Introducing the Good Gut Guide
There’s so much health information online, and much of it is conflicting, which makes it confusing to know who to trust and what advice to follow. The answer to this is to rely on your own experience by making small changes in a structured way. If you change too many things at once it becomes difficult to pinpoint which factor was responsible for the change, and therefore which factor(s) you need to pay special attention to so you can avoid your symptoms returning.
My Good Gut Guide highlights five key areas you can consider when looking to improve your gut health. I’ll go into detail on each of the five areas of the GGG in future posts but here I wanted to give an outline of how to use the guide to help you work through your health challenges.
The good news is it may not be necessary for everyone to address every aspect; it might be that one specific factor is responsible for your symptoms and addressing that will get you most of the way to resolving your gut issues. However, from my experience, to make lasting improvements it is important to take a bird’s eye view so as not to miss things that are potentially disrupting your gut.
Once you’ve looked through the five areas (Food, Lifestyle, Sleep, Movement, Additional Tools) it’s time to consider where to place your attention with the purpose of making the largest impact. Life is often busy, meaning our precious attention and willpower are stretched. We want to put in the smallest amount of effort to get the biggest rewards. This is the Pareto Effect, or the 80:20 rule. We’re looking for the factor that with 20% of your effort, you’ll get 80% of the rewards. With this in mind, I’d encourage everyone to start at the ‘Food’ pillar.
I recommend starting with this element because often what we eat has the largest impact on our gut heath. Through the Food lens, we adjust our diet for a few weeks to see if this leads to improvements. Let me be clear, unless this diet change is something you really enjoy, it doesn’t have to be permanent. Often a short period focusing on certain foods can give the gut a break by removing problematic triggers so it can heal sufficiently. Individuals can then expand the foods they eat. Depending on your starting point, a diet focusing on the principles of: Elimination, Paleo, low FODMAP, SCD, Autoimmune Paleo or Elemental diet may be appropriate.
Meal timing, and our mental state when we eat, can also influence our gut health. Typically, we don’t want to be eating late at night, or in a rushed, stressed state. We’ll explore all of these aspects in more detail in the expanded ‘Food’ article.
Sleep is the tide that rises all boats. There’s no aspect of health that sleep doesn’t touch. A healthy and plentiful sleep routine not only strengthens immunity, cardiovascular, and neurological health but a full night’s sleep makes people less impulsive in their food choices the following day. This means you give yourself a better chance of avoiding ultra-processed, highly palatable, energy dense foods – foods that are going to be detrimental to your health goals. Through its effect on the nervous system, a lack of sleep can lead to raised cortisol levels (our main stress hormone), which in turn leads to the growth of “bad bacteria”. This imbalance of bacteria is often a root cause of people’s gut issues. There are also the obvious added benefits that better sleep generally make us feel more alert and energetic, whilst signs of depression decrease.
This encompasses a wide range of factors, and where to dive into this pillar will be highly individual. For example, someone might be feeling a sense of overwhelm or inner tension brought on by loneliness; speaking to someone close to you to express this may be your jumping-on point. Whereas someone else might not be getting any exposure to natural daylight all day yet they have plenty of social support. Others might be exposed to excessive chemicals through household products, cosmetics, the water supply, or mould and these are disrupting the balance of gut bugs and hormones, leading to gut symptoms. Checking in with stress management through a mindfulness practice might be an area that tips the balance for some. There’s so much research now on the gut-brain axis that the connection between mental wellbeing and gut health shouldn’t be overlooked.
These lifestyle aspects are the best example of how Nutritionists look at a person as a whole, examining all relevant ‘stressors’ and how these play into the development and continuation of symptoms.
To most people, avoiding sedentary behaviour is the foundation in the Movement category. In studies done in the Blue Zones – areas of the world that proportionally have the highest number of centenarians (100+ year olds) – we find that people aren’t running every day, doing 5k open-water swims, or going to the gym 7-times a week; rather there is constant low-level movement, things like walking, gardening, playing with grandchildren. This is not to say intense exercise is bad, (there’s overwhelming research showing a greater muscle mass to fat mass ratio is beneficial to health) but finding activity that you enjoy, preferably outside (exposing yourself to daylight), with company, ticks a lot of boxes. How does this relate to gut health? Exercise and cardiovascular fitness lead to an improvement in the diversity in the species of gut bacteria – a more diverse collection of gut bacteria generally relates to healthier outcomes. Imagine the message we’re sending to our body by sitting at a desk all day hunched over our keyboard? Also, a point linking to the previous pillar, a sedentary lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to good sleep.
Finally, we come to ‘Additional Tools’ which includes supplements that you may want to try to give your gut that extra nudge it needs, if you feel you have all the other areas dialled in. The different categories of therapeutics include digestive enzymes, probiotics, antimicrobials and prokinetics. Depending on your needs, each of these can have significant benefits if used at the right time, at the right dose and quality.
The Good Gut Guide is an overview of things to consider when looking to improve your gut health. Each person will be different so if you’d like help with your specific circumstances book a free discovery call by contacting [email protected].