First Thing - Healing the gut
Steps to Healing One's Gut
I primarily work with clients who have eating disorders or disordered eating and the majority of them have gut distress such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating or gas. They are so uncomfortable and will often ask me if I can just put them on supplements to help heal their gut issues. Certain supplements can be super helpful, but it is critical to go through the below steps first to begin the healing process.
1. Consume adequate amounts of food – If you are not eating enough or are eating unbalanced, then your body is likely depleted of critical vitamins and minerals. Minerals are essential in order to make stomach acid, which is the first step in digestion. Furthermore, under eating and erratic eating leads to the gut slowing down and the thyroid slowing down, which then further slows down the gut. The adrenals are also affected which increases cortisol. This adds more stress to the thyroid and gut. In order to reverse the shut down of our gut, thyroid, and adrenals, we must first work on eating an adequate amount of food.
2. Get nervous system out of fight or flight mode – As long as we are in a heightened stress response, our cortisol levels are high, which inhibit our body from digesting and absorbing properly. I like clients to put a lot of focus on getting adequate sleep, relaxing, and eliminating excessive exercise. We can relax our mind and body by stimulating our vagus nerve by using techniques such as gargling, humming, singing loudly, box breathing, yoga, or meditation.
3. Meal hygiene – The body naturally cleanses itself through a system called the migrating motor complex which happens every 1 ½-2 hours when we’re not eating. If you are grazing throughout the whole day or not eating consistently, every 2-3 hours, this system is ineffective. It’s also important to spend a minimum of 20 minutes eating and chewing very well in order for nutrients to be absorbed. I often recommend someone sit with company so there can be some distraction from the stress of eating.
4. Blood sugar balance – From my experience, blood sugar tends to be more unstable in those with eating disorders. I work with my clients on consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates and fats as these are often avoided due to being fear foods yet are so critical in making sure the blood sugar stays stable. In addition to this, it’s important to have protein, fiber and lots of colors of food to keep things steady. When blood sugar is off, we may have symptoms of shakiness, nausea, irritability, fatigue, or waking up in the middle of the night. This will often lead to not wanting to eat, which makes the whole problem worse.
5. Resolving constipation – Lack of, or excessive amounts of fiber; inadequate or excessive food and/or fluid consumption; inconsistent eating; or excessive exercise can be just a few of the reasons I see so many of my clients struggle with constipation. Until these factors are addressed, constipation cannot be effectively treated. If all the above are properly taken care of, then I can start looking at other modalities to treat their constipation, such as digestive support or seeing a gastrointestinal doctor, etc.
6. Food variety – Variety is key to make sure we are feeding our gut with the correct fiber from food that serves to feed the bacteria in our gut to make a vast and healthy gut microflora. Because of eating disorder behaviors, my client's gut bacteria are often sick, this is called dysbiosis. We can throw supplements at this all day, but it won’t work unless we are eating a good variety of all foods.
7. Prebiotics, probiotics, psychobiotics, polyphenols, resistant starch – This is the last step in healing as it’s essential to work through all the steps above first before we can really figure out what the remaining missing pieces are. Prebiotics can come from food and supplements and these feed the probiotics and psychobiotics to make a balanced gut flora and help with mood. Good research is now coming out regarding psychobiotics. Psychobiotics are live bacteria or probiotics which have mental health benefits through their interactions with counsel of gut bacteria. In additional polyphenol and resistant starches come from certain foods that can further feed the happy gut bacteria.
It’s important to slow down and take one step at a time to heal the gut. Yes, it can be a long process, but my client’s eating disorder didn’t start just yesterday either. Through a little love and time I can get you to a place of healing and feeling much better.