Meet Sophie Bibbs, a digestive health coach that helps women struggling with IBS and uncomfortable digestive problems take control of their gut.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do and where are you from?
Hi! I’m Sophie and I’m an IBS Health Coach, so I help women who struggle with digestive problems to work out what’s causing them and to heal their gut so they can feel more in control of it. I’m originally from London, UK, but spent the last two years living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and have just moved to Chicago.
When were you diagnosed with IBS?
I’ve had the symptoms for years, probably since I was about 15, but wasn’t ‘properly’ diagnosed until two years ago.
How were you diagnosed?
When I moved to Malaysia two years ago, I caught a parasite infection. I took antibiotics and it went away but it meant that the IBS symptoms I’d had for years got much worse. I went to the hospital and had a colonoscopy and endoscopy, as well as a test for Celiac disease. Once all of those came back normal, I was diagnosed with IBS. It wasn’t a surprise as I’d known I had IBS for years already.
What types of symptoms were you presenting that made you seek a diagnosis?
I’ve had bloating and constipation, as well as accompanying fatigue for about 15 years. Then, after the parasite infection, these symptoms got much worse, to the point where they were unbearable. A doctor actually asked me how many weeks pregnant I was (then looked totally shocked when I told him I was just bloated!).
Do you avoid any specific foods because of your IBS?
Whilst in Malaysia I trained in the low FODMAP diet, and went through it myself. That really changed things for me, as I finally knew which specific foods were causing my symptoms. It meant I was finally in control of my IBS. As a result of that, I avoid garlic and onion, and anything with excess fructose (things like honey and mangoes) as these cause an instant reaction. I also try to limit gluten and dairy as much as possible as they can cause problems for me if I have too much, but am not too strict with it.
How do you cope day-to-day to reduce your IBS symptoms?
I manage my IBS on a daily basis through diet and lifestyle. Diet-wise, I avoid the ‘trigger’ foods that I identified through the low FODMAP diet. On top of that, I eat a gut friendly diet. By that, I mean lots of fibre, healthy fats and real, unprocessed foods. I also have a coffee every day!
Lifestyle plays a big part as well for me. I’ve found that a routine helps keep symptoms at bay enormously. By that, I mean trying to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, as well as eating three regular meals at similar times each day. On top of that, managing stress, getting a good night’s sleep, and some form of moderate exercise every day is my recipe for a happy gut.
How do you heal yourself during an IBS flare-up?
I’ve really changed my attitude to an IBS flare-up over the last few years. When I used to get them, I’d lie on the sofa, crying, beating myself up for eating the wrong thing or going crazy trying to work out what it was that had caused the flare up. Now, when I get one, I just accept it. I don’t beat myself up over it, but I try to see it as a learning experience. I think about what it might have been that caused it and think “Great, now I know that’s something that causes symptoms.” I try and encourage all my clients to look at it this way too, as it then just means you’re a step closer to identifying all your triggers.
I can honestly say I rarely get a flare up these days, as I’m so clear now on what to avoid. However, on a more practical level, when I do, I put on some baggy clothes and get my body moving. Whether it’s a yoga session or a walk, moving your body helps get your digestion moving normally and releases some much needed endorphins. I also go back to a simple, low FODMAP diet for a few days, just to give my gut a chance to recover.
What is your pro-tip for living with IBS?
Invest some time into working out what your triggers are. There are lots of little changes that I’ve made, which have helped, but figuring out what triggered my symptoms was a massive game changer for me. It takes a bit of time and dedication to work out which foods, e.g. fructose, and which lifestyle habits, e.g. not enough sleep, trigger your symptoms. However, once you do then you can feel like you control your IBS, rather than the other way around. You know the things you need to avoid to stay symptom free, so you can choose how you want to feel.
What is one thing you never leave the house without?
A bottle of water! I’m constantly drinking. Water keeps your digestive system moving along properly, so it is a very simple, but necessary ingredient for keeping symptoms at bay. On a slightly stranger note, whenever I travel I take a bag of ground flaxseed with me. Again, seems simple, but a tablespoon of flaxseed a day is one of my best tricks for promoting regular bowel movements. You can just add a tablespoon to your cereal, oats or smoothie every morning, or sprinkle over a salad at lunch.
Could you tell us a bit about the type of coaching you provide? Who is it for? How does it work, etc.?
Of course! I work with women one-on-one to help them figure out what foods and lifestyle factors are triggering their IBS. We also focus on making tweaks to their diet and lifestyle to heal and nourish their gut, so they can feel more comfortable, in control and confident.
It’s for anyone who struggles with IBS, or uncomfortable digestive symptoms (like bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea, or pain) but wants to manage it naturally, without being on medication for the rest of their lives. I work virtually so can work with anyone, wherever they live in the world.
I normally work with clients over a three month period (14 weeks). We have a one hour one-to-one coaching session every week, which happens virtually over Skype or Zoom, where we work through a personalized plan for their gut. I’ve also trained in the low FODMAP diet, so I help clients work through this over those three months to figure out their food triggers, if they want to.
Why did you start your coaching business?
When I trained in the low FODMAP diet and put myself through it, my life changed. However, whilst knowing my food triggers was fantastic, what I found out from putting myself through it was that it was really hard to stay motivated to stick to. I also realized it wasn’t just food triggering my IBS…whilst I’d come a long way, there was still something else going on there.
I knew I wanted to help people through the diet, so they could feel like I did. However, I decided to take it a step further. I didn’t want to just be able to provide all the nutritional information about the low FODMAP diet and send people on their way. I wanted to be able to support them through it and help them out when they got stuck. On top of that, I wanted to help them work out all the other triggers and things that could be influencing their IBS, aside from FODMAPs (things like stress, travel, fatty foods, etc.). As a result, I trained as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach at IIN (Institute of Integrative Nutrition) and went on to specialize in gut health.
The low FODMAP diet, and all of the strategies I learned in my health coach training, absolutely changed my life. I finally understood what my IBS triggers were and I was so happy, I wanted to share it with the world! I know how awful and misunderstood IBS is, after suffering with it for years, and so I started my coaching business to help as many people suffering, just like I was, to work out their triggers, take control of their gut and feel so much more confident to live their life!
How can someone start working with you?
If someone wants to start working with me, I’d recommend they book in a free consult call first. That’ll give us a chance to talk through your problems and goals, and you’ll be able to ask any questions you have. There’s no pressure on the call. It just gives us a chance to work out whether we would be a good fit for each other. You can book in a free consult call here.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Just know that you don’t have to suffer in silence with your IBS forever. I’ve been in that position and suffered for years, without ever wanting to talk about it. You can figure out what is triggering your symptoms and learn how to manage your IBS in a way that it doesn’t affect your life and you can go out and live it, as you should be doing!