Building a Support System

Team of doctors put hands in a pileThe healing journey is a complicated, long, rollercoaster ride that has enough unexpected twists and turns to drive anyone mad.

To reach your health goals, you’re going to need to build a support system. A support system will include all the people you need with different perspectives and skills to help you on your healing journey. Your support team can include the following people:

  • Gastroenterologist
  • Naturopath
  • Any other doctors necessary
  • Family and friends
  • Health coach


I’ll assume you have a digestive condition, which means you will likely have a gastroenterologist. Some people use a gastroenterologist as the main doctor who conducts diagnostic tests as well as prescribes treatments to remedy the problems seen in the diagnostic tests.

For me, I feel much more comfortable using a gastroenterologist for diagnostic tests only and infrequently at that, such as a colonoscopy once every five to seven years. Any treatment they prescribe to me is usually ignored since it is a medication used to suppress symptoms rather than heal the root problem. For that, I have a Naturopathic doctor on my team.


A Naturopathic doctor takes a different approach to treating health problems. Instead of using medications to treat the symptoms, a Naturopathic doctor will attempt to treat the root cause of the problem using lifestyle changes. These include diet, exercise, stress reduction techniques and supplements.

They may also use diagnostic tests such as food allergy or stool sample tests and usually are able to prescribe most of the common medications such as prednisone and low-dose naltrexone. Be sure to find a naturopathic doctor who focuses on gastrointestinal conditions.

Other Doctors and Health Practitioners

If you have other health conditions, you should have a doctor who specializes in it to treat you when needed or administer diagnostic tests to see what your current health state is. You can also make use of other alternative care practitioners, such as acupuncturists and chiropractors.

Family and Friends

Family and friends are critical during your healing journey. They will be there every step of the way, all throughout the scary doctor appointments and invasive tests. They will encourage you when you are frustrated and want to give up. They will calm you when you are pushing too hard and need to slow down.

Family and friends help you keep track of critical information about treatments when you are too tired to remember.

In every healing journey, nothing is certain and predictable, but your family and friends will be the exception. They will be the rock that grounds you during your toughest times and reorient you toward your ultimate goal of health.

Health Coach (aka Health Counselor)

Now we come to a person I found crucial to my success that you may not have considered before, the Health Coach. Typically, health coaches have nutritional education backgrounds from alternative medicine schools. Many also have overcome the very condition you seek to heal from.

This brings me to my experiences with Emily J. Butler, a certified health coach who has overcome the challenges of her Crohn’s disease and now helps others do the same.

I worked with her for several weeks as I transitioned from the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) to the Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet (GAPS).

The GAPS program is a very intense healing protocol, asking the person to make bone broth soups with chicken feet and kefir from raw milk. Both the chicken feet and raw milk are hard to find for many people.

By working with a health coach like Emily, because she was experienced with both SCD and GAPS, she was able to guide me to the sources I needed to find. She helped me put the treatments into practice and solve day to day problems I was having.

Each health coach probably is different in terms of how they treat their patient relationships, but I found Emily to be like a good friend, one who had been down the same road I was traveling and had the educational background to assist me in my healing journey.

A health coach is like a mirror, by listening they help you realize what you can do to help yourself. They also provide accountability, helping you stay on track and giving you lots of inspiration.

Health coaches usually make themselves available via phone, email and online text and video chat allowing them to work with people all over the world. This increases the experiences they gather and gives them more insight than focusing on people from one town as a doctor would.

One thing to keep in mind is that a health coach is new and most insurance companies do not cover the costs. One option is to use a Health Savings Account (HSA), so that the costs of a health coach are reimbursable through a tax-deferred HSA.

In recent years, several prominent medical doctors such as Dr. Hyman and Dr. Oz have publicly supported the role of health coaches. This is because as our health as a nation collectively declines, many MDs do not have the time available to closely work with their patients to implement the treatments they prescribe.


A friend of mine recently said, “If we don’t have a strong support system, we often don’t support ourselves.” One of the many things Crohn’s disease has taught me is that I need to be my own best friend.

Part of being your own best friend is to not be so hard on yourself and to realize you can’t do it alone. By forming a team of supporters who can pick you up when you stumble, you greatly increase your chances of achieving your health goals.

P.S. Emily J. Butler has graciously offered anyone who wants to explore health coaching to apply for a free 30-minute “Overcome Your IBD” Consultation where you can talk to her about your challenges and receive recommendations for how to move closer to the healthy life you desire! I know she traveling this weekend (to learn from Dr. Natasha McBride!) and it may take her some time to respond.