Depending on your personal experience with SIBO, Dietary treatment can be used on its own or in addition to other medical treatments. For me, it started as a combination - especially as I was taking Rifaximin - and currently, I am using primarily diet to keep my symptoms at bay, with the help of some supplements and probiotics.
While the diet is helpful and will certainly assist in alleviating symptoms, please note that it is not an immediate fix. When I began the recommended diet - I still experienced pain and discomfort - but over time, with each new “clean” meal I forced myself to eat, my symptoms did begin to subside.
SIBO living is a lifestyle change and it’s important to be patient with yourself and the process. Learning to meal prep, shop, and cook to accommodate the diet, especially if it’s not a part of your routine already can feel overwhelming. (But don’t be stressed - I’m here to help and guide you with my three years of SIBO experience!)
Cooking for a SIBO-safe diet is a skill that, with practice, will become second nature and you’ll be a master in your own kitchen before you know it.
With the current research available, the most common SIBO diet recommended by medical doctors and health practitioners is the low-FODMAP diet. However, there are many options out there, so it does seem to get more confusing with the more research you do. Believe me when I say you aren’t alone in thinking, “Well what the hell DO I eat?”, as often the information and suggestions are conflicting.
Here’s a quick rundown and explanation of each different dietary protocol that can be found in your research (plus quick feedback from my personal experience).
It is because of my own trials and errors, along with working alongside several brilliant nutritionists, that I was able to establish my own food guide.
Low FODMAP Diet (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols)
Again, the most commonly recommended diet for SIBO. If you’re anything like me this feels like taking health class all over again and lots of annoying, big words! But once you nail the terms, you’ll feel like superman or wonder woman. The main flaw in this diet’s guidelines is its allowance of sugars and starch. For me, along with most SIBO patients, sugar absolutely needed to be cut out of my diet, in all forms - including fruit.
Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
This diet was originally created to help with Celiac’s disease and focuses on removing grains, starchy vegetables, lactose, some beans and any sweeteners other than honey. While it does provide great guidelines, it does include some foods known for feeding bacteria, including beans, so I would recommend a stricter, more regulated dietary plan.
Gut And Psychology Syndrome Diet (Gaps diet)
Similar to the SCD, with a few modifications like removing more beans, baking soda and store bought juice. You’ll notice that the food protocol I’m sharing is similar, but a bit more strict.
Why treat SIBO with diet?
These bacteria that are eating away in our guts thrive and survive off certain foods you digest (mainly carbs and sugars) so the goal is to starve the bacteria as much as possible. This cannot be done with antibiotic treatment alone, ESPECIALLY if your diet remains the same. It’s scary to see how many doctors are simply prescribing antibiotic treatment for SIBO cases, with no dietary amendment. This is a surefire way to not only relapse, but to potentially strengthen the bacteria. Which means they’re not only feeding and surviving the antibiotics, but in certain cases, the bacteria can even become resistant to the antibiotics if you are not being treated in the correct way - with dietary changes included.
It’s important to have a balanced diet and add in more foods that are easily absorbed into your system (like vegetables!) so your body absorbs the nutrients before the bacteria has a chance to - a win for us!
Does dietary treatment actually work?
Yes, and I, along with many other SIBO survivors, am a walking, talking case study for this.
It’s important to know that dietary changes and striving to feed yourself the right foods along with providing yourself with self-care is in your body. Trust yourself to know that you can do this! Believe me, I know firsthand how hard this can be. To not only food prep and have to deal with sickness, but to be in pain constantly - always fearful to pass the next morsel of food between your lips. I know how badly you want to find a doctor who will find you an answer or hand you the healing pill. I know I did.
Plus, similar to the conflicting diets, there are a lot of mixed messages about whether dietary treatment on its own can be a solution or “cure” for SIBO. Oftentimes, Western Medical doctors will tell you no - that dietary treatment is not required, and their antibiotics along with IBS medicine should be fine.
However, don’t find yourself putting a bandaid on a deeper and more serious issue - your SIBO is caused from an imbalance - and dietary protocol along with being strict about what you eat will help you to become successful in beating and managing SIBO.
In my case, it’s been a long and bumpy road and I’m still learning things about SIBO - and myself - on a daily basis. I still discover foods that cause me discomfort, and on the opposite side of the spectrum, I rejoice when I reintroduce foods I haven’t eaten in months that don’t give me a stomach ache.
Know that treating and living with SIBO is truly a lifestyle change. It’s an acceptance of what is, understanding of what’s to come, and the mentality, willpower, and gusto to truly heal yourself. I will be the first one to tell you that this journey will not be easy. But I can promise you that it will be rewarding.
