Edward Barbarito's journey as a gastroenterologist started well before it was time to even choose his medical specialty. He developed Ulcerative Colitis (or UC, a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease) in his early 20’s. His own digestive illness inspired him to want to care for those suffering with similar kinds of illnesses. Today, his life experience gives him special and unique insights into the health and potential of his patients.
Ed’s ulcerative colitis diagnosis came just before medical school and he suffered from the disease for more than ten years. He was hospitalized numerous times with varying success. He eventually became gravely ill and, when all medical options were exhausted, had no choice but to have a total colectomy and ileal pouch-anal anastomosis. “My entire colon was removed and an ‘artificial’ colon was created from my small intestine,” he explains.
“I often wonder had I paid more attention to my diet and food choices would my illness have been so particularly aggressive?” he reflects. The impact of diet on ulcerative colitis was simply not well understood at the time. “I am now disease free and quite healthy, but my digestive system is forever altered and I remain sensitive to different foods.”
FINDING THE RIGHT WAYS TO EAT WELL & STAY FIT
“Over the past 10 years, through personal research, open dialogue with colleagues and patients, and trial and error I have found the foods best suited to my body's altered digestive system,” he says. “I avoid gluten and wheat products, minimize carbohydrate intake and generally follow a low FODMAP diet plan. Thankfully this has worked well for me, and my personal experience with digestive illness and subsequent recovery has significantly impacted my approach to patients.”
Ed is an Epicured client and an Epicured supporter, who recommends the service to many of his patients. That’s because most of Ed’s patients share his sensitivities. He treats many patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, but he estimates that a staggering 50% of his patients come in for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Their symptoms are varied, but the most common ones are debilitating bloating and gas, for which there is no conventional treatment and food is a go-to remedy.
Dr. Barbarito has a real appreciation for how food impacts him physically, emotionally, intellectually, but he always preaches patience when encouraging his patients to make dietary changes. “People need to understand that changing your diet can be a gradual process.” He reminds patients that it’s okay to cheat now and again if that’s what you need to stay motivated and feeling good. “For me, I eat ice cream twice a week! Wednesdays and Sundays!” Because he knows he always has this to look forward to, he can limit himself on other days.
“I truly believe that ‘food is medicine’ and gladly share my experience with my patients,” he continues. “I first and foremost encourage my patients to find their way to good health through proper diet and lifestyle choices as the backbone of their treatment. Conventional medicine has its place in improving many digestive illnesses, but it will never replace proper nutrition.”
FOOD & MEDICINE COMING TOGETHER
Dr. Barbarito sees a bright future ahead for his field. “Historically doctors would just give you a pill to fix your problem. It's a tradition dating back hundreds, even thousands of years, but it's limiting and patients should expect more. If they don't, they are missing the opportunity to make therapeutic lifestyle changes through things like food and fitness that could have great impacts on their health.”
He sees patients looking beyond typical prescriptions. “The more that patients look to medications to fix problems first, the more exposed they are to all sorts of side effects. I have patients coming to me with chronic GI conditions who have been taking the same prescription drugs for years. They come to me and say 'I don't want to be on these medications anymore.' I need to do something else. This is where the idea of 'food as medicine' has real power."
WHERE DOES EPICURED FIT?
“I’d like to see it incorporated more into medical practices, where physicians and dietitians promote it, as well as in the fitness world,” he tells us. “It tastes great, it fits nicely into my life, and I’m going to continue recommending it to my patients. I want them to feel as good as I do.”
Watch Ed, Don Saladino & Chef Renee talk gut health:
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Dr. Edward Barbarito, a northern New Jersey-based gastroenterologist, has been caring for patients with digestive illnesses for more than 20 years. He is in private practice at Morris County Gastroenterology Associates and sees patients at two hospitals: St. Claire’s and Morristown Memorial Hospital. Dr Barbarito attended New Jersey Medical School (now Rutgers) in Newark from 1993-1997. He did his internal medicine residency and gastroenterology fellowship there as well from 1997-2000 and 2000-2003 respectively, and was chief medical resident at Hackensack University Medical Center 1999-2000.