I just want ice cream. (Darn. That’s not going to heal my gut.)
And chocolate. (That probably won’t cure my candida though.)
Heck, just a slice of cheese or a wedge of grapefruit would send me out singing in the rain!
Being on a gut healing diet and protocol is HARD work, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise!
How we Got Started on a Gut Healing Diet (when we didn’t have any major health problems)
I’ve been sharing bits and pieces of our gut healing diet via Facebook and in more detail on Instagram, but I originally intended to wait until we were 100% finished and had decided if it was worth it or not before I shared the name of the program with the KS community. I didn’t want you to think I was “selling” something that I hadn’t even tried fully!
And I’m not.
But after people seem so interested on social media, my behind-the-scenes team here at KS convinced me that I should start telling the story even while I’m in the messy middle:
There’s a lot of value in the journey, they said.
And as a huge proponent of baby steps and honoring other people’s journeys to better health, that, of course, convinced me that I had to write posts as I went. So here we go!
Gut Thrive in 5 is the program my husband and I are using to improve our decent health to much more (we hope) optimal health.
Believe it or not, in this household where we test all sorts of products for review and I’ve been spearheading massive dietary changes for the past 8 years, this one came from my husband first.
“I just can’t lose the weight.”
He’s fluctuated between 179 pounds at his best a few years ago, after doing a round of Insanity (a BeachBody video series with tough cardio 6 days a week for 60 days) and training for a half marathon, to over 210 pounds this January – after doing a round of Insanity.
He wasn’t super careful with his diet during that 60 days – it was the holiday season, after all – but at home we generally eat healthy foods, low on grains, high on veggies and fruits, etc. His “normal” weight that has become difficult to get below is 200 pounds, but he really feels like he should be closer to 190 for good health. (179 was a stretch and didn’t stay there long at all!)
So why did the “eat less, move more” philosophy fail him so miserably this time around? He was fed up and ready to try something totally new and totally radical – and he got it!
A friend of ours had done Gut Thrive and successfully lost a good deal of weight and had good things to say about the program, so my husband said, “I think I want to try this.” I looked into it, realized how intense it was, warned him, decided I should do it if he’s doing it or we’d never make it, managed to get a review membership (full disclosure), ordered the nearly $1000 in supplements needed (no free review products there) and we were locked in!
If that felt like a run-on sentence, that’s a little bit how the week we spent deciding really was. We have a vacation coming up in May and knew we needed to be done by then, so we had to get started on the 12-week program, or else!
The reasons that were compelling enough to give this a try included:
Skin (& more): Candida Overgrowth
The hope that I can eradicate my candida rash once and for all. I never gave up cheese and did a true candida diet, so I figured this would be the best time to take the plunge before the darn thing got worse. It had migrated from the “canary in the coal mine” spot on the back of my neck to my hands in late fall and as we entered the holidays, so I decided to listen to my body’s warning signs and do something about it.
Here’s the “before” pics:
The hands were already getting significantly better since December with regular applications of MadeOn Hard Lotion – love that stuff! – and trying to reduce my stress.
My husband’s eczema. It’s plagued him for many years on his eyes, hands and ears, even in the face of prescription creams. His “before” pics:
I don’t know that it comes through very well in photos actually, but he just constantly has white scaly stuff in the corners of his eyes and inside his ears. It looks like dry skin, I suppose, but it never goes away and drives him nuts. The hands are cracked and very sore!
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
My husband’s Crohn’s Disease. We thank God regularly for the fact that we’ve dodged such bullets with this chronic disease. His has been pretty much under control and 100% unmedicated for almost 15 years now, since his surgery.
But even though we don’t struggle with daily reminders, the cloud of what could happen is always over us. It will never go away, and clearly his gut is damaged. Gut Thrive in 5 sounded much more palatable to him in terms of time needed (12 weeks) compared to the GAPS Diet, which may take 1-2 years!
And daily…he does have less-than-optimal stools, a 5.5-6 on the Bristol stool scale. So that IS a little tweeting canary that something isn’t quite right and never has been since childhood.
