Read an article about navigating digestive health issues that was published in the Reading Eagle.

When Jennifer Laurence, a registered dietitian from Chester County, was in her 20s she began having a sensitivity to certain foods, leading to a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. At the time, research on IBS was more limited, which left her feeling alone.

“I didn’t get a lot of help in that area when I talked to a doctor at that time,” she said. “Some of the issues we know about today weren’t as prevalent back then.”

Jennifer Laurence Right Balance Nutrition

Laurence, 51, said the landscape has since changed, with many studies on gut health having been conducted in the last two decades.

“The medical community now knows how important it is and how many ways it contributes to our health,” she said. “Twenty-three years ago, we didn’t have that data, and now we understand a lot more about the microbiome — now there is so much more research on it and the importance of gut health and how you can heal your gut with food.”

When she was first diagnosed in 2000, Laurence decided to turn to nutrition in hopes that route might offer her some answers and relief. With the help of an integrative practitioner to analyze her diet, she began taking steps to make changes.

“She helped explain to me the microbiome and imbalances in the gut and really educated me on that and how food could play into the picture,” Laurence said. “Through working with her, I made the connection that certain foods can make you feel great and certain foods can make you feel really sick.”

In the process, she and the practitioner identified foods that Laurence was sensitive to.

“She helped me heal my gut and from there I became really interested in nutrition and interested in supporting people with digestive issues,” she said. “It was a catalyst to me pursuing nutrition as a profession.”

Cutting out certain foods

In the process of cutting out certain foods, they determined healthy, nutritious, balanced foods to replace them so that Laurence didn’t become deficient.

“Dairy was huge for me, and to this day I’m still pretty sensitive to it,” she said. “I had to adjust and find substitutions for that.”

She turned to fortified rice milk as her dairy alternative.

“I had to figure out how to get calcium in my diet from other foods that aren’t dairy,” Laurence said. “I included a lot of leafy greens in my diet, and things like sesame seeds and beans are high in calcium, so that was my protocol.”

Her specific IBS diagnosis was IBS-D (predominantly diarrhea), so she had to make some changes regarding a beverage she was fond of.

“I was a big coffee drinker and I couldn’t have it because coffee stimulates the bowels,” she said. “I had to switch that out for a caffeine-free herbal tea.”

Taking probiotics was also necessary to balance her microbiome.

“I had to eliminate or swap out the foods that were causing the inflammation and add in foods and probiotics to lower the inflammation,” she said. “I was also prescribed an anti-bacterial supplement to kill some harmful bacteria in my gut.”

Felt significantly better

It wasn’t long before Laurence began noticing changes.

“I started seeing improvements in a couple of weeks and then within one to two months, I felt significantly better,” she said.

Nutrition became a central component of her life. After a period of working in finance and later a focus on motherhood, Laurence decided to transition her professional path to dietetics.

In 2016 Laurence founded Right Balance Integrative Nutrition in Wester Chester. Today, she has many clients who contend with IBS.

“Oftentimes I feel when you are given a diagnosis of IBS it is a fairly general term and people feel they just have to live with it,” she said.

Laurence recommended seeing a doctor first to receive a proper diagnosis before seeking guidance from a dietitian.

“Sometimes all the tests come back normal but you kind of feel, ‘Well, now what? What do I do?’” she said. “This is where a dietitian can really pick up and be helpful, because they can talk to you about dietary intervention.”

Treating IBS is not a one-size-fits-all prescription, so when Laurance does nutritional counseling, each protocol is personalized.

“It is customized to each person, and individualized nutrition is so key,” she said. “I can have five people that come to me with IBS and a recommendation might be different for each one of them.”

After listening to a client’s symptoms, Laurence does a digestive assessment that includes looking at their current diet, doing a dietary intake and having clients keep a food log. Next, she determines an appropriate course of action.

“They may or may not need an elimination diet; they may or may not need supplements,” she said. “I have to do those first steps in order to determine their appropriate nutrition prescription.”

Low FODMAP diet

The Low FODMAP diet is one Laurence often recommends to clients, which she noted is fully backed by research. According to Johns Hopkins University, the low FODMAP diet is a three-step elimination diet that targets certain carbohydrates that are hard to digest. You stop eating high FODMAP foods for the first step. Next, you slowly reintroduce them to see which ones are troublesome. And lastly, once you identify the foods that cause symptoms, you can avoid or limit them while enjoying everything else without worry.

Laurence discussed how the trend in low-carb diets, such as Keto and Paleo, can be detrimental to overall gut health and lead to an unbalanced diet.

“They are so low in fiber and probiotics, which you need to feed those probiotics, and they are low in short-chain fatty acids, all of which help to lower inflammatory response in the body,” she said.

Laurence said the number one carbohydrate people feel they can’t eat is fruit.

“People are afraid to eat it and it is high in antioxidants and a great source of fiber,” she said.

Whole grains such as quinoa, barley and oatmeal are ideal whole grains that Laurence recommends people should gravitate toward.

“People come to me all the time and they have eliminated all this stuff from their diet and are eating a lot of protein, a lot of fat and a few veggies, and that’s not great,” she said, recommending carbohydrates should be added to that list. “They should also be eating fruits, grains, beans and starchy vegetables.”

Laurence offers a message she hopes people will take into consideration when it comes to carbohydrates in their diet, which in turn can be beneficial for gut health.

“They don’t have to fear carbohydrates and be afraid of them,” she said. “These foods can be beneficial and serve a purpose.”

Right Balance Integrative Nutrition

Right Balance Integrative Nutrition is a nutrition counseling practice in West Chester, Chester County. Jennifer Laurence, owner of Right Balance, is a registered dietitian and a licensed nutritionist with a master’s degree in Nutrition Education. For more information, visit, email [email protected] or call 484-401-7837.

About Low FODMAP Diets

The low FODMAP diet is part of the therapy for those with IBS and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Research has found that it reduces symptoms in up to 86% of people.

Because the diet can be challenging during the first, most-restrictive phase, it’s important to work with a doctor or dietitian, who can ensure you’re following the diet correctly — which is crucial to success — and maintaining proper nutrition.

Low FODMAP is a three-step elimination diet: First, you stop eating certain foods (high FODMAP foods). Next, you slowly reintroduce them to see which ones are troublesome. Once you identify the foods that cause symptoms, you can avoid or limit them while enjoying everything else worry-free.


About Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Symptoms of IBS vary, but typically include one or more of the following: abdominal pain, cramping, constipation or diarrhea, bloating, gassiness. Your doctor may order medical tests to rule out other causes of these symptoms.

Triggers: People with IBS have a sensitive intestinal tract in which stress and diet may play a role.

Stress: The colon contains nerves that connect to the brain. For people with IBS, stress can stimulate spasms in the colon, causing discomfort and pain.

Diet: Some people with IBS find symptoms worsen after eating large meals or high-fat foods. Specific foods may also trigger symptoms and can vary from person to person.


See the article published in the Reading Eagle.