As an integrative nutritionist, I see hundreds of clients every year, many of them battling digestive and weight issues. You can be sure nobody comes to see me when they’re feeling great!
It’s my job to work with clients to help them learn how to heal themselves and stay on a path that will make them healthy, strong and vibrant. And while it may seem a lofty goal, it’s a very achievable one, as long as you have a roadmap.
But in order to get where you want to go, first, you need to see where you’ve been, and figure out what’s holding your body back from feeling amazing. The place to start? Your diet. Here are the clues that will help you unlock the dietary causes of feeling less than your best.
1. You're bloated.
Bloat, acid reflux or “hurtburn” (as one of my patients called it), are classic signs that something may be triggering irritation and inflammation in the gut. You may be sensitive to gluten and possibly even have an immune reaction
The easiest way to find out if gluten is setting off your digestive distress? Eliminate it from your diet for a week. You may find that you feel better, clearer and more energetic without it. Getting rid of gluten, even just temporarily, is an excellent way to be your own dietary detective.
2. You're constipated.
Not only is constipation a sign that you may not be drinking enough fluids, but it’s also a sign that there may not be enough fiber to help draw waste products through the gut and out of the body. Without enough fiber, the pipes get sludgy, elimination slows, and discomfort grows.
We should all be shooting for at least 30 grams of fiber in our diets each day, but if you’ve been light on fiber thus far, integrate it into your diet slowly and steadily over the course of a few weeks.
One good gut way to boost your intake: boxed baby spinach (and organic if possible). You can toss a fistful or two into just about any meal, hot or cold, and increase your fiber intake without a whole lot of extra effort!
3. You have energy slumps.
If your energy tanks an hour or two after breakfast and you have to wake yourself back up with a grande cappuccino, that’s another massive clue that your diet is missing the kinds of nutrients that keep you energized and alert.
Starting the day with a truly balanced breakfast — one that’s low in sugar, high in protein and loaded with micronutrients — will fill your belly and fuel your brain throughout the morning. My go-to, belly-filling breakfasts are home-made green smoothies or Greek yogurt with fruit, nuts, some flax seeds and a dash of coconut flakes.
4. You have a weakened immune system.
How do you know when you’re falling short on protein? There are a few classic clues, among them: a craving for sweets, brain fog, a weakened immune system (you seem to catch just about every cold you come in contact with) and simple malaise, feeling weak and washed out.
The good news is that getting enough protein is an easy fix. Add nut butter to your morning shake; add some chicken to your lunchtime salad and enjoy a bit of grass-fed beef or fish to your plate at dinnertime. If you're more in the vegetarian camp, boost your intake of high-protein beans, lentils, tofu or tempeh.
5. You're having skin issues.
Rashes, pimples and skin eruptions are your body’s way of telling you that what you’re putting into it isn’t working all that well — and that you may not be supplying your body with enough healthy fats to keep your skin functioning optimally.
As is the case with tummy troubles, an imbalanced, bad or fad diet may be triggering inflammation that manifests itself on the skin’s surface. If you can take a week to eliminate the usual suspects – sugar and dairy — there’s a good chance you’ll be able to calm your inflamed system, give it a rest and help clear up rashes, eczema, rosacea and other skin flare ups.
6. You have mood swings.
Three more clues that your diet isn’t up to snuff: mood swings, anxiety and even depression. It may be the case that your brain isn’t getting the nutrients it desperately needs to function on an even keel. For instance, you may not be eating enough carbohydrates (think fruits, vegetables, and whole grains like quinoa and buckwheat) needed to produce serotonin, the “feel-good” neurochemical.
A diet low in omega 3 fatty acids (wild fish and oily, little fish like herring and sardines are great sources) may not permit your brain to work at top speed and leave you vulnerable to depression.
And food sensitivities, especially sensitivity to the gluten found in wheat and many processed foods, can trigger a system-wide inflammation that can affect the brain and impact mood, causing symptoms like anxiety and depression.
For more ideas on how to create a vibrant diet and life, check out Kathie Swift’s new book The Swift Diet: 4 Weeks to Mend the Belly, Lose the Weight and Get Rid of the Bloat.