Heal Your Gut in 5 Steps (Part 1 of 5)

Special Note: This is the first of a 5-part series on Gut Health.

In this series, I’m going to uncover the 5 steps you must follow in order to improve your digestion and heal your gut. These 5 steps are based on the 5 R approach of functional medicine (formerly referred to as the 4 R approach, which I’ve written about previously on my site), and I’ve gone ahead and included my own personal spin and approach to each step.

Rather than turn this into one gigantic post with all 5 steps included, I’ve decided to break it down into 5 parts to make it a little bit more manageable and give each step the attention it truly deserves. 

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If you’ve been hanging around my website or receiving emails from me for a while, you’re likely well aware that a big focus of my practice and teachings centre upon gut health and improving digestion.

The reason for this is simple, really. You see, if this area of your health is sub-par, then it’s almost impossible to feel your absolute best.

After all, healthy digestion is the foundation of optimal health.

It’s estimated that over 80% of our immune system resides in the lining of our gut wall, so it’s only reasonable that we would want to keep everything functioning as smoothly as possible.

Our gastrointestinal tract is our main barrier between us and our outside world, and it’s most critical job is to keep undigested food particles, toxins and other invaders from trespassing into territories where they don’t belong.

Overtime though the gut lining can become inflamed and damaged as a result of a number of factors including: poor diet and eating habits, excessive alcohol consumption, certain medications, environmental pollutants, pathogenic organisms, and even emotional stress.

When the tight junctions that make up our gastrointestinal lining start to loosen (allowing substances to pass through into our bloodstream that wouldn’t normally be able to otherwise), this is when a condition commonly referred to as “Leaky Gut Syndrome”, or gastrointestinal hyper-permeability ensues.

Not only can this condition contribute to and exacerbate a number of digestive issues, it can also set off autoimmune reactions throughout the body leading to health complaints not always associated with poor digestive function, such as joint pain, fatigue, depression, environmental allergies, and skin conditions like eczema.

The 5 R approach has its roots in the field of Functional Medicine, where’s it’s been used successfully for years as a protocol to heal and repair the digestive tract of patients.

With that, I’m going to jump right into the first of the 5 steps!

Step #1: REMOVE

The first of the 5 step protocol is REMOVE, and it’s probably the most important step of all, because without it the subsequent steps wouldn’t be nearly as effective. So listen up! ;)

This first step refers to the removal of anything that negatively impacts the environment of our gut and gastrointestinal tract – and it’s actually a two-fold process.

Let me explain.

First, we must take an honest look at our diet and the types of foods we consistently consume on a daily basis. A diet filled with highly refined foods, chemical additives, allergenic foods, or foods we may be sensitive to, can all wreak havoc on our gut, and both inflame and break down the gastrointestinal lining over time.

This also includes gastric irritants like cigarette smoke, certain medications, and yes, even alcohol and coffee, particularly when consumed in excess. Of course there’s a difference between enjoying a glass of wine with dinner vs. drinking a whole bottle on a Friday night in the name of “unwinding”.

Since many reactions can be delayed, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint which foods or substances are causing symptoms, especially if we feel fine when consuming them. It can be helpful to remove some (or all) of the top allergenic foods (or other suspects) for a set period of time and then add each item back in one at a time to see how your body reacts. If you have a severe anaphylactic allergy that you’re aware of, you should completely AVOID that food.

The top allergenic foods include dairy, wheat, soy, peanuts, eggs, tree nuts, and shellfish. However, there are many other foods that people can be intolerant or sensitive to (i.e. gluten, lactose, FODMAPS) and it’s beyond the scope of what I can reasonably get into here now. You’ll definitely have to do some detective work, and keeping track of your food intake in a journal can expedite the pinpointing.

The severity of your symptoms will determine how strict you need to be during the elimination phase, and it will look a little bit different for everyone. For example, if you consume a lot of dairy-containing foods and have digestive issues or other unexplainable symptoms, this might be a good one to start off with. On the other hand, if you know that you abuse alcohol or coffee, you might want to start there.

I suggest an elimination period of at least 4 weeks, although you can (and likely will) experience improvement in your symptoms much sooner.

The 2nd part of the REMOVE process includes the removal of any infections, such as an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, fungus (i.e. Candida), or parasites that may be contributing to poor gut health. In addition to removing their main food source which is primarily sugar and starches, it might make sense to employ certain antimicrobial agents such as caprylic acid, olive leaf extract, berberine, black walnut husks, cloves, and garlic (among others) to help further eradicate these organisms. In more severe cases, prescription drugs may even be warranted.

Okay, there you have it – that’s the first step in healing your gut!