And me too, but the opposite. It doesn’t really bother me or come with pain or discomfort, but by the book,
I’m Constipated. Sometimes.
I swing between Bristol type 1, 2 and 3, ranging from very constipated to normal. I’m probably just not fully eliminating very often, even though I have BMs often enough. (Everyone should have at least 2 per day.)
I always thought of myself as really healthy, especially once we changed our eating habits. All my numbers at the doc’s office are always spectacular, so I’m a bionic woman in my own eyes, compared to people with real problems.
But then I remember eating prunes on the playground in elementary school; my mom’s only way to get me to eat them was to buy baby food jars of purees. And there’s a pretty scarring memory of my dad going to a 24-hour pharmacy for laxatives to get me through what must have been a very painful experience! So I guess I’ve always been constipated, and although it didn’t result in an autoimmune disease (that I know of) like my husband’s opposite symptom did, what we both thought was “normal” really wasn’t. Ever.
Weight: The Needle Isn’t Budging
I’ve shared my husband’s frustration above as the instigating factor in this whole journey, and I’ll throw my own weight goals in the mix as well.
I’m really not overweight and am still less than I was when college dorm food first had its way with me, but I definitely have one of those “mummy tummies” that simply hasn’t gone away with Gabe (no. 4) like it did with the others. Some days I look pregnant again (ick) and actually worry that people will ask if I’m expecting because of my little pooch.
My mother, the only person on the planet I wouldn’t totally slaughter for mentioning it, has called me out on it in the past year. Humbling! I did snap tersely at her, by the way. #nobodysperfect
I’ve read about diastasis recti and done the “test” to see if my muscles are too far apart, and they really aren’t. Nope, I’m just out of shape. Or maybe I’m bloated because of poor gut health!! We’ll find out…
Skin. Poop. Weight.
Now that you know far more than you want to know about our skin, poop, and weight, I can tell you that the final deciding factor was probably
The Calorie Myth. This unassuming looking little book by Jonathan Bailor (found on Amazon) has pretty much rocked our household. First, let’s all process for a moment that my husband is reading a book. This man has probably read less than 10 books since high school (and only 5 books in high school!). He’s not dumb, he’s just a tech guy and reads other things that aren’t books. I’m still getting over my shock when he exclaims, “I read in my book today…!”
He discovered it because he was searching for a podcast he had found once through one of the Ultimate Healthy Living Bundles about eating more and moving more, then eating less and moving less. In light of his disheartening experience with working out hard recently, he kept remembering that concept and it was resonating with him.
He couldn’t find a blog post detailing what he was looking for on the podcaster’s site, but he did stumble onto Jonathan Bailor, who says that the calorie-counting model of weight loss doesn’t work. That it doesn’t matter how much you eat, it matters WHAT you eat. That you don’t even have to exercise all that much, you just have to do the right ones (and it’s not cardio).
Not all calories are equal.
Quite simply, he’s smitten.
No jealousy here! I’m embracing the passion with which he’s jumping into eating his greens, avoiding sugar and grains, ditching coffee and alcohol (although probably not forever on one of those), and taking ownership of his health in a big way.
He’s even impressing my friends, who have been asking how things are going after catching pieces of the story via social media.
“No way, my husband would never last a day. He loves his pop and chips too much!” said one. (“Pop” is soda, for those of you not in our little weird-talking pocket here in Michigan.)
Amazingly, some chips ARE ok on this diet, which is a saving grace when I get a snack-attack!
But no pop.
My husband actually gave up pop for Lent quite a few years ago – more than five now! – and he’s never had a sip since. I’m so so so grateful that he realized that there is no purpose (and tons of danger) in drinking straight sugar and chemicals, even that many years ago. He knows that if he has “one here and there” he’ll slide down the slippery slope and hit a point where he’s not in moderation anymore. Again: so very grateful for his wisdom.