You’ll hold the power in your own hands - no longer your doctors’ or your friends who don’t know how to comfort you - but in your own hands you will possess the power to feed yourself or feed the bacteria.
Personally, every time I thought about putting tempting foods outside of my protocol into my body, I imagined (and I mean literally, closed my eyes and envisioned) the bugs eating instead of me. And I’d always opt for a healthier food allowed on my protocol.
While I still don’t find myself eating gluten, sugars, many grains or carbs, etc., I feel completely satisfied. Every bite of food that enters my mouth is healthy and nourishing. I can feel the positive effects of the food on my healing body, and I feel good about the food choices I’ve made and continue to make. I feel empowered to have ownership of my journey, of the foods I feed my body, and the pulse that I have on my symptoms - and I know you will one day feel the same.
You have to be willing to try new things and get really clear on what’s best for YOU - which is where my mindfulness and meditation practice has helped immensely. SIBO isn’t just about the food. It’s not just about the medicine either. While these things can help you on your journey, SIBO is also realizing the fact that something else in your life needs to change. Your SIBO has a cause that’s specific to you - whether that be from stress, or gastroparesis, or overworking yourself, there’s an underlying issue that you need to personally discover.
While there’s a lot to think about and a lot of “pieces in your puzzle”, dietary treatment for SIBO does absolutely work. It’s a lifestyle change that you can totally manage!
Diet and your medical treatments or medications
While we’ll save a breakdown of medical treatments for SIBO for another post - it’s important to know that whether you are using prescriptions like Rifaximin or herbal treatments - you should work with your doctor or naturopath to understand the symptoms and possible challenges when combining them.
Prescription antibiotics often deplete our system of certain essential vitamins and minerals - so supplementing and getting them from our diet is crucial. Many of the foods in the SIBO-safe diet are not calorie rich, either, so you’ll want to be food journaling or logging your calories (MyFitnessPal is a great app for this), to ensure that you’re eating enough food! One of the scary aspects of SIBO is losing weight - but this could be happening naturally from a cleaner, less calorie-rich diet. Just be mindful of your body’s changes and ensure that you are eating enough!
For a full “good food”, “can experiment with” and “foods to avoid” breakdown, download my BeatSIBO.com specific food guide below:
What's Included In the Beat SIBO Protocol
This is a diet that combines tips and guidelines from both the Low FODMAP and SCD diets, and has been established for SIBO specific patients who experience a lot of discomfort. While many SIBO specific diets vary per provider or website, the one that I established took all the above diets into account, along with personal experiences, and meetings with nutritionist professionals who work daily on treating SIBO cases.
It’s always hard to know if you’re following the “right” diet, which is why I established mine to be very clear - items in green should not feed any SIBO bacteria, and should be totally safe for you to eat. These green items are allowable foods across all the varying SIBO specific diets.
The items in gray are “neutral”, some diets allow them, while some don’t.
Once your symptoms have alleviated after eating only the green items for a bit, you can feel free to experiment with some gray items to see if you can tolerate them (only introduce them one at a time every other day).
The red foods on my protocol should be avoided at all costs, they are foods that are not allowed across any of the dietary guidelines, and they will most likely cause discomfort.
I recommend starting with the BeatSIBO protocol because it eliminates the most foods, leaving you with a clear picture of the allowable foods and the freedom to know that you can eat them without being negatively affected. Then, when you’re feeling better, it’s fun reintroducing foods to see which ones no longer cause discomfort and what foods may trigger flare-ups for you.
What Diet Do I follow while on Rifaximin or an alternate SIBO-killing antibiotic?
While you’re on Rifaximin, you can “cheat” a bit with your diet, especially closer to the start of the antibiotics. The reason being, is that you actually want the bacteria to leave the biofilm and protection of your intestine to eat the food they love indulging in. You can do this while experimenting, a kind of take-it-at-your-own-risk type of deal. While I was on my Rifaximin treatment, I ate things like potatoes to activate and feed my bacteria, because the worse I ate, the worse I felt. Sometimes eating cleaner will help to alleviate symptoms. But, feel free to go wild if you need to - this is your last chance for a while, especially when it comes to sugar!
The last few days of Rifaximin and immediately after, you should begin eating only the items outlined on the food guide in green so you don’t feed the bacteria at all. I was taught by my nutritionist that the bacteria tend to regenerate and live in a 30-day life cycle, so it’s imperative that if any regenerate in the thirty days following your Rifaximin treatment, they starve from not having anything to eat. This is a vital component to killing off your SIBO bacteria successfully, I followed my extremely strict diet for sixty days after Rifaximin just because I knew I didn’t want ANY of those little buggers surviving.