2015: The Year Of The Gut

If you feel like crap most days, I’d guess your gut is the problem.

The gut, or gastrointestinal (GI) tract, is part of our digestive system. Digestion is a critical component of good health. Without a properly functioning digestive system, we don’t get the energy and nutrients we need to live well and feel good most days.

Although we can’t really control much of digestion while in-process, we can certainly influence its effectiveness by controlling what we put in our mouths.

What we put into our bodies matters so much that for this entire year, The Be Well Place is focusing on information to help us eat for good digestion.

What’s your gut feeling?

I recently told a new friend about The Be Well Place and my experiences with nutrition coaching and he immediately asked me, “Can you help me lose my gut?”

I smiled and replied, “You’re not going to like what I’m going to tell you.”

He understood and nodded his head. “So, I should stop drinking this beer and eat more broccoli, huh?”

I laughed. “Something like that.”

The next morning at my parent’s house, my mother was experiencing some stomach discomfort. Not uncommon for her and to be expected after our holiday binging. I, myself, wasn’t exactly feeling the warm fuzzies inside.

Meanwhile, the hubs was talking about the chilly Ohio weather and how it does wonders for his skin. He recently went to a naturopathic doctor for skin issues and was given probiotics and other gut-friendly capsules to help with his digestion. The doc said that “everything starts with the gut.”

During my nutrition coaching days, I promoted eating habits that focused on the gut and elimination organs. I read so many books on our internal systems and how to promote healthy elimination for optimal health.

I forget that not everyone read the books I read, and not everyone learned the lessons I learned. (I even forget the lessons I’ve learned, no matter how many times I learn them…the hard way.)

My new friend with the gut reminded me, “You can’t assume what people know. Not everyone realizes that eating vegetables can help them lose weight and feel good.”

An excellent point indeed.

What does your gut tell you?

The size of your gut may tell you about your eating and exercise habits, but the feelings inside tell you so much more.

Are you bloaty, crampy, achy, or uncomfortably gassy? Do you have heart burn or weird acne or irregular bowel movements? Do you feel sluggish and run-down? Are you irritable?

Digestion issues don’t just affect your bowels – they can affect your overall state, including your emotional health.

Digestion starts in the brain

The digestion process starts when you smell burgers on the grill or bread baking in the oven. It starts when someone asks you, “Doesn’t pizza sound so good right now?” It starts when you scoop the potatoes onto your plate and drizzle gravy on top.

Are you salivating a little just reading all this?

Your brain prepares your body to eat food. When you think about eating or see or smell something delicious, your brain starts telling your body to get ready for an incoming.

The physical process of breaking down food begins in the mouth. Food is broken down by chewing and saliva, then heads down to the stomach where it’s exposed to some hard core digestive juices.

Then, the food travels through your small intestine where it’s bombarded with more juices. Your small intestine is where most of the food is absorbed into your bloodstream.

Whatever doesn’t get absorbed travels to your large intestine and compacts to form, well, you know. Eventually, the food that your body doesn’t use is eliminated from your body.

Eat for elimination

There are various strategies for eating that we can implement depending on what’s important to us.

Some choose to eat all-organic, some don’t eat meat, some only eat meat, some don’t care as long as it’s cheap and tastes good.

There’s another strategy for eating that focuses on good digestive health: eating for elimination.

Eating for elimination means that we choose foods that are helpful to our digestive processes.

For example, you may know that fiber promotes good digestive health. So, foods like apples, oats, and black beans are good staples.

You may also have heard of “good bacteria” for your gut. These are helpful organisms that live inside your GI tract and break down stuff you eat. Foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and blueberries help promote good gut bacteria that aid in digestion.

Eating for elimination isn’t hard and gross. It’s actually quite simple and delicious.

Yes, it requires some habit and lifestyle changes, but it’s not a huge overhaul like fad diets or going vegan.

Step 1: Don’t change

If you’re willing to explore this strategy for eating, here’s the first step: Don’t change anything.

That’s right, don’t eat anything different for the next week or so.

Don’t start eating more veggies or fruits, don’t make lentil soup from a recipe you found on some all-natural recipe website, don’t begin a new workout routine.

Just do what you normally do. But this time, observe how it makes you feel and think.

Notice your mood, your skin tone, your bloat, your heart burn, your energy level, your sinus pressure and congestion.

What happens to your insides after you eat a burger? What happens after you eat a salad? What happens to your energy and sleep when you don’t work out for five days straight? What happens to your mood when you eat a lot of sugar?

