Updated: Mar 2
Some of you might know my story, some of you might not. As I see more and more clients who end up mentioning that: working on the whole picture has made all the difference, I'd like to share my healing journey with you.
You might decide to do things similar to what I've done, or you might find that that approach won't work for you. If at the end of this article, you feel a bit wiser, I'll be a happy person!
Which was not always the case! Going back over a decade, I was overweight, unfit, unhealthy and very unhappy. My diet was shocking and my digestion was even worse. This led to some severe bouts of depression and it wasn't until I made changes to my whole life (yes, you see that right, not just my diet) that I started feeling better.
What felt like giving up Christmas back then in terms of changes, now happens automatically, effortlessly and helps to keep feeling like I'm the best version of me: healthy and happy!
Here are some of the lasting changes I made.
Wake up and smell the coffee.
Not quite literally, but one of the biggest lessons I've learned is to be honest with myself.
And with that, I mean: take stock. Really dive into the what and the why.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What are my symptoms exactly, what is causing my symptoms, what aggravates things, why do I feel a certain way when I eat specific foods?
By tracking what I was eating and taking notes of symptoms I would experience, I found out what foods had a negative effect on my digestive system.
You can download the free food symptom tracker below.
Since everyone is different, I use this approach for my clients to this day to help them identify their personal needs.
Not only does it help to find out what foods are triggers, but it also teaches some people that they might ‘forget’ about the odd biscuits here and there and the effect this may have on their digestive systems.
The more specific you are about what you eat, the clearer answers you get.
Did you know that, it can take up to 72 hours for a reaction to occur after eating food? This is why tracking every bite for at least 3 weeks can give you a lot of insights.
Address your stress.
Stress can have such a big influence on your body.
And as many of you may know, stressful situations can come from anywhere and the feeling of being stressed can have a negative effect on your digestion.
Think stage diarrhoea, or travel constipation.
It wasn’t until I really learned ways to cope with stress that I felt an improvement in my own digestion.
Your digestive system is surrounded by a whole bunch of nerves, which send messages to your brain and vice versa.
For example: when you eat during times of stress, you utilise and absorb your nutrients differently (mostly less efficient) and this can of course have a knock-on effect on your health.
If the result of your stress is an ultra fast or super slow metabolism, your body may not have the time to absorb the nutrients you eat, or in the case of constipation: you might re-absorb any waste (excess toxins) into your bloodstream.
On the opposite side of this nervous system, you can calm down your digestive nerves, by taking a couple of deep belly breaths before taking your first bite of food.
You get extra brownie points if you do a little mindfulness exercise while you are at it!
Before getting stuck in, take a deep breath and focus on the food you are about to eat, imagine how it will taste, the nutrients it will provide for your body, how it has been prepared or even where the food has come from.
This may help the release of your all-important digestive juices, which help you break down your meal.
Emotional eating habits.
Now we’re on the topic of feelings and food, another huge change in my digestive health happened when I identified emotional eating triggers (and actually did something about it).
For example: I would mindlessly eat unhealthy junk food when I was lonely or upset. It took a lot of work to break this habit, but eventually, my default had changed from eating a full back of sweets, crisps or big tub of take-away to: going for a walk or call a friend instead.
Finding out why you fall back to certain behaviours, and this goes a lot deeper than just feeling bored, takes some soul searching!
The reason why you might fall back to certain ‘unhealthy’ eating habits can be linked to so many emotions, even to experiences from your childhood. As you can see, there could be underlying emotions involved. Facing those emotions can be very confronting, I know.
But the freedom you experience afterwards makes the hard work worth it!
You can of course go on your own journey, or choose to overcome any unhealthy emotional eating habits with the help of a coach or other professional.
There are a number of ways to work on your habits, and what suits one person might not suit the other.
So, if you feel you don’t succeed from the first time, don’t get discouraged, but try and find other methods.
Keep in mind that, growth does not happen in a linear way, you might have good days and sometimes bad, your strength will be when you learn from your slip-ups and move on.
Personalise your diet.
Now it’s time to fine-tune your diet.
Even though I’d prefer to call my way of eating an actual lifestyle. To me, a diet is something short term.
A lifestyle is for life, and something you can adapt or tweak as you go along.
Earlier I mentioned keeping a symptom tracker. If you’ve implemented this for a while, you could start seeing some patterns of foods you eat and symptoms you have afterwards.
After you’ve identified what foods make you feel uncomfortable, it is time to curate a list of things you know will make you feel good. And with this I don’t mean pizza, or a whole bag of jellies, because let’s be real: you probably don’t feel great after eating them.
Think of foods that leave a good gut feeling in your body after you’ve eaten it.
Some foods might make you feel nourished (hello, chicken stock), or others might make you feel like you get a bunch of vitamins and minerals, such as a salad or roasted vegetables.
Once you’ve created a list of your feel good foods, you can start planning how to make meals out of them and when would suit you best to eat them.
Try mixing and matching with other foods you enjoy, and get creative!
You might do this after some research, or opt for the intuitive or trial-and-error route.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you can choose an approach that suits you best.
Why talk about adapting your diet at the end?
Knowing exactly what you should or shouldn’t eat, when you best eat certain foods, or even being able to set up a foolproof system to prevent any slip-ups, can really help to accelerate your gut health.
Finishing touch: look at your whole life.
This might not feel like something to do with gut health, but nothing can be further away from the truth.
When I was in the middle of my own gut healing journey, I realised that some of my lifestyle habits where extremely counter productive.
Such as: not exercising, drinking too much alcohol, staying up too late, and I had a lot of toxins in my life.
It became very difficult to improve my health, while some factors in my life where making my physical and mental health worse.
So, I decided to work on improving my sleep quality, exercise more (and in a different way, my body was always stiff as a plank, and picking up yoga really helped), limit alcohol use, and looked at what products contained a lot of toxins.
Some people can handle toxins without a lot of problems, but if your digestive system is under pressure, ingesting/absorbing toxic chemicals through fumes (cleaning products, cigarette smoke, car fumes, perfumes), cosmetics and pesticides on food and the use of plastics can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
It varies between simply reducing your toxic load to cutting it out altogether per person to have a positive effect.
Toxins can also come in the form of relationships. This leads back to the stress part of this article.
If there are people in your life who stress you out, or leave you feeling deflated, imagine what that does to your digestive system.
On the other hand, when you surround yourself with people who make you laugh, feel good and leave you elevated, your body often feels better too!
So, apart from cutting out the foods that you know have a negative effect on your digestion, it’s also important to increase the foods that nourish and soothe your gut. Equally as important is addressing your stress levels, work through any emotional barriers in order to create lasting healthy habits, and look at your overall lifestyle.
Make sure your sleep quality is tip-top, do things that make your heart sing, and surround yourself with people who put a smile on your face.