I Started Eating For My Gut Health & Here's How My Life Changed
Learning to eat for my gut health has been a long road, filled with welcome changes that were easy to institute, some that I was reluctant about, and a few that I was forced to make, kicking and screaming all the way. Over the years I've gone grain-free, cut out dairy permanently, and invested in my fair share of fermented foods. I've taken probiotics, worked on lowering my stress levels, sipped on apple cider vinegar twice a day, and even did a fasting-mimicking diet for five days. And this is just the short list!
As you can see, I've done a lot of experimenting and thought a lot about what it means to live a gut-friendly lifestyle. Looking back, I can point out four big changes in my health since beginning my journey:
1. My chronic sinus inflammation is a thing of the past.
I've been sensitive to dairy for as long as I remember, so the first dietary change I made in honor of my gut health was cutting out all milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, ice cream (I think you get the gist). I actually made this decision based on the recommendation of my surprisingly progressive South Carolina pulmonologist, who always suggested that I cut out dairy and eggs when I had a respiratory infection. I figured if I was doing it when I was sick to get healthy more quickly, maybe it would help me stay healthy, too.
The good news? It worked. The chronic sinus congestion and postnasal drip, which triggered my breathing problems and had been an issue for years, subsided in a major way. The bad news? It worked. This meant macaroni and cheese was permanently crossed off my list of comfort foods (tragic, I know). But it's been almost six years since I made this change, and I've never looked back, although I have added back in ghee, which doesn't seem to do any harm.
2. I have WAY better blood sugar balance.
One of the most extreme things I've done in honor of my gut health was a 90-day candida diet. This meant no grains, beans, caffeine, alcohol, or sugar for three whole months. Not surprisingly, the first few weeks of this journey were hard, but by week three or four I was feeling great, and I still maintain that the candida diet caused lasting changes in my blood sugar balance and sugar cravings that have nothing short of changed my life. This might seem dramatic, but before completing a candida diet, I was always one of those people who had to eat every three or four hours or I'd get shaky and hangry. Now, I'm no longer the person who carries granola bars everywhere, and I can even get up in the morning and go to the gym without eating anything beforehand, which still feels like a big deal.
3. I'm no longer bloated.
Despite making dozens of dietary and lifestyle changes in honor of my gut health, I—like many people in wellness—was bloated more often than I wanted to be. I always figured it was stress, and while this does play a role, it was raw foods that were really the culprit.
I feel like it's important to note that never in my life did I think raw foods would be a problem for me; in fact, I used to pride myself on being able to eat raw cauliflower and broccoli without any issues. But when I cut out all raw veggies—at the suggestion of nutritionist Kevin Libby at PH2 Nutrition, who creates custom plans based on his clients' unique metabolisms—I was pretty shocked. My occasional bloat had become extremely occasional, and my digestive system seemed to really appreciate the rest. Who would have thought?
4. I feel less anxious and stressed.
The connection between gut health and mental health is hard to ignore. In fact, out of all the supplements, Dr. Aparna Iyer—an integrative psychiatrist—is most likely to recommend a probiotic. In mindbodygreen's Functional Nutrition Program, there's an entire section called Brain Health: Choosing Foods for Optimal Mental Well-Being. Taught by mbg Collective member Dr. Mark Hyman, this section was a game-changer for me in terms of understanding the connections between gut health and the microbiome, inflammation, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. For example, did you know that studies have already shown that sugar consumption is linked to an increased risk of depression? It's true, and it's something we should all be more aware of.
This gut-brain connection is something I've experienced firsthand, and it's a major reason I continue to maintain a gut-friendly lifestyle despite its challenges (i.e., missing out on mac and cheese). When my lifestyle is in a good place—meaning I'm eating nourishing foods and staying away from caffeine, alcohol, dairy, simple carbs, and added sugars—I'm able to take things in stride and handle everyday life stressors with more ease. When I get off track, my mental health takes a hit, and it reminds me to show my gut a little extra attention.
It's important to keep in mind that eating for optimal gut health doesn't mean the same thing for everyone. What worked for me might not be the best choice (or even a good choice at all) for you. Always talk to your doctor before you make any drastic changes to your diet or lifestyle and keep them updated on all of the supplemets you're taking.