If you ask author, podcaster, gluten-free chef and speaker Phoebe Lapine how she got into wellness, her answer is that her mom was the original gangster of crunchy health food.
Growing up, says Phoebe, her mom’s idea of an after-school snack was organic fruit leather that was just a touch too leathery, various carob-covered nuts from the bulk bin or a rice-based ice cream that tasted like lightly sweetened snow. Naturally, Phoebe spent most of her childhood rebelling against this menu, and going into full Fruit-by-the-Foot binge mode at friends’ houses.
It took her a few decades, she says, but she finally got on board with her mom’s food philosophy. Determined to make millet taste less like something that should be served to Oliver Twist, Phoebe turned that mission into an award-winning blog, Feed Me Phoebe, a cookbook and a memoir that reads like part personal narrative and part choose-your-own-adventure wellness challenge, guiding you through her journey with autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Her chronic illness story didn’t end there. Shortly after her first memoir was published, Phoebe started to notice some weird GI symptoms creeping back into her life. The diagnosis she received was SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) and it kicked off a whole new phase of her healing.
Now, she’s the host of the SIBO Made Simple podcast and author of a book by the same name, which helps those newly diagnosed or fighting chronic small intestine bacterial overgrowth. Phoebe wants to give people who feel overwhelmed by all the health to-dos on the internet permission to find practices that are worth the time, money and energy we spend on them, and a shame-free way to kick those that aren’t to the curb. Read on for Phoebe's expert insights, daily rituals and Low FODMAP Baked Halibut recipe!
What is SIBO?
SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. It’s really an issue of location, not type. Most people are familiar with the concept by now that our body is completely colonized by bacteria (outnumbering our own cells 3 to 1!). But the majority of that beneficial population is in the large intestine. Further up the intestinal tract is where you absorb your nutrients, and bacteria doesn’t have much of a function. In fact, having other critters at the table can cause a host of issues, mainly from the gas they release as they eat your food!
How did you discover you had it?
I’m no stranger to IBS symptoms, which are also the hallmarks of SIBO. But I started noticing some stranger signs that something was amiss: mainly, that I was burping a lot during meals. Coupled with some major bloating, I decided to see my functional medicine doctor and he immediately ordered a SIBO breath test.
What are the most important things you have done/continue to do to help heal it?
SIBO is not usually something that people can eliminate with diet changes alone. Most people will embark on at least one “kill phase” where they use antibiotics or herbal antimicrobials (or something called the elemental diet) to eradicate the overgrowth. I did a round of herbals and it did the trick.
But healing your gut after is a totally different thing. I did a stint with the low FODMAP diet, but I think the more important changes were around HOW I was eating, not just what I was eating. Meal spacing, focusing on stimulating my stomach acid before a meal, chewing my food, eating at least two hours before bedtime—these were all very helpful.
Stress management is perhaps the most important thing for prevention, as that was one of my main root causes. I will also say that bodywork like visceral manipulation and cranial sacral therapy was really key for me in continuing to heal.
"Healthy hedonism is about balancing the things that nourish your body with the things that feed your spirit. It’s different for everyone."
What's most misunderstood about SIBO? Most frustrating?
That it is a disease! It is not. And it does not have to be chronic. It is a condition that’s really a result of something else going wrong with your digestive system—usually, several things. Uncovering your root causes is the best means of prevention and healing.
What has been the emotional toll of having a chronic disease?
It just gets exhausting to always have something taking up your spare time and mental energy. But I’ve made peace with it. I think one of the most damaging attitudes for someone with an autoimmune disease is to think there is a finish line. You manage the best you can. Life will, unfortunately, always throw you curveballs and setbacks.
Non-negotiable wellness rituals in your day or life?
Sleep. I need 8+ hours to function. I drink a ton of water and try to work 30 minutes of stress-relief into my day, be it a walk, a workout or meditation.
What's one thing anyone could do TODAY if they are struggling with SIBO?
Stop snacking! Meal spacing has been a game changer for so many people.
Tell us more about the concept of healthy hedonism: what's your definition and do you still subscribe to that idea?
I certainly do! I define it as balancing the things that nourish your body with the things that feed your spirit. It’s different for everyone.
Your acne journey. . . you tried everything for it, it seems. What actually helped?
Removing caffeine, alcohol and added sugar from my diet for 30 days. This is something we do in my 4 Weeks to Wellness program during week one, and for many people just taking out these vices has a pretty big impact within five days. The change doesn’t have to be permanent, but so many skin issues can be helped by giving your liver time to catch up.
Baked Halibut with Green Olive and Fennel Tapenade
courtesy of Phoebe Lapine, from SIBO Made Simple
photo credit: Haley Hunt Davis
My dad is the king of grilled halibut in the summertime. But when he’s too lazy, we just bake it. This dish takes 15 minutes, start to finish, and is perfect for a weeknight meal while also being fancy enough to serve at a dinner party. Any leftover tapenade can be used as a spread for gluten-free crackers.
INGREDIENTS (makes 6 servings)
- 1 cup pitted green olives
- Half a medium fennel bulb (1/2 pound), roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons capers
- Olive oil
- Sea salt & black pepper
- Six 6-ounce halibut, stripped bass, or other semi-firm medium thickness fish fillets
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- In a food processor, pulse the olives, fennel, parsley, lemon juice, capers and 1/4 cup olive oil until finely chopped, but not completely pureed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Rinse the fish fillets in cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Arrange the fish on a greased baking sheet or oven-proof skillet with about an inch of space between them. Season with salt and pepper.
- Spoon the tapenade over the fish in a generous pile, patting it lightly to adhere to the top—but don’t worry if you’ve got lots of bits fallen to the sides.
- Bake the fish for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Sprinkle with the lemon zest and serve immediately.
ONWARDS (suggestions for ingredients to add or substitute once you begin expanding your diet):
Add 1 clove garlic to the tapenade or a bunch of scallions roughly chopped as a bed for the fish.
THIS RECIPE IS:
GF / gluten-free
LF | Low FODMAP
SCD | Specific Carbohydrate Diet
BPD1R | Bi-Phasic Diet Phase 1 Restricted
BPD1 | Bi-Phasic Diet Phase 1 Semi-Restricted
BPD2 | Bi-Phasic Diet Phase 2
GAPS | Gut and Psychology Diet
P | Paleo
SF | Sugar-free