I realize this first step is a BIG one, and can be a bit overwhelming, particularly in the beginning if you’re unsure about what to eliminate. With that said, once you put your attention towards figuring out this first piece of the puzzle, the remaining 4 steps are a bit more straightforward – not to mention, the payoff of reducing or eliminating symptoms and experiencing better health overall is well worth the effort.

Stay tuned for Step #2 coming soon!

Elaine

p.s. If you’d like the rest of this series delivered straight to your inbox as it becomes available be sure to sign-up for updates below!

 

5 Eating Habits to Ditch

I want to let you in on a little secret.

Ready?

Here it goes…

Eating healthy is really quite simple.

There, I said it.

I know this comes with the risk of offending some people, particularly those who have struggled in this area for a long time.

But please let me explain before I go any further, because I say this with great love and respect.

What I really want to convey here is that eating healthy is a 2-step process.

Step number one involves upgrading your food choices.

Once you gain mastery in this area, this part of the equation becomes relatively easy. Naturally in the beginning there’s a bit of a learning curve, and yes, it will take some trial and error and a little investigative work to figure out which foods currently support your body and health goals the best, but once you’ve found your groove this step becomes relatively straightforward, i.e. you no longer have to give it too much thought, beyond perhaps getting creative with new ingredients and recipes.

Step number two on the other hand, is the one that trumps people the most.

This is the “how” component of eating, aka, your eating habits. And let me tell you, those babies run deep. This is why you can diligently eat all of the right foods but still only get mediocre results when it comes to your health goals. Of course there’s also the question of exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors, but today I’m focusing solely on the food and eating aspect.

You see, so many people want the magic bullet solution. They want the shiny new meal plan that tells them *exactly* what to eat. And while that can be helpful in the beginning, and yes, you can definitely make great progress by upgrading your foods choices (particularly if the diet was low-grade to begin with), eventually you’ll run smack up against a wall in terms of progress and you may be left scratching your head wondering why. Then you’ll start searching for the next new shiny meal plan or perfect diet that you believe will get you the desired results rather than addressing the root cause of the issue…YOUR EATING HABITS (yes, shouty capitals required).

We must examine our eating habits if we want to stop going around in the same circles.

It’s not about being perfect either. I’m the first to admit that I’m not always able to avoid all of these habits in my own life. Sometimes certain situations come up, and it’s just not possible.

But that’s irrelevant, really. The point is to just be aware that you’re even consciously or unconsciously doing them in the first place, and honestly reflecting on whether they may be preventing you from reaching your own highest health potential. Then you can work on giving them up (to the best of your ability) in your own life.

 

1) Late Night Eating

Let me first begin by telling you that I’m in no way suggesting that you have to become an “early dinner” person in order to ditch this habit, as I’m certainly not. The truth is, on most nights you’ll usually find me eating between 7 pm and 8 pm, and some nights even later. The idea here is to be done your main meal within 2-3 hours of lying horizontal. You can still eat within this time frame if necessary, but ideally it will be a lighter meal or small snack.

When we go to bed with a stomach full of food, not only is it a recipe for disrupted sleep and indigestion, but it also impedes the process of healing, detoxification, and cellular regeneration that would normally occur during this time of nightly slumber, because energy is diverted towards digestion. Ever notice how much groggier and exhausted you feel in the morning when you do eat late? I know without a doubt if I eat heavier before bedtime I have a much more difficult time crawling out of bed in the morning. And an early morning workout? Forget it.

This may be your norm though, and if so, I challenge you to put it to the test for 3 days by cutting off your eating as suggested above. Notice how much easier it is to get up in the morning (assuming you’re still getting the same amount of sleep), and how much lighter you feel. You might even notice that your BMs are better – and if you don’t normally have one in the morning, you might find that you now do as a result of better digestion.

 

2) Over Eating

This one is difficult for many people, considering it takes about 20 minutes for our brains to register that we’re full. I often hear from my clients that portioning out meals in the daytime is really easy, but nighttime eating can be more of a struggle since emotional eating can rear its head when they’re not preoccupied by the busy-ness of work. Aim for satisfied, and not stuffed. If you’re tempted to keep picking at more food after you’ve finished dinner, get up and throw yourself into something else. Tidy up and wash the dishes (I have a theory about dirty dishes and overeating!), go for a walk, go take a bath, go brush your teeth, or just shut down the kitchen for the night.

