For many years my gut was whispering (and then screaming) that things weren’t okay. My gut was trying to tell me that I was too stressed, I wasn’t chewing my food, I wasn’t breathing, I wasn’t digesting, and I wasn’t caring for myself. But I didn’t want to hear it so I ignored the pleas until it became unbearable.
A typical day in the life for me involved lots of caffeine, processed foods, little to no water, no movement, and lots of stress. I was bloated beyond belief, always complaining of a stomach ache, nauseous, constipated, and uncomfortable in my own skin. Most nights I would be curled up on the couch in so much pain from the day. I thought that I just couldn’t digest food and that this would be my life forever.
I didn’t connect other health issues like rashes, acne, headaches, joint pain, and constantly getting sick to my gut.
But my gut was talking and it had a lot to say. Your gut is the center of your overall well-being. It impacts immunity, clarity, skin, digestion, and your general sense of wellness. In fact, 60-70% of your immune system lives in your gut!
I’ve been on a gut healing journey for the past two years and have come a long way. It is a long process to heal years and years of damage and neglect. And it’s not easy. There are days when I want to scream, “F-it. I’m going to eat a pizza and have a beer.” It is hard to let go of your “normal” life and change your habits and diet. To become the weird one with special foods, habits, and supplements. I had to mourn the loss of my old life. Even though I feel so much better now (and look forward to feeling even better in the future) it is still tempting to just quit it all and resume my previous lifestyle. Because this is work. There is no way around that. But it gets easier and just becomes your everyday.
It’s important to note that my gut healing journey is just that – my own. My issues may not be your issues. And my solutions may not be right for you. I’m not a doctor. I’m sharing my personal experience but it’s not meant to be medical advice. It’s critical that you address your own personal needs and don’t simply rely on a magic pill or solution that you read about. It takes trial and error to find what works best for you.
Here’s what has worked for me:
- Hydration is everything – your digestive system needs adequate water to easily move bacteria and waste through it. The more water I drink, the more things flow. Be sure to limit water (or any drinks) with meals. They dilute your natural digestive enzymes and make it harder to break down your food. Drink before a meal and wait 20-30 minutes after.
- Diet changes – I suggest an elimination diet to begin to identify the foods that your body likes and those that it doesn’t. There are a million and one ways to follow an elimination diet but in general you remove the most common irritants – gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, processed food, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol – for 3-4 weeks. Then you slowly reintroduce foods one at a time. For example you could have dairy one day, wait several days to observe any reactions while resuming an elimination diet, and then move on to the next food. You want to keep track of how each item makes you feel physically and emotionally. My body is happiest without dairy, gluten, alcohol, coffee, and soy and with very limited gluten-free grains and natural sugars.
- Digestive enzymes – Digestive enzymes* are taken with meals and help your body digest food with ease. It’s helpful to take digestive enzymes if you are working to heal your gut because your system doesn’t have to work so hard to break down your food.
- Probiotics – We all know, thanks to endless yogurt commercials, that good bacteria is important! Probiotics are the good bacteria that your gut needs to be healthy. For many of us, our ratio of good to bad bacteria can get out of whack from antibiotics, stress, and processed foods. I take a probiotic supplement every day and add it to my morning smoothie. I also add probiotic-rich foods into my daily routine. I love fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi and Kombucha (fermented tea). Other diet probiotic-rich foods are miso, tempeh, and kefir.
- Chewing – my poor digestive system. I used to make it work overtime on the regular. I didn’t chew my food. I averaged 3-4 chews per bite before swallowing and shoveling in the next bite. This almost always led to overeating. So not only was I dehydrated but my stomach was so full of huge pieces of food that there was little room for my stomach to do its thing. This is why I was insanely bloated and doubled over in pain after meals. We all need to chew our food more. The goal is chewing until liquid (aka insanely broken down) which typically takes between 20-30 chews. Start where you are today and try adding 5 extra chews per meal. By actually counting your chews you will force yourself to slow down and breathe. You also allow your stomach to announce when it is satisfied instead of eating past the point of no return. Digestion starts in your mouth and your stomach doesn’t have teeth! Do your gut a favor and help it out by chewing.
- Movement – Moving your body helps keep things moving in your gut! Physical activity is an important part of gut health. Recent studies have found that exercise can promote the variety and amount of healthy bacteria in your gut. Movement can also help jump-start your digestive system and assist in toxin removal. Gentle yoga twists are great for waking up your digestive system and are a lifesaver when things get backed up. Any movement will do, though. Throw yourself a dance party, take your dog for a long walk, hit the gym, or go for a run. Just move!
- Bone broth – there is nothing more nourishing and healing than bone broth. It’s all the rage these days and for good reason! Bone broth is made by slowly boiling high quality animal bones for a long period of time (usually 24 hours). Bone broth is full of collagen and gelatin – both work to repair and soothe damage to your digestive tract. Bone broth also reduces inflammation not only in your gut but your entire body.
- Supplements – supplements have been a large part of my gut healing regiment. I vary between four: aloe vera juice, grass-fed gelatin, l-glutamine, and Natural Calm (a magnesium powder). Aloe vera juice was crucial when I was starting out to calm my gut lining and reduce constipation. Gelatin repairs your system while also aiding in digestion. It absorbs water so it acts like a lubricant in the digestive tract. L-glutamine in an amino acid that helps repair the gut wall lining and reduce inflammation. It can also reduce sugar cravings! Natural Calm is my #1 supplement. It is referred to as the “anti-stress” drink because it naturally calms the body and mind, including your gut and colon. In addition, magnesium attracts water so it will not only help you sleep but resolve constipation.
- 1 – 1.5 cups coconut milk or water
- 2 cups baby spinach (optional)
- 1 cup frozen mango (or mixture of mango and papaya)
- 1-2 tablespoons grass-fed gelatin (be sure it’s cold water soluble – I use this)
- L-glutamine powder*
- Probiotics powder*
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger
*It’s important to find high quality supplements. I personally use Be Well by Dr. Frank Lipman enzymes, l-glutamine, and probiotics because that is what works best for me. Innate Response and Premier Research Labs are other great brands.
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