I’ve been fascinated lately with the amount of research out regarding the gut microbiota. Now, before I lose you with these boring sounding words, ask yourself: Through the course of my eating disorder how often have digestive issues plagued me? Have these digestive issues caused so much distress that you struggle to get to a place where holding onto full recovery is attainable?
I would like to start tackling concerns I often hear about the gut by writing a series of blogs explaining the gut’s function and how we can heal and take care of it. The gut is incredibly smart and complex. Because of the guts complexity, it is a key component in achieving full recovery from an eating disorder (ED). Healthy happy guts help the body with maintaining accurate hunger/satiety (fullness) cues. Unhappy, unhealthy guts contribute to digestive concerns which often cause physical distress, increased emotional dysregulation, brain fog, and lower immunity.
Let me preface my future blogs by saying, although my current blogs are based on today’s research about the gut and eating disorders, the amount of research in this field is expanding rapidly, therefore we have exciting new research every day.
The framework for the gut will be helpful to go over as we move forward. Food goes into our stomach; this produces acid to start the breakdown of the food. From there, food goes through the intestines where trillions of microorganisms, known as the microbiota, help break down the rest of the nutrients to be absorbed in the body. We have about 4 lbs. of these organisms in our gut. The microorganisms in our gut help absorb and synthesize nutrients that are essential to keep our body running at its best, and help our bodies fight infections. Each one of these bacteria have different functions. The bacteria communicate with our brains to make sure specific functions happen such as moving food through our gut, breaking down and processing food, and having regular bowel movements, etc.
Now, as long as someone has a healthy balance of these microorganisms, their gut will run smoothly, and they will feel good. It has been shown that over 90% of those with eating disorders do not have a healthy balance of microbiota in their gut, and this leads to functional gut disorders. Functional gut disorders are identified as a series of symptoms, example: irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pelvic pain, and gastric reflux.
The first step in having a healthy gut is making sure we have a healthy gut microbiota. There are many ways to help healthy bugs flourish in our gut. Here are a few of the most important things to start thinking about from a nutrition perspective.
Eat consistently, every few hours and adequate amounts. Our gut bacteria die when we restrict the variety and quantity of food. Just like us, our bacteria rely on food to keep them healthy and alive. The less you eat, the less bacteria you have in your gut, and the more digestive problems you’re going to experience.
Eat fermented foods. Fermented foods like active culture yogurt already have the healthy bacteria in them. Therefore, as we eat fermented food, the bacteria populate in our gut. Other options to eat are Keefer, Kombucha, sauerkraut or kimchi. I would only recommend eating these if you enjoy them though, as not everyone has the pallet for them.
Eat variety. It is recommended to try to eat 30 different types of fruits, veggies and grains each week. I know, I often sound like a broken record telling my client’s they need more variety. From the perspective of ED recovery, this is to avoid falling back into a pattern of only eating “safe” foods. From the perspective of making a healthy gut, we need a huge variety of food as different food feed different bacteria. Considering we have billions of different strains of bugs in our gut, we need lots of food variety to keep a diverse microbiota and therefore a happy gut. Sure, we need nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables but oh yes, we need all kinds of carbohydrates as well – oatmeal, pasta, rice, bread, quinoa, lentils, etc. These contain fiber and fiber feed our microbiota.
Drink plenty of water each day. The only way to lubricate and move food through the gut is by drinking lots of fluid.
Sit down and chew your food well. We live in a society which promotes eating on the run. It’s awful for our gut though. Proper digestion starts with breaking our food down into tiny pieces so our gut can finish the process. Swallowing large pieces of food are going to wreak havoc on your digestion and lead to lots of bloating and pain.