If you have ever struggled with difficult digestion including indigestion, upset stomach, gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation or other digestive issues, you know the lengths you are willing to go to in order to find relief and restore your gut health. For every ailment, there is a self-proclaimed digestive health specialist or guru with a long list of superfoods and supplements you need to buy in order to get better.
If you follow all the advice you read online about how to restore gut health, you could easily be out hundreds of dollars a month or more! Supplements, detoxes, cleanses, special diets, etc. all claim to heal your gut. But digestive health is not a one-size-fits-all kind of fix. There are so many things that could be affecting your gut health!
It makes sense that in order to properly treat your symptoms, you need to get to the root cause of the problem. Finding out exactly what the issue is and treating the root of the problem is the best way to manage or eliminate the problem all together without wasting money and time on ineffective treatments.
It’d be pretty unethical for me to tell you exactly what to do without having even talked to you to find out your unique symptoms, concerns, diagnosis, and lifestyle. Any true digestive health specialist would agree.
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people who make drastic diet and lifestyle changes and take a bunch of expensive supplements to try to restore their gut health without getting diagnosed first. It only makes sense to find out exactly what the problem is so that you know how to treat it!
Also, “gut health” is a super vague term that basically implies lack of digestive symptoms. How can we restore gut health when we don’t know what is actually wrong? Different conditions may have similar symptoms, but are treated differently. This is the problem with seeking a healthy gut without a diagnosis first. For example, people with IBS, IBD, celiac disease and parasitic infections all may experience gas, abdominal pain and bloating, but the root cause of each of these conditions is quite different, as is the treatment!
I am going to talk about the steps you should take right now to start on your path to restoring your gut health.
3 Steps You Need to Take to Restore Gut Health
1. Keep a Symptom Journal to Track your Digestive Symptoms
Document your symptoms for 1-2 weeks. Use a free app like Bowelle or simply write down what you eat, what time, how much, your stress levels, physical activity, sleep, bowel habits and any symptoms you experience.
Did you know that difficult digestion can be triggered by many, many things besides just food. Some examples are:
- sleep interruptions
- food allergies and intolerances
- spicy foods
- menstrual cycle
It’s important to note the time of day when you eat, are stressed and get symptoms as this will be an important key to determining the triggers. You will have a better sense of what’s going on and may be able to identify some triggers.
It’s also important to maintain your normal lifestyle during this time so that you can identify what is wrong. If you make a bunch of changes before tracking your symptoms, you won’t know for sure what was bothering you and how much effect those changes had.
2. Seek Medical Advice from Credible Digestive Health Specialists to Get a Proper Diagnosis
Now that you have a symptom journal, go to the doctor to tell them your symptoms and get a proper diagnosis. You’ll be a step ahead by already having your symptom journal for them to review. It’s usually one of the first steps they get you to do anyway.
Family Doctors have a broad knowledge of many conditions so are great as a first point of contact. To get the best help, make sure you get a referral to a Gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in digestive health and digestive conditions. Because they specialize in digestive health they will have a lot of experience diagnosing and treating people just like you.
If at all possible, meet with the Gastroenterologist and make sure they’re a good fit. Do they listen to you and seem genuinely interested to help? Do they make you wait and then rush the appointment? Make sure you let them know that you are on a tight budget so they can take it into consideration when they make their recommendations (they should).
The Gastroenterologist will assess your symptoms and may perform tests to determine a diagnosis.
It is important to advocate for yourself! Ask any questions that come up and make sure you fully understand what they are saying. Make sure you feel heard and understood before leaving the appointment. If the diagnosis doesn’t seem right, keep asking questions and advocating for yourself. Misdiagnosis is pretty common, but you deserve to have the right diagnosis in order to feel better.
As for MDs vs Naturopaths, they both seem to have their pros and cons, which I’m not getting into in this article. The choice is yours. Whichever you choose, be sure you find someone who specializes in digestive health, who you connect with, and who doesn’t recommend a bunch of supplements that they profit from. Be very leery of someone recommending products for which they make a commission. Whether intentionally or not, they may recommend products based on how much they’ll earn vs. what will help you the most.
Depending on where you live and your insurance coverage, you may have to pay a lot of money to see a doctor. If this is the case for you, I’m sorry. We all need to advocate for better access to healthcare for everyone.
Even if you do have to pay to see the doctor, if you can get the proper diagnosis, it will save you money over time by helping you to:
- avoid buying supplements, medications, or specialty foods on a trial-and-error basis. If you don’t know what’s wrong, you will only be able to guess how to treat it.
- reduce time off work due to illness.
- minimize future healthcare costs due to your condition worsening without treatment
- get special coverage or rebates for your diagnosis
In addition to the ways having a proper diagnosis will help you save money, it is priceless to be able to restore gut health and get back to feeling like yourself again.
You will be better equipped to treat or manage your digestive symptoms with a targeted treatment plan with a diagnosis.
3. Seek Targeted Treatment Options for your Diagnosis
Once you have a diagnosis, take the advice of your doctor. You may have been diagnosed with an infection that can be treated with a short term medication, or you may have been diagnosed with a condition you will have to manage through careful diet, lifestyle and/or medication.
Your doctor may refer you to a Registered Dietitian who specializes in your condition. Find a Dietitian who specializes in your condition to ensure you get the best possible advice that is personalized to you. Dietitians are trained to work with you to develop a personalized nutrition and lifestyle plan based on your unique situation. If you don’t get a referral from your doctor to see a Dietitian, ask your doctor for one. Remember to advocate for your best care!
There are dietitians who specialize in digestive health and some that specialize in specific conditions such as IBS, IBD & Celiac disease. Try searching Registered Dietitian + condition + location. For example: Registered Dietitian + IBS + Toronto.
You can also search through one of these databases to find people specializing in your condition.
Dietitian services are generally more affordable than private doctors, but the fee may still be prohibitive. In some cases, Dietitian services are covered by health insurance plans. If you have insurance, but your plan doesn’t cover Dietitian services, send a letter to request that they do! Even without insurance, many community health centres, family health teams, and grocery stores offer dietitian services at no charge.
After you’ve taken the initial steps in documenting your symptoms, getting a diagnosis, and seeking proper medical advice from digestive health specialists, follow the advice that your doctor and dietitian recommend.
Next Steps to Restore Gut Health
Restoring gut health is not usually a one(pill)-and-done deal. You might have found out you have a parasitic infection that can be treated with a single round of antibiotics, resolving your symptoms forever. Or you might be diagnosed with a lifelong condition that needs to be managed by big shifts in your diet and lifestyle. You may even need to take medications for the rest of your life.
The important thing is that you take your health in your hands and know where you stand so you don’t waste any more time and money on supplements and special foods that may or may not even be helping you.
Now that you have taken these initial 3 steps to restoring your gut health, read “Difficult Digestion: 10 Frugal Ways to Manage your Digestive Symptoms” for ten more tips that are bound to help you restore your gut health no matter your diagnosis!
Let me know in the comments below if you took these steps to get a diagnosis and how it saved you money.