THE KALEJUNKIE DISH: 5 STEPS TO RECLAIM GUT HEALTH
When I started my eating disorder recovery, my primary concern was stopping the behaviors related to food: binging and purging. At the time, healing my gut was the furthest thing from my mind, but when I started my yoga teacher training, my body began talking to me.
I remember one day I was standing in warrior two, feeling strong, confident, and present; but at the same time, completely uncomfortable. My entire abdomen ached with pressure and painful cramps. While my mind was quiet for the moment, I was keenly aware that I was walking an emotional tightrope, teetering between elation and despair. I glanced into the mirror to check my form and saw all of those things. But whereas in the past my distended belly would’ve triggered feelings of worthlessness and an urge to binge, I suddenly found myself feeling something new: compassion for this body that was carrying me through hours of yoga practice every day, even while it was suffering.
All those years of purging meant that I’d been exposing my esophagus to digestive acids that were meant to stay down in the stomach. Over time, this began to erode its lining and disrupted the natural flow of the digestive process, leaving me with gas, bloating, indigestion, ulcers, constipation and gastritis. I was a complete MESS.
As I stood in the mirror taking stock of this strong, beautiful, but wounded warrior woman, I vowed to start worshipping the body I used to punish, and to heal the damage I had done to my gut.
I shared a post a few weeks ago that touched on some of my methods, and several of you reached out asking for more details, so I put together this post on the specific steps I took to heal my gut. After following these religiously for the last several years, I finally have A+ digestion, which means very little bloating, gas, regular bowel movements, clear skin, and much more balanced moods.
It takes a lot of dedication on your part, but these simple steps will put you on the path towards recovery.
1 ELIMINATE SOURCES OF IRRITATION.
The very first thing that I did to heal my gut went hand in hand with the steps I took to heal from my eating disorder – I eliminated things from my diet that cause inflammation, irritation, and otherwise disrupt the gut. For me, that meant giving up processed foods...cold turkey.
Why? Processed foods are often filled with refined sugars, hydrogenated oils, gmo corn and soy, etc. The list goes on and on. These ingredients do not belong in our bodies. So take a quick inventory of your pantry and your fridge, and THROW AWAY anything that contains these ingredients or anything you can’t pronounce. No, don't give them to someone less fortunate, because no one should be consuming them.
Next, replace your pantry and fridge with whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean protein, and snack items made with ingredients you can pronounce. Prioritize foods with just a few familiar ingredients. For example, if you want to eat rice, choose plain rice over a boxed rice that comes with a seasoning packet.
Caffeine and alcohol are also major digestive irritants. So in an ideal world, you’ll want to eliminate those too, but I don’t want to take away the fun in life (which for me includes COFFEE and WINE), so just be mindful and reduce your consumption to something that you can live with without feeling deprived. For me, I reduced my coffee intake to one cup each day and one glass of wine per week. Do you.
2 REPLACE WHAT YOUR BODY IS LACKING.
Whether you binge, purge, suffer from anorexia, or a combination of these things, you are likely not getting enough fiber in your diet. I binged and purged on processed foods (donuts, ice cream, cupcakes), all of which are low in fiber and nutritional value. For regular digestion and proper elimination, a fiber rich diet is essential.
Load your plate with veggies. Add psyllium husks and ground flax seeds to your morning smoothie, or even sprinkle them on your salads. The bottom line is that you need to get things moving again so that your body has the opportunity to ELIMINATE the toxins that are already there.
3 REBUILD A HEALTHY GUT FLORA.
This is where I saw the most immediate results, but like anything, you have to be consistent. Nothing works if you try it for a day and then give up. So how do you rebuild a healthy gut flora?
Start taking a high performing probiotic DAILY. No exceptions! When selecting a probiotic, make sure to pick one that is designed to survive the acids in your stomach so it’s actually able to work. Many probiotics die before they reach your stomach, so read your labels.
