On my wedding day, as I sat there feeling blissful and blessed, drinking mimosas with my girlfriends while I prettied myself up, I was suddenly overcome with nausea. It was like a heat wave came over my face: I started to sweat; I was feeling lightheaded, dizzy, disoriented. "It’s just nerves," everybody told me. But here’s the thing—I wasn’t nervous. I was excited; I was happy.
And then it happened again—on a romantic vacation—and again—at my cookbook launch party—and again—when I hosted friends for a New Year’s Eve dinner.
There was a common denominator here—it seemed that every time I got excited about something, every time I anticipated something with enthusiasm, every time something really important and meaningful and positive was happening in my life, I was feeling sick.
I went to see my doctor, who diagnosed me with IBS-C, or as I later came to call it—"we don’t know what’s wrong with you, so let’s call it IBS." She prescribed me some extremely expensive medication that, in addition to setting my bank account back a few hundred dollars each month, gave me horrible diarrhea and nasty stomachaches that made me afraid to leave the house.
When I questioned her, she recommended I get an X-ray (another expensive procedure), but she couldn’t tell me why. So I asked her for a referral to a gastroenterologist instead. When I got to the gastroenterologist, she had me try a different medication—one that was equally pricey and with its own roll call of scary side effects.
It wasn’t working, so she recommended a colonoscopy. I was 27 years old, by far the youngest person in the hospital that day who was there for the procedure, but she thought there was a small chance it could be colon cancer. Fortunately, there was no cancer. But they hadn't come any closer to determining what was wrong with me.
I had had enough. I decided to go cold turkey on all this extreme medication that wasn’t even working and hormonal birth control and try to heal this the natural way. I found a holistic doctor, who started by asking me about my diet, my life, my hobbies, my exercise routine, my family, my job. Instead of masking my symptoms with a pill, she was getting to the root cause of my issues.
I’ll be honest, my diagnosis wasn’t pretty—PCOS, insulin resistance, hypothyroid. The underlying diagnosis at the root of those issues? leaky gut. Simply put, leaky dut is when your intestinal lining is damaged and/or inflamed and foreign particles can actually leak out of your gut and into your bloodstream.
This, as you might have guessed, causes digestive distress, from constipation and nausea to diarrhea, bloating, stomach pain, but also hormonal imbalances, autoimmune disorders, and inflammatory skin conditions, like acne, psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.
According to Amy Myers, M.D., the gastrointestinal (GI) tract/digestive tract doesn’t just break down our food into nutrients, which the body uses for energy, growth, and cell repair, but it also affects our nervous, endocrine, and immune system. When our digestion is off, we feel bad (of course) but other systems start to fail, too. For me, when my digestion was at its worst, so was my PCOS and hypothyroidism.
Today, I've completely reversed my leaky gut and am feeling healthy, vibrant, and full of life. After trying tons of natural remedies and solutions, here's what's actually made a difference.
1. Eat more vegetables.
Yep, it’s cliché for a reason. Eating anti-inflammatory foods full of fiber is one of the fastest ways to heal your gut. Some of my favorites: leafy greens, avocados, and fermentable starches like sweet potatoes. One of the easiest ways to get more veggies into your diet: Drink a green smoothie every day.
2. Chew your food.
Seriously—not only will this allow you to slow down, savor each bite, and eat less (hello, weight loss), but chewing your food at least 20 times per bite will also help your stomach digest your food more easily. The less work your stomach has to do, the better you’ll feel.
3. Restore your gut bacteria.
Adding a powerful daily probiotic supplement to my routine was one of the fastest ways I was able to restore the good bacteria my gut needs to thrive. I also try to get probiotics from fermented foods, like apple cider vinegar with the mother (drinking a shot of this before meals can also aid in digestion and prevent heartburn and acid reflux), kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and grass-fed yogurt and kefir.
4. Remove food triggers.
Though I’m a firm believer that it’s more important to incorporate more "good foods" into your diet, there’s no denying that eliminating certain foods can also bring healing to your digestive tract. Does dairy always give you a stomachache? Cut it out for 30 days and see how you feel. Does bread always send you rushing to the bathroom? Does sugar cause major energy crashes? Does alcohol make you super bloated? Everybody’s food triggers are going to be different, but it’s important to take note of how your body feels after eating certain foods and remove those foods causing negative reactions.
5. Go to yoga.
Yep, that's right. Yoga isn't just an amazing exercise for your mind--the restorative practice is full of postures that help cleanse, stimulate, aid, and encourage digestion. Not only that, but the calming and meditative aspects of yoga will help you relax, which can improve functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. Just be sure not to practice right after a big meal.
6. Take collagen.
Whether you take it in supplement form (I like adding Vital Proteins collagen peptides to my coffee every morning) or you get collagen through a daily mug of gut-nourishing bone broth (you can make your own or buy it pre-made), this protein will help heal and repair your intestinal lining. Bonus—it's also incredible for hair, skin, nails, joints and reducing inflammation. There's no wonder it was one of mbg's top wellness trends to watch! Other supplements that soothe, cleanse and heal the digestive tract and reduce bloating, nausea and constipation: Magnesium, Fish Oil, L-glutamine, Slippery Elm, Ginger and Aloe.
7. Switch to sprouted grains and raw dairy.
If you're not lactose-intolerant and/or Celiac, and you still want to consume gluten and dairy, do your gut a favor and go for sprouted grains and raw dairy instead of conventional (also be sure it's organic, non-GMO, and grass-fed), which is much easier to digest. I rely on sprouted whole grains, like lentils, quinoa, rice, beans and peas for a filling, protein-rich meal. Likewise, raw dairy and fermented dairy (yogurt and kefir), particularly made from goat's milk or sheep's milk, rather than cow's milk, is also much easier for people to digest, including those with lactose-intolerance.
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