The second part of the overeating equation relates to falling prey to the “If it’s healthy, it doesn’t count” mentality, or believing you can eat as much of it as you want without any portion control. This is simply not true. Here are some foods that are easy to overeat: nuts, dried fruit, almond butter, whole grains, starches of any type, homemade baked goods made with natural sweeteners and gluten-free or whole grain flours, coconut milk ice cream, and fruit (yes, you can overeat fresh fruit but best to choose your battles), to name a few. You can be eating the healthiest of foods, but if you’re constantly eating above and beyond your caloric needs, you will gain weight – not to mention mess up your digestion.

 

3) On-the-Go Eating

Sit down, relax, and enjoy your food distraction-free. Rushing, stress, worry, and anxiousness are all antithetical to good digestion. When our sympathetic nervous system is activated, aka, “fight or flight” mode, our ability to digest and assimilate our food is greatly reduced. Even eating something as simple as carrot sticks can leave you feeling bloated like a balloon when you eat from this state.

Do the best you can to centre yourself before eating. Take some deep breaths and step away from your computer if you can. If the choice is between wolfing down your lunch to make a quick meeting, or, waiting until the meeting is over before you eat – it’s better to wait it out, even if your stomach is rumbling a bit. It’s important we get into parasympathetic “rest and digest” mode in order to give our bodies a fighting chance to digest the food we’re feeding it. Which brings me to my next point…

 

4) Constant Eating (aka, Grazing)

So many people never experience the feeling of true hunger because they’re constantly nibbling throughout the day. Of course living in a snacking culture where convenience food is readily available at every turn doesn’t help the matter, but furthermore, some health experts actually tout 5-6 metabolically mapped out meals and snacks per day in the name of “increasing energy”. I highly disagree with this sentiment, and in fact, actually encourage my clients to consider transitioning back to a good old-fashioned 3 (or even 2!) meals per day with minimal to no snacking in between.

There are so many benefits to giving up snacking (and constant grazing), and I actually dedicated a whole post to it here, but they include optimizing digestion and fat burning, upleveling mealtimes and the experience of eating, freeing up mental space that’s otherwise preoccupied with food, increasing energy that’s otherwise thwarted towards digesting yet another meal or snack, and helping you get back in touch with true hunger and satiety signals.

 

5) Rigid Eating

Too many food rules make Jill a dull girl (or something like that. Let’s just go with it).  My point is, obsessing over every little thing you put in your mouth is not only tedious, but also missing the whole point. Food is meant to be enjoyed with great reverence. It’s what nourishes and helps sustain us, and also, literally becomes us. There’s nothing wrong with having high standards for yourself and what you allow to enter “your temple” so to speak, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of wasting your precious time obsessing and agonizing over everything you put in your mouth. The culture of “clean eating” is something that’s been weighing heavily on my mind lately (I’ll write about this later). Right now I encourage you to find the diet that best supports your health goals (which ideally also includes feeling awesome both physically and mentally), then move along and go enjoy your life!

As always, I love hearing from you! In the comments below, let me know which of these eating habits you’re ready to break-up with this year. Are there any other eating habits you would add to the list?

Want to eat “healthier” this year? (read this first)

If any of your New Year resolutions include “eat healthier”, or, something along the lines of “give up sugar…FOREVER”, then please read on.

You see, I know (really well) that the New Year can bring with it the pressures to start “fresh” with a new diet on January 1st, or to eat “perfectly” with no slip ups. And while any changes you make to eat healthy and take care of your body are positive steps in the right direction, I know that this rigid way of thinking often stems from the guilt and shame of overindulging through the holidays or even leading up to them.

And I know YOU know this too, because like me, you’ve also been down this path before. You know the drill: fight tooth and nail to stick to an overly restrictive diet for the first few weeks of January then gradually slip back into old eating habits when the New Year excitement has worn off, or you realize that your new way of eating is no longer sustainable.

Believe me when I say, you can have great health and make progress with your body goals without struggling or relying solely on willpower to get you through. It’s entirely possible to eat well and nourish your body while at the same time, also enjoying indulgent foods, because the two aren’t mutually exclusive, regardless of what some people believe.

I’m not saying it doesn’t take discipline to change long-ingrained habits, particularly in the beginning, but if the desire is strong enough it’s more than doable for you, and in fact, only gets easier with time.

See, I can say this with full conviction, because just a few short days ago I was eating up ALL of the holiday goodies. And no, not the “healthified”, gluten-free, sugar-free versions either. I’m talking your traditional flour, sugar, butter laden baked goods. And let me tell you, I enjoyed every last bite without even a shred of guilt (and definitely without throwing in the towel and having the pendulum swing full tilt to the right).

Why? Because I know these are special foods that I look forward to and enjoy once a year in the context of celebrating the holidays with my loved ones. I also know that it’s only temporary and that after a period of enjoying these richer foods, my body naturally gravitates back towards lightness and starts to crave more water-containing vegetables and soups.