Eat fermented foods DAILY. No exceptions! Make krauts, kimchis, and probiotic yogurts your new go-to condiments. Don’t be afraid or intimidated by them. Nowadays there are so many options on the market, it’s just a matter of finding ones that you love. If you are totally averse to krauts and kimchis, opt for coconut probiotic yogurts. In terms of quantity, don’t go crazy! Just have a few tablespoons here and there throughout the day.
Drink bone broth DAILY. No exceptions! There is so much hype around bone broth, and while I’m excited that more people are on the bone broth train, it’s not a trend. People have been drinking bone broth for centuries because of its amazing power to heal a variety of ailments and rebuild a healthy gut flora. It’s liquid gold!
Here’s why: bone broth is rich in minerals that support the immune system and contains healing compounds like glutamine, glycine, proline, and collagen, which heals your gut lining and reduces intestinal inflammation.
You can make your own bone broth at home, but to be honest, I never have because I’d rather spend my time baking. That said, I’m super picky about which bone broths I purchase, because not all bone broths are created equal.
My favorite store-bought bone broth is from Bonafide Provisions. Here are some of the reasons why I love this brand:
- Their bone broth is actually made from BONES. Some brands call their product bone broth, but their broth comes from the meat. The nutritional benefit of bone broth is in the BONES!
- They slow simmer their broth for 24 hours with organic apple cider vinegar, which pulls all the minerals, nutrients, amino acids and collagen from the amino acids being released from the bones. Read labels to see how long a brand simmers their broth. If it’s less than 24 hours, you could be doing better.
- They use organic, free-range chicken bones and organic, grass-fed beef bones from animals raised on pasture. This isn’t true for every brand.
- And last, their broth is intentionally FROZEN. I buy a bag, bring it home, do a quick defrost and drink up! There are a few brands that make shelf stable broth, but bone broth is not meant to be shelf stable, so steer clear unless you have no other option!
I personally love the taste of bone broth, so I drink it warmed out of a mug but it’s also delicious with spices, avocado chunks, lemon, and anything else! I also use it in smoothies (don’t worry, I promise it doesn't taste like meat), and to replace water when cooking grains like rice or quinoa.
4 MAKE THESE CHANGES A LIFESTYLE.
Consistency is key. The results are cumulative, so sprinkling your diet with processed foods or missing days of your probiotics will potentially delay your healing. So leave your probiotics in a place where you’ll remember to take them, and just say “no” to frankenfoods. Then, take it to the next level.
Take a high quality multi-vitamin. I get asked frequently whether you really need a multi-vitamin if you eat healthy. My answer is “yes.” A good multi helps to remedy nutrient deficiencies that accompany leaky gut. It’s just a good idea.
Take digestive enzymes any time you are going to eat something your body won’t digest well. My body doesn’t digest dairy well. So if I am going to have dairy, I make sure it’s grass-fed, whole milk dairy and I take a digestive enzyme so it’s easier for my body to break down.
Make it Rain Omega 3’s.. Even if you eat a lot of wild caught salmon, I highly recommend an omega 3 fatty acid supplement to help repair cell walls.
5 STRESS LESS AND MOVE MORE.
Believe it or not, stress really affects the gut. One of the best ways to combat stress is to exercise. In fact, psychiatrists say exercise can help many patients avoid medication. It’s that effective! So take a walk outside, do yoga, or take up a new sport. Not only will you feel less stressed out, but moving around will actually alter your gut’s microbiome. A recent study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that, while exercise changes everyone’s intestinal flora differently, participants universally saw changes that helped reduce inflammation in the gut and throughout the body. So get out and MOVE!
Of course, while exercise will certainly help heal your gut and reduce stress, it’s not going to make the sources of your stress disappear. I find that when I’m in stressful moments, the best thing I can do for myself is to stop what I am doing and take a little breather, and regroup.
I think the bottom line when you’re healing from an ED is to find a path towards compassionate self-care. It took many hours in my therapist’s office and weeks on my yoga mat to find mine, but suddenly there it was rolling out ahead of me as I stood there in warrior two that day. With time and the right support, you can find yours too. And I’m honored to be part of your journey.