When it comes to gut health, food plays a huge role in healing. But many people overlook lifestyle factors in their gut healing protocol. So if you're not seeing the results you want, fixing your lifestyle might be the key to success. Hint - you have to reduce your stress, too!
How Lifestyle Impacts the Gut
Most people think about the food they put into their gut. But the truth is, food is only one part of the puzzle. The modern lifestyle has a huge impact on gut health.
Things like alcohol consumption, stress levels and medications can have a big impact on your gut health. This is because all of them can affect the gut bacteria balance.
That's why addressing lifestyle factors is an important step in rebuilding gut health. If you only change your diet, but neglect lifestyle, you'll not likely realize optimal results.
Lifestyle Tips For Gut Healing
So how can you optimize your lifestyle for a healthy gut? Here are some of the best ways to address digestive health with lifestyle changes.
Get your stress levels under control
One of the biggest contributors to gut issues is stress. In fact, I would say it is the top lifestyle factor, and is second only to dietary allergies and intolerances overall.
Stress is toxic to the digestive tract. When you are constantly stressed, the hormones and neurotransmitters produced can completely throw out your digestion. This is because you will be in a constant 'fight-or-flight' mode.
When your body is in this panicked state, it diverts energy and blood flow away from the digestive tract, and into the muscles. The end result is only partial digestion of foods. Partial digestion of foods is a huge issue with bacteria balance and symptoms such as bloating. Some hormones produced under stress also lead to 'leaky gut' occurring.
Stress is particularly important for people with IBS. IBS has a huge neurological, or nervous system, component. In fact, some experts now classify it as a disease of the nervous system. So if you suffer from IBS, it is critical that you gain control of your stress levels.
So how you can you start this? There are many ways, but a few starting points include:
- Taking a few moments to deep breathe before eating a meal
- Using meditation on a regular basis
- Practicing mindfulness techniques
Prioritizing and clearing out unnecessary sources of stress
Learn how to eat (not just what to eat)
Most people think that gut health is about the food that you put into your body. And that is definitely one factor. But the most overlooked part of food is HOW you eat it. This is particularly true during gut healing.
Many of us eat food on the run. We don't take the time to sit down and enjoy food. We don't chew properly, and we distract ourselves with TV and smartphones. This is causing a huge change in our digestive processes.
When we don't put time into preparing food, our body isn't primed for eating. Have you ever started salivating at the scent of cooking? That is your body getting ready to eat.
Then, when we don't chew properly, the body produces fewer digestive enzymes. This means less food is being digested, and less nutrients absorbed. But it also means more undigested food to ferment and create digestive symptoms.
All of these little habits add up to poor digestion and a prime breeding ground for undesirable bacteria strains.
So to boost your digestive health, make sure you:
- Prepare food yourself whenever possible
- Take your time to chew thoroughly
- Put away the phone, and turn off the TV, so you can focus on your food
- Enjoy your food!
Review your medication use
Many people know that antibiotic use can affect the gut. But many don't know how much damage they can cause. Even fewer know that other medications can also cause significant problems. Things like the OCP (contraceptive pill), steroids and even normal painkillers can disrupt gut health.
Medications do exist for a reason. So we'd never advise you to stop taking it. But you do need to be smart about using them.
So make sure you:
- Only use them when needed – particularly antibiotics
- Follow the instructions on the label, including whether to consume with food
- Have regular reviews with your doctor about whether you need to continue use
Lose the party lifestyle
You can eat the perfect gut-friendly diet. But chuck a few alcoholic drinks on top, and you undo a lot of the good you've done. That's because alcohol is toxic to good gut bacteria, and to the gut itself.
When you drink alcohol, it can:
- Cause bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, leading to SIBO
- Damage the mucosal layer, leaving your gut vulnerable to injury
- Lead to 'leaky gut', or increased intestinal permeability
- Increase risk of liver damage caused by bacterial toxins
- Increase diarrhea, and contribute to poor absorption of nutrients from the gut
Does this mean you can never drink again? Not necessarily. It is advisable that you abstain from alcohol for the first few months of a gut-healing regime, especially if you have significant disease. But after that, make sure you stay smart by:
- Sticking to 1-2 alcoholic drinks
- Not drinking on an empty stomach
- Choosing drinks with health benefits, such as red wine
- Avoiding high-sugar options that can cause further damage to the gut
Moving your body is great for your health. But choosing the right exercise is key when it comes to gut health. This goes back to what stresses the body.
If you're dealing with chronic gut issues, your best option is to drop back the long hours of cardio and intense sessions. Instead, look at focusing on calming options like yoga, walking or Pilates. These keep your body flexible and fit, but also are less stressful on the body.
As your gut heals, you can begin to re-introduce more intense exercise. Increase it slowly, and pay attention to how your body reacts.
Our bodies heal during sleep. But we are living in a world that disrupts rest in many different ways. It has become less of a priority to get enough rest every day.
When you are healing your gut, rest is a non-negotiable factor. It will help your body to cope with stress, heal tissues, and put nutrients to work.
So to make sure you get the best rest for your gut, ensure you:
- Don't eat too late at night
- Aim for 8 hours minimum – you may need more to start with
- Follow a sleep hygiene routine
By following these lifestyle changes, you can make steps towards a healthier, happier digestive system. And as we know, that means a happier, healthier you!