Also, I firmly believe that there are times when we may have to be steadfast and stick to a more disciplined way of eating (for whatever reason), and then there’s a time to loosen the reigns and celebrate life.

Many years ago though, it would have been a different story. I would have struggled. I would have been excessive, and there would have been guilt. My thinking would have been, “If I’m going to eat the shortbread cookies in the morning than what’s the point of eating salad for lunch? I’ll resume with the “healthy eating” after the holidays when I don’t have any temptations around me”. I know. Warped, right?

So here we stand, at the start of a New Year that holds so much potential.

If you’re looking to change your eating habits, improve your health, lose weight, or just “eat healthier” here are some simple and straight-forward tips that don’t involve a drastic (or torturous) overhaul in your diet.

#1. Stock up on ALL of the Good Stuff (Avoid Triggers). Fill your fridge with an abundance of fresh produce and stock the pantry with whole-food ingredients that support your health goals and make you feel good after you eat them (read: not bloated or left feeling like you want to curl up and snooze under your desk for the rest of the day). Assume that if it’s in your house you will eat it. Rather than rely on willpower to resist temptation don’t bring these offender foods into your space in the first place. Offender foods might be foods that don’t support your health goals, or, ones that trigger you to binge or overeat. Triggers foods aren’t necessarily “bad foods”, they may even be ones that are generally regarded as healthy by many people (i.e. cereal, energy bars, trail mix, peanut butter). Only you know your triggers.

Looking for a little grocery inspiration? Here’s picture of one of my recent food shopping hauls.

#2. Eat Veggie-Centric. I’m not into diet dogma or subscribing to food labels. I honestly don’t think it matters which type of diet you follow whether it be a Paleo-approach, vegetarian, or something else, as long as it makes you feel good, is sustainable, and supports your health goals. I do suggest, however, eating at least 50% veggies at each meal. Of course it’s not an exact science; at one meal you might eat less, and then at the following meal much more. The point is to make vegetables the star-performers in your diet, with other foods taking on a supporting role.

#3. Give up the Snack! If you’ve been grazing on goodies throughout the holidays or just eating heavier in general, this is a great practice for optimizing digestion and getting back in touch with your true hunger. This step requires a little more discipline at first, but if you’re someone who suffers from any type of food addiction, or is just constantly fixating on your diet, this is one of the best eating habits to free up some mental space that is otherwise preoccupied with food and eating. I wrote a whole post on my case for not snacking here that’s worth checking out. Of course, having a conscious snack if you’re truly hungry is a whole new ballgame than mindlessly snacking out of boredom, or to fill some other void.

#4. Be Realistic, or, 80/20 for the long haul, baby! If you’re wondering where ice cream and chocolate croissants fit into the equation then the 80/20 principle is a great rule of thumb to live by. Aiming to make healthy choices at least 80% of the time can alleviate the pressure to be perfect 100% of the time, and allows room for special occasions (like the holidays). Keep in mind: Progress not perfection. Overtime you may even find that a 90/10 ratio floats your boat more!

Wishing you a healthy and abundant New Year!

Much love,

Elaine

P.S I’m still accepting new clients for January, so if you’re interested in nutrition coaching check out my updated service offering.

I always love hearing from you. In the comments below, share the healthy habits that you plan on committing to this year!

The 10 Principles for Mastering Your Diet and Toasting Life at the same time

A photo by Stefan Johnson. unsplash.com/photos/xIFbDeGcy44

1. Raise your standards. Don’t be afraid to be a bit of a food snob – I actually encourage it. The truth is, if you’ve ever experienced for yourself what it’s like to feel energized, strong, and full of vitality, and have digestion that hums along smoothly (you know what I’m talking about) – not to mention clear, glowing skin – then you’re less likely to accept feeling like a second-rate version of yourself. This isn’t to say that your choices are always going to be perfect, but if you do stray (detours can be fun!), you’re more likely to return again because you’ve set the bar so high. The whole goal is to reach a place of ease. When you break certain fundamental laws that govern your body, you end up with dis-ease – the opposite of what we’re going for here.

2. Unsubscribe. Don’t identify too strongly with any particular paradigm of eating or food label. As your body and environment evolve, so too will your diet. Also, keep in mind that a tool is just a tool (and there are many at your disposal). Trial and error is a good thing. Don’t follow the in-crowd. Personal accountability means finding out what works for you. There are many different diets and ways of eating that work for people all around the world. Extrapolate the best from each. Let the seasons of the year AND the seasons of your life serve as your guide.  Continue reading