Are you about to do take on the Physicians Elemental Diet to treat SIBO and need some advice about what to expect?
Maybe you’re unsure whether to invest in this SIOBO treatment because it is expensive. And what if it doesn’t work, what’s the next cause of action?
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In this post, I explain everything I’ve been through to get to the point of doing the Elemental Diet and also describe what happened afterwards and whether the Elemental Diet works. I originally wrote this post in 2017 and have since updated it in March 2020.
You can also watch my Elemental Diet video diary I made in the hope to share my experience of what it is actually like to do it.
- How I got SIBO
- 3 Versions Of The Elemental Diet To Consider
- Elemental Diet Symptoms To Expect
- My Video Review Of The Elemental Diet
- How Many Days Did I Do The Elemental Diet?
- So how much weight did I lose on the Elemental Diet?
- What I learnt from the Elemental Diet
- Next Steps
- SIBO Low Fodmap Foods I Can Eat Now
- Would I Recommend Doing The Elemental Diet?
- 2020 SIBO Update
- Read all of my gut health posts below.
- Elemental Diet Video Diary
How I got SIBO
If you read my recent post What’s Wrong With My Stomach? I have SIBO, you’ll know it has been far from easy over the last couple of years for me. After getting food poisoning, I started to to get the most painful and bloated stomach a couple of months later.
The dreaded before and now pictures
Fast forward 2.5 years and after going to see various doctors, having loads of tests and trying various diets, I finally got a diagnosis called SIBO which is short for Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth. I paid $220 and ordered an online SIBO test kit (I was told to order the Lactose only test kit).
It was amazing to get a diagnosis but I didn’t quite realise how hard it was going to be to get rid of this problem.
As soon as the test came back positive, I went to my gut naturopath who gave me two options:
- Take Bactrax herbs and follow a strict low FODMAP diet (in short, Low FODMAP basically means no grains, no soy, no legumes, certain veggies etc)
- Fork out AUD$670 and do the Physicians Elemental Diet – a powdered drink originally designed for astronauts going up to space. Random I know, but apparently it works on 80-85% of SIBO sufferers as it starves off the bacteria in the gut. I’d need to take some herbs with it as well like Bactrax.
Seeing as I was already on a juice cleanse when I found out, I wanted to give the Elemental Diet a go. I had to go on 10 day green juice cleanses every so often when SIBO got so bad because my body was so swollen, I just couldn’t eat anymore food.
He said all I needed to do was mix 2 scoops of the powder in water and drink it 5 times a day and only that with herbal teas. So that’s no food, just tea and the drink for a whole two weeks along with the herbs. I was determined.
3 Versions Of The Elemental Diet To Consider
Vivonex Plus: Vivonex is an elemental diet you can buy online without having to get a doctor to order it, but it’s the most expensive at around $1000.
Make Your Own: This is the cheapest at around $300-$400 but it’s meant to be the worst tasting of the three.
The Physicians Diet: This is the one I got, apparently the best tasting of the three, although you’ll need a doctor to order it. When I say doctor, I sort of mean a gut specialist. None of the GPs I saw had ever heard of SIBO.
Here’s a screen shot from SIBO Survivor site explaining the pros and cons to each diet.
I asked my gut doctor about taking the antibiotic called Rifaximin, another way to get rid of SIBO, and he said with only 40-45% success rate, it wouldn’t be worth it as it can actually make SIBO worse and it’s very expensive.
Elemental Diet Symptoms To Expect
There were going to be a fair few Elemental Diet symptoms to expect. To be honest, I experienced all of the symptoms below.
- Headaches (allowed to take some Tylenol or Advil)
- Diarrhea (May become explosive at times so make sure there is a bathroom nearby)
- Body aches & pains as well as fatigue
- Aggravation of symptoms
- Lightheadedness if you wait too long to drink the food because of blood sugar swings
- Mouth can get nasty because of the simple sugars you drink all the time. Brush teeth more frequently
Taken from SIBO Survivor site
My Video Review Of The Elemental Diet
So I decided to make a video diary of the diet because I thought, there must be so many people out there who are in the same situation and wondering whether to fork out the money for this Elemental Diet. It’s a long video but I think a good detailed view of what I went through.
Firstly, would the Elemental Diet work? How would the Elemental Diet taste? Let’s face it, I had read it was going to taste pretty nasty and lastly, how bad were the Elemental Diet side effects going to be?
There were so many questions and apprehensions that I thought I’d write a post about my experience and a video to show you how I found The Elemental Diet.
To be honest, when I went back to edit this video, I found it very confronting to watch myself so unhappy. It’s made me realise how miserable I have been since I first got SIBO but since I’ve completed the diet, I’m in a different place now.