So I’m not dragging him into this as some blog experiment. For all intents and purposes, he dragged ME a little bit! He’s given up dairy before when he did a Whole30, but I never have. I knew that part would be hard! But we’re in it together, and that makes a very difficult thing a much lighter load to carry.
I’m just glad the book he found happened to intersect almost completely with this diet!
Quick Overview: Gut Thrive in 5
For my story to make sense, here’s the basic protocol of Gut Thrive in 5, a program developed by Christa Orecchio at the Whole Journey, with help from Dr. Tom O’Bryan and Jack Tips, Ph.D, CCN. Christa is a clinical and holistic nutritionist who used her years of experience and thousands of clients to figure out how to package up expensive one-on-one custom protocols into a program that can be successfully accomplished by people at a distance through this online course.
As with many in the natural health field, Christa had to overcome her own health battles before she could help others, namely raging Candida and a thyroid and adrenal imbalance.
Gut Thrive in 5 is a 5-step (not 5-week, sorry!) program designed to do the following:
- (there’s actually an intro week first, to sort of ease into learning the program – we really appreciated that!)
- Slash Inflammation through Diet
- Purge Pathogens (viruses, bacteria, parasites, protozoa, fungus and more)
- Re-seeding and Healing the Gut
- Terraforming: Balance Stomach Acid
- 80/20 Maintenance
The program includes dietary changes that we’ll talk about today, supplements throughout the 12 weeks, videos explaining new techniques you can try for certain purposes (everything from drinking lemon water to oil pulling to *cringe* coffee enemas), and four custom plans for four different gut un-health categories, for those people most affected by:
- Fungal overgrowth
- Small intestinal issues (like SIBO)
- H. pylori
- Parasites and pathogens
All the plans ultimately tackle ALL gut issues listed above, but they’ll focus on what seems to be your foundational issue based on the results of a health survey you take at the beginning.
Over 6,000 participants have already gone through it, many finding relief from:
- skin conditions
- leaky gut
- allergies and food sensitivities
- hair loss
- weight gain (the stubborn kind that won’t come off no matter what)
- autoimmune disease
- brain fog
- bloating and gas
- Type 2 Diabetes and insulin resistance
- joint pain
- headaches and migraines
The supplements cost about $470/person, so it’s definitely an investment in your health. For those suffering and in pain or at risk of something worse happening if they can’t get their gut under control, the cost is well worth it (and far less than a handful of appointments with a naturopath, functional medicine doc, or even holistic chiropractor). You can get an idea of the sorts of things we’re taking over at Christa’s site here, and this is what our boxes looked like:
Our Experience so Far: Beginning Gut Thrive in 5
I took notes as we began and got into the program, and I think I’ll just share them so you can hear our thoughts in “real” time:
- What are we feeling? Excitement for a real change! Also very nervous – it’s a huge program and a lot of work, and it feels daunting. He’ll say, “We’re not going to make it!” or “We can’t do this.”
- I made some charts and an accordion file of the main paperwork and have been trying to have a couple “new” things to learn on the to-do list for each week in the kitchen. It took at least 2 hours to get everything organized/ordered/printed, to be honest. And we are already behind by a video or two on what we should be watching to understand it all – but I’m going to get better at skimming the transcripts when we don’t have time for a whole 2-hour webinar. Skimming the Q&A section of the webinar saved about 2/3 of the time I bet! Not all questions will apply to every situation, so it’s nice to just read the question and skip the answer if you can.
- After one week, we’ve ordered some food, got my head wrapped around about 85% of the dietary guidelines, I think, learned CCF tea, castor oil packs, and worked hard to get more greens in all day long.
- I feel like I’m really going to miss chocolate and cheese. Can I do this? I’ve done chocolate for Lent before but never dairy! Thank goodness butter is still ok.
- I know that when I struggle it will just be hard, so as a Catholic I understand the value of offering up my sacrifices as a prayer for others. I spent time the first “gearing up” week considering and discerning for whom I can offer the hard times. Having those intentions in mind will help a lot.
