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Healing My Gut: Walking the Talk

As a lot of you may know, I dedicated the month of June to beginning the process of “healing my gut”.  Our enteric or digestive tract is a “second brain”– it is highly innervated and controls 70-90% of our immune system. Many conditions diagnosed today can actually be tied directly to our gut health. Everything from chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, to frequent illnesses, chronic pain, headaches, and autoimmune issues have been found to be linked to gut health issues.  How do you know if yours needs help? Do you have issues with reflux or heartburn? Constipation on a semi-regular basis? Bigger issues? Pretty good clue.  If you don’t have symptoms, it’s a safe bet that your gut health is not optimal if you’ve ever taken an antibiotic, eaten processed foods/grains/non-organic fruits/vegetables/meats, sodas, or artificial sugars.

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Following the parameters I laid out in my talks on the subject that we held in May and June, I eliminated grain, dairy, legumes, and alcohol completely from my nutrition and restricted foods from the nightshade family (tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers in all forms except black pepper). Foods were fresh or frozen organic vegetables as well as organic meats (or at best non-steroid/hormone-free, grass fed) such as chicken, bacon (nitrate/nitrite-free), and grass-fed/grass-finished bison.  I included Kombucha, fermented veggies (in this case, homemade-but-not-by-me sauerkraut) and sampled Kimchi. I supplemented with probiotics in capsule form, Omega-3s, and made sure to get 3 liters to a gallon of water daily.

So, how’d it go? Man, it took a lot of time to make meals! Don’t get me wrong, they were wonderful. I’m just not used to spending more than 5 minutes “cooking”. Probably my biggest challenge was investing the time, prep, and getting myself –a self-touted “non-cook”– to devote the time and energy to preparing 3 fresh-and-wonderful meals each day. I incorporated one freshly made smoothie each day as a snack:  these I loved, as did my son.

Thirty days were not difficult, overall. It took planning, however.  I had one “slip-up” in late June. I went to a concert with out-of-town family and had beer-lite and chips.  After 3 weeks of a pure nutrition program, I found that my body reacted poorly–very poorly.  I was sluggish and found it hard to concentrate for two solid days. My sleep was interrupted by frequent wakeful periods and I just didn’t feel well in general for the majority of the following week. I also was generally irritable and experienced 2 headaches over the following 2 weeks (that’s my typical quota for headaches over 4 months). Breaking the program was not fun, but it was an eye-opener.

The benefits of my “slip up” were this:  

1.) I realized how quickly my body reacted to highly nutritious foods on more than an 80/20% basis– more energy, great sleep, better concentration, more balanced moods.

2.) I realized how quickly it reacted to the poor choices.  It was almost immediate.

3.) I realized how easy it truly is to maintain this lifestyle once habits are established.  I don’t crave grains, don’t miss bread, rarely yearn for an ice cream treat or cheese–the latter two being consistent and daily cravings.

And I can’t overlook the difference sound sleeping and increased energy have had on my day. I look forward to hitting the trail, gym, or Greenway for a hike, lifting session, or run without having to dig deep for the motivation that I’ve been lacking for the last year.  Lastly, I feel better knowing I’m assisting my body to be stronger–giving it the time it needs to undo a lifetime of often unwitting damage to my Second Brain.