My diet has changed dramatically in the past 12 months — from one that I thought was healthy to one that is filled with nutrient-rich fuel designed to help my body heal and prosper.
I had to change my diet, because I got very, very sick. Now that I'm healing from adrenal fatigue and an autoimmune illness I finally understand how integral healthy eating is to overall health and well-being.
And so for all of you suffering with uncomfortable gut symptoms or just those looking to feel more healthy and well than ever, here are the five diet tweaks I made to make my gut happy.
1. I introduced probiotic food and supplements.
The balance of your microbiome can be negatively affected by stress, toxins and infections and positively influenced by probiotics or good bacteria. Introducing probiotic supplements (a soil-based strain was the trick for me) and then gradually introducing fermented foods (water kefir, probiotic coconut water, kombucha, fermented vegetables and yogurt) finally gave my intestines a chance to heal.
2. I learned to understand the art of food combining.
The art of food combining was all the rage in the 70s and 80s when people started going down en masse with acid reflux. This simple approach to eating isn't a fancy diet with a thousand rules, but rather a list of foods that can and can’t be eaten with each other. The science of Ayurveda and many cultures in Asia understand the subtleties involved in food combining, but somewhere along the way we lost this beautiful knowledge.
The good news is it’s really simple to tweak your eating; the main rules are never to eat starch/grains/dairy with protein. Vegetables with protein are good. Grains and starch with vegetables are good. The bad news is that pizza, spaghetti Bolognese and pretty much everything we associate with deliciousness is out. Back to the good news, though: after one day I felt so much better and had zero reflux or heartburn after years of suffering with it — 100% medication-free.
3. I started preparing my stomach for eating.
Speaking of acid, did you know that bloating, burping and reflux are often due not having enough acid rather than having too much? Doctors typically prescribe acid inhibitors without first understanding the specifics of the individual’s stomach acid, lifestyle and diet. If you, like me, used to struggle to digest meat and other complex proteins, you may have too little stomach acid, not too much. When I understood this, and learned how important enzymes are for digestion, I started regularly drinking warm lemon water when I wokeand introduced apple cider vinegar before protein-heavy meals. The result? Problem-free eating and digestion!
4. I tripled my intake of fresh fruit and vegetables.
There’s absolutely no man-made food that even comes close to being nutritionally equivalent to fresh fruit and vegetables. The gluten-free and low FODMAP diets were great for helping me reduce symptoms, but too many of them encourage substitution of gluten-free, man-made products rather than switching to a healthier way of eating centered around vegetables, fruits, wild seafood and grass-fed meat.
Look carefully at what proportion of your meals is grain-based. You're probably eating more grains than you think, and while whole grains are a good component of a healthy diet, they are not as packed with nutrients as our vegetable friends. They should make up no more than 25-35% of your meal — so stack your plate with lightly cooked vegetables instead of a second helping of rice or quinoa.
5. I learned to keep a food diary and eliminate irritants.
When I cut out gluten I noticed such a huge improvement in symptoms, and an even greater improvement when I cut out the remainder of grains for a while. Going on a strict elimination diet and carefully watching your symptoms as you reintroduce food is the only way to catch these intolerances out, and it’s not just the big guns — sugar, alcohol, chocolate, grains, gluten, lactose, soy and nuts. It's always best to do any elimination diet under the guidance of a qualified health practitioner.
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