- The gearing up week was good in another way, and it was a weird balance between, “Let’s eat all the food we’re going to miss, like Fat Tuesday!!!” and “Let’s start eating less of the foods we’re cutting out, because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.” I found myself definitely wanting the former and doing a little of that, but not to great excess thank goodness – but it really made me cognizant of questions like this:
“I want some cheese to snack on. If I couldn’t have cheese, what would I have? Could I survive without the cheese? Do I really want cheese in particular or just something in my mouth and that is a habit that I tried to make a healthy one?”
- I did the same for chocolate and really did cut down on that and cut off from it a few days before starting Gut Thrive. Sort of. Then someone else opened a bar of 85% dark, so I did help finish it. But I think I can handle life without it. But without chocolate AND cheese AND yogurt AND dried fruit? Gah! I will snack less…which I’m sure is really good!
On the intro week, we did well with our lemon water, our four servings of greens per day, learned castor oil packs (3x), cut down on gluten, dairy, and sugar, tested our pH, and got a bunch of food ordered/prepped/planned for the next couple weeks.
There was a LOT to take in and it was only going to get worse!
As we got into our “practice” week I wrote up:
- Breakfasts have been going well, it’s doable. I know that our habit of eating after the kids leave, which is 2+ hours after waking up sometimes, is not good for us and really needed someone to tell us STOP so we had a break point to change the habit. Hopefully this one will stick no matter what! The program asks that you eat a meal of fat and protein within an hour after waking, but you also have to get your lemon water first, brush your teeth (because of the acid in the lemons) and take the supplements. It feels crazy sometimes!
- I was so dismayed about my initial pH tests! What is UP with that? I’m so acidic I’m barely on the chart! Is this why I have cavity problems??? (more about the pH testing here and these are the strips we used) But – when someone shared the actual instructions from Amazon, rather than me just following the Gut Thrive video – when I cleared my saliva 1-2x and then test, it DID go up a bit, to more like 6.2!!!
Now I bet you want to know what we have been eating, right?
The Gut Thrive Diet to Reduce Inflammation
Basically Christa asks us to omit anything that could cause an inflammatory reaction, starting with this list and adding anything that your body isn’t tolerating well (although I yearn for a definition/examples of “doesn’t tolerate well”).
We aren’t eating:
- dairy (although butter is ok)
- tomatoes (for 2 weeks)
- sugar or any sweetener (some dark stevia or green stevia leaf is ok)
- fermented foods
- high-sugar fruits (which is everything, it turns out, except organic berries and maybe green apples)
- no more than 1/4 cup nuts/seeds per day and they must be crispy nuts
- industrial oils
- corn and soy
- non-organic meat (so we are very happy to have our ButcherBox around!)
My Costco trip to shop for Gut Thrive staples: coconut milk and water, baking soda for detox baths, frozen veggies and berries, greens galore, tons of veggies and organic meat. It adds up!! I’m hoping I don’t have to go back for a month, like usual…
What DO we eat???
- plenty of well-raised meat: chicken, beef, pork
- wild fish
- that cup or two of berries each day rocks!
- Boulder or Jackson’s Honest potato chips, cooked in coconut oil (I made a big Thrive Market order when we started)
- TONS of veggies – literally ridiculous amounts
- 4 servings of greens per day (this is getting harder and harder for me although it was easy for week 1 when I had fewer other things to juggle)
What I think I miss most is the vinegar – because that means no mustard or salsa, two condiments that make meat much more fun. The cleansing pesto with cilantro and oregano that we’re supposed to incorporate regularly is really really good though! Here’s a date night “adult dinner” soon after Valentine’s Day:
Main dish of grilled steak with the pesto, avocados, red onion and cilantro, roasted beets with butter, roasted cauliflower and green peppers with cumin and fresh garlic seasoning, Brussels sprouts pan-fried in bacon grease. Mmmmm…
I really don’t feel deprived at all at meal times! Here are a few more examples of what we’ve been eating:
Chicken Shawarma (broiled chicken thighs with garam masala and other seasonings), zoodles (spiralized zucchini) cooked in butter, turmeric and garlic, kale chips, steamed broccoli, raw veggies and a salad with Pinch of Yum’s Magic Green Sauce on top.