Collect some data about yourself and detect patterns. Start to develop theories on the correlation between what you eat and how you feel, physically and mentally.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be working together to gradually raise self-awareness and develop eating habits that support good digestion and, therefore, optimal health.

Woo! Let’s do this!

REFLECT

Are you eating right now? Did you just eat something? What was it? How do your insides feel? Do you have a spurt of energy? Are you feeling sluggish?

As you go about your day, pay attention to what you put in your mouth. Then, observe how it makes you feel.

No need to keep a food journal or anything like that, but make a strong effort to pay attention to your eating habits and how they are affecting your health and life.

(Oh, and in case you didn’t catch it, 2015 is the Year of the Goat according to the Chinese calendar. Goat..gut..get it? Ah, never mind…)

(photo credit: MTSOfan via photopin cc)

8 comments

  1. Linda Pasini says:

    Thanks for writing this digestible article. You are so smart. I’m looking forward to seeing what you are cooking up to help my gut problems.

  2. Lori Slyh says:

    Rachael,
    Two months ago I went partial paleo. What I mean is I eat only meat, vegetables, nuts, and fruit. I don’t go to the full extreme of always organic. I feel amazing. I am shocked how little weight I have lost. I work out 5 days per week. I have maybe 10 pounds left to lose. What are your thoughts on paleo and weight loss?

    • Rachael says:

      Hi Lori, thanks for sharing. A friend of mine switched to a paleo-ish diet and he did experience significant weight loss over time. I’m actually going to write an article about his experience, so please stay tuned.

      Personally, I’m a big believer that you know your body better than anyone else. (Or you can figure it out easier than anyone by first-hand observation.) You know what foods make you feel most energized and what foods your body processes most effectively.

      Paleo is one of many different eating strategies; and I believe our eating habits should reflect not only our goals, but also our philosophies on food and lifestyle. If eating paleo is important to you, but you’re not reaching your goals, perhaps you just need some adjustments like smaller portions or leaner meats.

      If you’re only looking at the scale number as your metric of success, remember that working out can build muscle, which weighs more than fat. You definitely want strong muscles, but you may not see the scale tip in your favor.

      Now, I believe in paying attention to how the body feels and is shaped rather than how much it weighs. If you feel great and your body is getting more taught and strong, does that number 10 really matter so much to you? It’s okay if it does, but it’s just something to think about. I’m sure you can lose 10 on a partial paleo diet in a couple weeks by cutting your portions, drinking more water, sleeping more soundly, and doing moderate cardio for longer time periods, etc., but it’s important to ask yourself: What will that 10 pounds do for you and will it last? Do you need to lose 10 pounds for health reasons or aesthetic reasons? Is the principle of eating paleo important to you?

      Perhaps some self-reflection on your purpose will provide some insight on what’s right for you and your body. Let me know what you think about all this.

  3. Danica says:

    Hi Rachael!

    Love your blog as always :)

    I’m in a weird place where I ‘look’ healthy, but my body fat percent is 30% and I’m not in a health place I should be. I feel how I always feel and I don’t obsess about my weight, and I’m aware that I don’t exercise enough. I pay attention to what I eat, but as an especially picky eater eating healthily isn’t easy. My fat percent is alarmingly high personally. Do you have any advice?

    Thanks!

    • Rachael says:

      Hey, Danica! Thank you for reading and contributing. I definitely understand the difference between thinking you look okay, but not feeling okay. 30% body fat is not a bad thing on it’s own, but if you’re also not feeling 100% than it sounds like some moderate activity will do you good.

      Maybe you’re getting to a point in your life where you feel you need to make some lifestyle changes. Food and exercise are great mediums for initiating change, but the purpose of the change has to hold more weight than the aesthetic outcome (pun definitely intended :) ). If read my previous response to Lori’s comment, I mentioned that food and exercise habits should reflect our goals as well as our philosophies on lifestyle.

      I challenge you to do some moderate cardio three times a week for the rest of January. Do something you enjoy. I have a feeling that if you get that blood pumping a little bit here and there, you’ll start notice a difference in how your body feels. Pair that with some small tweaks to your food intake (e.g., sub veggies and hummus for chips and dip), and you’ll definitely see a decrease in your body fat percentage.

      Take some time to think about this body fat percentage thing and what it means to you. Do you feel unhealthy because of the number? Does it affect your confidence? Is the number an indication of health? Why is body fat percentage the metric that initiated a red flag? What I hope you find is a deeper understanding as to how you think about health and body metrics and a deeper understanding of your philosophies and goals, so that you can better match the appropriate metric to your goal and desired lifestyle.

      Let me know what you think about this. I’d love to hear the results of your reflections!

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