do not dwell on them.
If you can, think through your life before digestive illness. Ask yourself: What does my new lifestyle look like? What should it look like in order for me to stay healthy?
Be thankful for your health daily.
Following this guide and the principles from the first two posts, you should be able to write your own healing plan. Start with your Go-sion (your visionary goal), insert your SMART goals, and then outline how you plan on getting there.
After you have written your plan, think about sharing parts of it in the comments. What creative ideas are in your plan? What has worked for you? If you already have a plan, How has having a plan helped your healing?
Next time, we will discuss how to assess and adjust your plan along the way.
Onward to health,
Note From Steve: As Matt said, the best thing to do is put pen to paper and start asking some of these questions. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try and tackle one area a week over the next month. As you start to form your own answers, new questions will pop up. Leave them below so we can help out!