One thing I have learnt along the way is everyone is completely different. What works for one, doesn’t work for another but I thought at least I can offer comfort and reassurance because we need it.
How Many Days Did I Do The Elemental Diet?
I wanted to point out that I didn’t do the Elemental Diet for 14 days as I intended to, I went onto and continued the diet to a full 26 days because I didn’t feel a huge improvement until the very end. If I stopped at 14 days, I would have been heart broken. Read on to see why…
I managed 26 days on the Elemental Diet of just the powder and peppermint and ginger tea and some herbs. That’s it. I wrote down the physical and mental states I was in during this diet and I also measured my waist and stomach every day to see if anything was changing.
Once the diet arrived I waited for the right week to start it where I didn’t have any other commitments. I also had to wait a good month for the diet to arrive as it was shipped from USA and stuck in customs for ages due to a alleged terrorist attack in Sydney airport around the time it arrived.
The day I started the Elemental Diet, I was very swollen and it definitely felt like the right time to start.
Here’s what happened…
Day 1, completely swollen and unhappy and this is first thing in the morning when my stomach was at its smallest 🙁
Day 1 – I was very excited about starting the diet but I was obviously nervous and apprehensive. I thought, I could be actually fine in just 2 weeks time!!
I then prayed the drink was going to be vaguely palatable and knew regardless that I was going to have to stick it out. To be honest, the drink tasted fine. I can only describe it tasting like a powdered version of vanilla almond milk. That’s how it originally tasted but I got used to it fast which was a huge relief.
My partner and friends found the smell of the Elemental Diet absolutely disgusting and had no idea how I could actually drink it. Thankfully, I didn’t find it that bad at all.
I wasn’t hungry that first day probably because of all of the excitement of starting something that might actually take the misery away. I thought, this is going to be easy, it’s actually filling me up unlike a juice cleanse. I could even go to Yoga that night and had zero symptoms!
Day 2: By lunchtime of day 2 I started to get the shakes and went home from work early. By the evening I thought I was going to pass out, then got a hot flush to suddenly being really cold. Was the die-off already starting?
Day 3: I worked from home to be on the safe side and felt very light headed and started to get cramps and diarrhoea. The diarrhoea didn’t actually stop until I finished the whole diet. I had it all the time for the entire 26 days. I started to realise my breath was smelling nasty from this diet as well and it was something I just had to live with.
Over the next few days, I really missed the social side of eating as it was the weekend. I really wanted to go out for lunch or dinner or even breakfast. Just something would have been nice but I couldn’t.
I did however manage to go to a photography course and I ran a market stall on the Sunday. I have no idea how I did it but I did.
I somehow ran a market stall on Day 6 to sell lots of clothes I haven’t been able to wear in a long time thanks to having SIBO.
Day 7 & 8: Randomly, I did a massive poo on day 7. I’ve not poo’d properly in a long time but this one came out of nowhere.
By day 8, I woke up feeling like something had changed. I felt a lot lighter and even though I measured my stomach and nothing had actually changed, I felt so much better.
My focus had also changed as I was no longer craving sweets or food, I was OK with being on this diet now. I even started to consider whether I continue this diet until the powder runs out which I thought would be another week. I had read a post about someone who had to do this diet twice because it didn’t work the first time so wouldn’t it be better if I just continue until it runs out? It seems people do it between 2-3 weeks yet I’ve been told to do it for 2 weeks.
Day 9: I finally lost half an inch off the fullness of my stomach and I’m feeling on top of the world. People at work even noticed I had lost weight but by the evening I started to feel very ill again with the shakes and bad diarrhoea.
Day 11: I went into town to pick up something but it took ages to find. I hadn’t really done much exercise on this diet apart from yoga and after walking 5.5KM (I have a Garmin watch to track distances), by the time I got home I felt very ill.
I realised SIBO was well and truely still kicking around. My stomach was very bloated and painful. It doomed on me, what if this doesn’t work? What if I’ve spent all of this time on this diet for nothing?
Day 12: I realised every time I drank the drink I got stomach cramps and that it was doing exactly the same as before, calm in the morning then massively bloated by the evening.
This day particularly was a very bad day and weekend for me. Depression kicked in big time and I was incredibly emotional that I felt the diet wasn’t working (apologies for the tears in the video).
I honestly felt trapped in my own body. I felt like I had hit a wall. Nothing was working, what could I eat anymore?
It was my partner’s mother’s birthday and we went up to stay with her for the weekend. I noticed, they seem to just talk about food which didn’t help and we took her out for lunch where I had to sit there with my drink.