Chicken stir fry with sauteed greens, carrots, green beans, bok choy, peppers and onion – rice for the kids and zoodles for us. (We don’t eat zoodles all the time, they’re just so pretty it reminds me to take pictures…)
Some of the Special Digestive Helps
I had to learn to make some new things, like CCF tea, turmeric ginger lemonade, and smoothies without bananas.
This is our “CCF tea” with cumin, coriander and fennel – supposed to be good for digestion and we have a mug a day. It’s got to be super cheap because I bought whole seeds and ground them in the Blendtec (that whole jar at once which I bet will last 3-4 weeks). I can also speed things up by making one big 12-cup batch on the weekend and just re-heating all week, so it’s not too bad.
How to make CCF tea:
- Grind equal parts whole cumin, coriander and fennel seeds in a dedicated spice coffee grinder, high-powered blender or mortar and pestle. I bought large bags of cumin and fennel because I know for sure that I’ll use them now that I know how to grind them. The coriander was in that Thrive Market order in a smaller bag because I wasn’t so sure!
- For bulk, use 2 Tbs. spices and 12 cups room temp, filtered water.
- Bring the water to a boil, THEN add the spices and steep 4 mins.
- Strain out the spices (they pretty much stay at the bottom when you pour) and drink about 1 1/2 cups per day.
- We added a little green stevia leaf (probably 1/4 tsp.) to the steeping, and some add lime juice when it’s finished (can be served over ice when it’s summertime). We definitely like it warm, as a tea.
I can share more next time on how we’ve had to adapt and new things we’re learning…but let’s get to the good stuff, so far –
Our Gut Thrive Diet Results
Keep in mind that the diet is only the first step, and that the entire protocol is 12 weeks long and may not have results of any kind right away. A lot of people who are really suffering DO begin to feel better within the first couple weeks, but we don’t fit into that category in the first place.
I am trying to withhold judgment until the end, but remember that my team thought you should hear periodic updates, so here goes!
Both my husband and I had some situations that felt like “setbacks” – initially I was MORE constipated if anything! I upped the nighttime supplement that should help with that, but it’s been very intermittent since then. Rather than feeling like at least I can get a little BM out often throughout the day, I feel like I should be able to and can’t. TMI, I know, but when you’re talking gut health, you talk about poop. I’m frustrated by that…I don’t like the feeling of sliding backward but I know I can’t really judge the whole thing until the end…
My husband had a not-so-great bout of diarrhea, and we couldn’t figure out anything he’d eaten that he hadn’t also eaten recently. As the first two weeks wore on, however, he had a marked improvement in consistency (compared to his whole lifetime) but we still need to see that continue, because that sort of thing will happen every so often.
We (of course, Murphy’s Law of Parenting) also had a stomach virus run through 2 kids and the adults as we started to transition from step 1 to step 2, so that didn’t help our observations at all!
The Good News
My husband lost 7 pounds the first week, then another 1.5 the second week, and I ditched about 4 pounds pretty quickly too.
Like the first results though, those really don’t matter until about June, when we see if it “sticks” and stays off. And of course, when I’m not eliminating for a couple days – I shoot right back up.
Moving Into Step Two
After the first week or two, I’m definitely hitting a “dip” in my motivation. I just want to eat stuff! To grab a slice of cheese! To “drive by” snack on anything other than nuts!
But I’m sticking with it.
I do cherish the green apple and cashew butter I have every few days, although that *might* be cheating a tiny bit because of sunflower oil in the cashew butter and they’re not soaked nuts, and the green apple may or may not be ok for phase 1. (One of my critiques of the program is that it can be VERY confusing as far as when various foods are ok, and in general the organization of the information leaves a lot to be desired. More on that next time…)
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