SO YOU'VE HEALED YOUR GUT. NOW WHAT?
Once you've done the hard work to get your gut bacteria back in balance, heal those gut walls and quiet inflammation, you start to feel the incredible benefits of eating and living to support gut health. The last thing you want to do is welcome chronic constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, brain fog, acne or mood disorders back into your life. So how do you loosen restrictions without compromising the delicate balance you've worked to achieve? Beyond eating a vegetable forward, nutrient-dense diet rich in whole, real, unprocessed foods and minimizing triggers and irritants like caffeine, sugar and alcohol, I encourage my gut protocol clients to explore these other ways to support gut health:
- DON'T RUSH THE RE-INTRODUCTION PHASE: After you've done the heavy lifting and eliminated allergens and gut offenders like dairy, gluten and legumes for a while, don't go hog-wild at a pizza and chili buffet the day after your doctor tells you things are looking up. Why? Because slow reintroduction is actually the fastest way to get to a sustainable way of eating for gut health that's best for YOU. If you eat all the eliminated foods at once and have a bad reaction, it's difficult to identify what caused that reaction. Why is that confusion such a bad thing? Because you may end up restricting more foods than you actually need to. Introduce single foods groups in the simplest form possible (i.e. a glass of milk or piece of cheese for dairy) and monitor your reaction for 2-3 days (sensitivities often have a delayed reaction, allergies are usually more immediate and pronounced). After you've tested out a single food group, go back to your gut protocol for at least 3 days before testing another potential irritant. This method will help you see VERY clearly which foods you need to avoid longer term and which ones you can happily reintroduce.
- CULTIVATE MINDFUL EATING HABITS: Eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full. Chew your food at least 25-35 times before swallowing (digestion starts in the mouth)! When possible, eat sitting down without the distraction of the TV or your phone and be present with your food. Appreciate the visual beauty, delicious flavors and textures and let it be an experience. These habits will aid digestion, increase satisfaction and decrease your likelihood to eat when stressed, graze mindlessly and overeat - three things that have big negative impacts on longterm gut health.
- FIND THE RIGHT FIBER FOR YOUR BODY: Fiber is cornerstone of gut health BUT it can often come in forms that can be irritating to a compromised gut. Whole grains, legumes and whole nuts and seeds are good examples of fiber rich foods that can unfortunately be abrasive for some people with sensitive guts. It took me a few years to figure out which forms of fiber work well with my delicate constitution (chia, flax, psyllium, acacia, leafy greens, and non-starchy veggies are best for me). I encourage clients to try various forms of fiber for 1 week at a time and monitor stool quality and frequency while keeping an eye out for bloating, gas, cramping and other signs that a certain grain or seed might not be for you.
- CONSIDER DIGESTIVE ENZYMES: Digestive enzymes can be an excellent tool in your gut health arsenal, especially if you're over 30. Supplementing with enzymes can counteract that inevitable decrease in production of enzymes that comes with aging. They can also be helpful in easing the stress on your digestive system during periods of eating rich foods you're not used to eating, like while traveling or during the indulgent holiday season! If you're interested in long-term use, I suggest discussing with your doctor and pursuing testing that identifies specific enzyme deficiencies.
- UNDERSTAND HOW AGING IMPACTS DIGESTION: Decreased hormone levels, digestive enzyme production, muscle mass, bone density, insulin sensitivity (and much more) are natural parts of the aging process. All these things heavily impact our nutritional needs, nutrient absorption and digestive health and are relevant factors in eating for continued gut health, especially for anyone over the age of 30. Pay attention to changes in your digestion and energy, accept that at 65 you may not be able to comfortably eat what you ate at 25, and take the time to figure out what works for your body at different stages in life. On that note...
- LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. AND DON'T MAKE IT SHOUT: If you're experiencing abdominal pain, urgency, bad gas, painful bloating or other signs of gut distress, I can't stress the importance of listening to those signals enough. Take it from me, if you don't listen, the signals will only get louder, stronger and more bizarre as your body tries every way to get you to respond to its calls for help. If your digestion, sleep, skin, mood or anything else is getting out of whack, take action before you've done damage that can take years to repair.
- MANAGE STRESS: Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but we do have the power to control how we perceive and experience it. That's important to know, especially in the context of gut health, because chronic stress wreaks havoc on the gut. One of the best things you can do for your gut is learn to manage your response to the stress in your life by incorporating mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), meditation, mindful movement or anything that gets your brain out of that fight or flight state and into rest and digest.
- For more about the importance of gut health, check out this post. For bite-sized tips including eating anti-inflammatory, healing and pre/probiotic foods, check out this post. For more on my personal gut health journey, check out this post or this post.