I was OK just having the drink, it was the fact that the waitresses kept coming up to me asking me if I wanted something that just made me more and more uncomfortable. I knew, I couldn’t go to another restaurant again on this diet.
Over the next few days I was still very emotional and depressed and my stomach and lower back was in a lot of pain. Was this bloated and painful stomach I have down to my emotional state?
I know it’s a very well known fact that you gut and emotional side are linked, but could this be what I have? I wondered this over the next few days as when I got some good news about my blog, I felt great although my stomach was still fairly big.
I definitely decided I wasn’t done with this diet and so I continued it on until I ran out of it.
My stomach went down loads by Day 20 here. I haven’t worn these jeans in a long time until now!
Day 21 and onwards: As I continued on, I realised by day 21 how far I had come in the last 10 days. On day 11, I was in such a bad place, that now, I felt like something had started to change. Weight started to drop off me and I wasn’t feeling swollen anymore although I definitely felt like SIBO was still there. In fact, I felt the best I have felt in ages.
Over the next few days I felt great, I could get into old clothes that had barely been worn and my mood was great.
Day 26 the final day: Up until day 26 all was going well except on that day I had my friend’s baby shower. I arrived early to help her set up and was running around. Within a couple of hours I started to feel very sick.
My back and stomach were in so much pain, I had a bit of an emotional breakdown on my own as I didn’t want to ruin her day. But once we sat down, I was fine. It made me realise how weak I was. 26 days with no food, and I couldn’t do that much.
I realised that day that I was nearly out of the diet, so on the way home from the baby shower, I went into my first supermarket in over 4 weeks (which was a surreal but exciting experience) and I picked up some pumpkin, carrots and sweet potato. That night, I made myself pumpkin soup with only these ingredients and I was very excited and nervous.
To be honest, I really didn’t want the diet to end. Apart from the diarrhoea, I had felt great but I was nervous to eat again.
I had read other people’s stories of how their SIBO came back immediately once they ate again. I just couldn’t take anymore of this SIBO. Why has this happened to me? Why did I deserve to go through all of this?
So I made the soup. In anticipation I thought it was going to actually taste like the most amazing thing ever, all full of flavour, but… I was wrong. It was so incredibly bland, all I could taste was the Elemental Diet! Looking back on it, it’s no wonder that happened!
Over the next two days, I had the powered drink and soup to try to ease myself back into food.
So how much weight did I lose on the Elemental Diet?
Before taken on Day 1. After taken on Day 23 so not quite the end.
It’s funny because I keep reading how most people seem to lose a lot of weight having SIBO but I’m the total opposite. I’ve been on so many restrictive, healthy diets (the healthiest I have ever been) but I ended up putting on so much weight, it was horrible.
A skirt I hadn’t been able to wear in a long time and now it’s too big
Before on Day 1. Towards the end on Day 23.
By the end of the diet, I lost 4 inches off my waist and just 1 inch off the fullness of my stomach (and even more the week after I finished it).
I don’t have any scales but from the last time I weighed myself (not at my heaviest) to being at the doctors yesterday, I’ve lost over 6KGs (that’s nearly a stone), lost a bra size (thank god!) and I went shopping yesterday and have lost 2 dress sizes. That basically means, I’m nearly back to the size I was before I got SIBO.
And as time goes on, my stomach is going down more which is the best news or me. It will be interesting to see how I get on over the next couple of weeks!
What I learnt from the Elemental Diet
- It’s a rollercoaster of an experience. I went from being excited, to being incredibly depressed and emotional to screaming at my other half and being irrational to finally seeing the light. I suggest trying to work from home when you have your bad days if possible.
- I really started to research a lot about the Elemental Diet whilst I was on it and it turns out most people do it for 6 – 8 weeks or until you kill off SIBO. I wish I had known this before as I would have continued it on if I had enough of the powder.
- Herbs are a big part to take on this diet. I took Bactrax during the entire diet and about a month before as well as Vegan Safe B12 (I’ve always been low on B12, even before I went vegan). My doctor told me to take curcumin advanced which is a strong tumeric to help with my stomach when it was really painful. This really put my diarrhea into overdrive so I stopped this after a couple of days.
- I read wild oil of oregano was a big thing to take whilst on the diet. As soon as I started taking a few drops of this a day, this is when I started seeing a change. My body reacted very well to it. This made me realise, make sure you do your own research. My doctor told me not to take wild oil of oregano until I was eating again as it would probably be too strong, but this is what actually really helped me. Like I said, what works for some, doesn’t work for others. I’ve now been put on Iberogast as a prokinetic to take 60 drops mixed with warm water before I go to bed every night.
- Comparing it to a juice cleanse – because I had already done juice cleanses in the past, I know what the feeling of not eating is like but this was completely different. I had completely different symptoms such as the shakes to actually feeling full from the drinks. When I’ve done a juice cleanse, after about 4-5 days, you start to feel amazing with loads of energy. I didn’t quite get this although I was getting up earlier than normal. On a juice cleanse I would get the best sleep whereas with the elemental diet, I’d still wake up feeling anxious in the night.
- Acne – towards the end of the diet, I started to get acne, something I haven’t ever had before. I’ve noticed with all of the various diets I have done this year, I have had a lot of spots but I got a lot on this diet.I got a lot of spots on the elemental diet
- I joined some SIBO Facebook groups. Finally, why hadn’t I done this before? It’s incredibly comforting to have other people there for you because SIBO is a very lonely, isolating experience. People just don’t understand what the big deal is, it’s only your stomach. But it’s not, it’s much, much more than that. It’s stripped me of who I am. You’ll obviously know this if you have SIBO as well. Some of the Facebook groups to join: SIBO Discussion / Support Group and SIBO Survivors, a guide to living and healing with SIBO
- At the beginning of the diet, I would start with tea, then I’d take between 45min-1hr to drink the drink (you sip it) then within an hour I’d be on my second drink. I had maybe 5-6 drinks every day at the beginning but towards the end of the diet, I would only need 3 drinks a day.
- The plus side to this diet is, it was awesome not having to worry about whether I was going to feel worse after eating something. I really started to appreciate this plus side on the diet as it took a fair bit or worry off me. I also loved the fact that I didn’t have to dedicate any of my day to preparing food. I had so much more time on my hands!
- If your doctor orders you the Physician’s Elemental Diet, ask them to order you much more than they think you’ll need. I’m so glad I continued the diet on because if I had finished it on Day 14, I would have been devastated and the difference I felt from Day 14 to Day 26 was huge.
What’s happened since I’ve come off the diet? As I write this, it’s been just under two weeks since I finished The Elemental Diet. For the first 5 days, I had just soup and then tried some soft boiled eggs. The eggs blew my stomach up so I had to stop eating them and went back to the soup.
I instantly felt a million times better as soon as I started eating. Diarrhoea stopped straight away and I had a lot more energy. How funny to think I was so scared of eating but it’s like you have to go through the bad of doing the Elemental Diet to get to the good part again.
Previously as a vegan/sometimes vegetarian (only eggs) I had made a decision as my last resort to eat meat. It’s not something I particularly wanted to do but my gut naturopath strongly recommended me doing so to help with my gut.
But the interesting news is, once I started eating red meat, I felt so much better. I wasn’t in a lot of pain with my back and the most exciting part was actually producing normal stools again. I couldn’t believe it.
I have to admit, my stomach is flaring up again but I think that’s just me learning what works and what doesn’t for me. After having a smoothie (bananas, blueberries and coconut water), I think the sugar content just knocked me out and I felt very tired so I’m going to have to lay off the fruit for a while.
The biggest thing I’ve learnt is to only eat every 4 hours or longer. I realised I used to snack a lot before but now, I’m actually giving my body enough time to rest.
SIBO Low Fodmap Foods I Can Eat Now
Would I Recommend Doing The Elemental Diet?
Although I’m not sure if it actually worked for me (I’m going to re-test next week), I would do it again in a heart-beat. Why? When I look back to the state I was in on Day 1 to where I am now, I’m a totally different person. I feel more like me again which is completely priceless.
The best part is, I’m not as swollen anymore and that means the world to me. But, how long will that last? I don’t know. My stomach has blown up a bit since I came off it but the beauty about doing the diet is you really get to see what foods work and don’t work when you come off it.
I read somewhere that doing the Elemental Diet is like becoming a baby again. You don’t go straight to solids as you wouldn’t feed a baby solids straight away. It’s about building yourself up again.
I’ll continue with my progress as time goes on and will write another post about whether this diet actually killed off my SIBO. Even though my diary of this experience has helped me more than probably anyone, I thought if this helps someone else then it would make me very happy!
2020 SIBO Update
Since I wrote this post originally in 2017, a lot has happened since. You can find out what happened after I did the Elemental Diet here.
Not long afterwards, we went away for a year to travel the world which was amazing. When I returned to Australia, my gut problems came back straight away. When I left Australia again, I felt back to normal. I have since found many other people who only suffer with gut health problems in Australia so I’ve started a Facebook group here, you’re more than welcome to join.
And so, with it being three years later, I am about to embark on seeing another gut specialist in the coming months. I’ll keep you updated and will let you know of any progress in due course.
If you have any questions…
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Elemental Diet Video Diary
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