This post is from contributing writer Mary Voogt of Just Take A Bite.
When I first started my baby steps into the world of real food nobody talked about Paleo or GAPS or Keto.
It was simple. Eat real food.
Start with one baby step at a time and work your way up to a processed-free life. Totally doable. That’s what Kitchen Stewardship is all about, right?
These days the world of real food and natural health is almost too overwhelming and too confusing to navigate. You can find a podcast, blog post, eCourse or webinar on every health topic…and another one to contradict it.
Gut Health is King…or is it?
But one theme stands out among them – gut health. Poor gut health is at the root of many illnesses, including autoimmune diseases. So naturally it makes sense to fix them by healing the gut. Sounds logical. And there is a lot of evidence to support just how critical gut health is.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming emphasis on gut health has contributed to a lot of the other problems that are so prevalent today – adrenal fatigue, metabolic syndrome, infertility, weight gain and many others.
About seven years ago I too got caught up in the “gut health is king” mentality. I went from my happy WAPF lifestyle of sourdough bread and homemade ice cream to strict GAPS (you can read about how I got started here). No grains. No dairy. No nothing it seems. But I was struggling with some health issues and a serious gut healing protocol sounded like the perfect fit.
Instead of the immense healing I was hoping for, a year later I was so rundown I couldn’t keep up with life. Just carrying my son up the stairs felt like climbing a mountain. Every time I sat down to nurse him I fell asleep. I had more food sensitivities than ever before. My hormones were so low and out of balance. I had the estrogen levels of a 12-year old girl. My hair was thin. My acne was getting worse. The list could go on and on.
My “gut healing” diet did what just about every diet does – it put too much stress on my body. Physically I was not eating balanced meals – could I get some meat with a side of bacon and eggs? (I was eating way too low carb for my body without even knowing what low carb was! I was just following the diet.) Mentally I was so worried about what I could and couldn’t eat that just the act of eating gave me anxiety. Emotionally I was a mess because I couldn’t eat like anybody else, and I felt like a failure. Surely, I must be doing something wrong if I wasn’t feeling better…even though I was following the diet perfectly.
Sadly, this is what far too many people do lately. We’re looking for the perfect diet to fix our problems.
We want that magic pill. That magic pill doesn’t exist!
The problem is it’s often not the diet in the first place. Sticking to a prescribed diet isn’t that hard.
What is the culprit?
We live in a world with so much stress. Everyone wants to have it all. We don’t get enough sleep because there is too much to do in a day. Our kids have to be involved in every possible activity (which means they don’t get enough rest either). We want to pursue our own passions and have a career. We barely even leave time to actually cook real food!
A gut healing diet in that kind of world is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. It’s not going to help. It actually makes things worse.
What SHOULD you do?
Forget the strict diet. Start by working on the HPA-axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal) and your metabolic health. These are the basic systems that control how your body works. Here are some simple ways to do just that.
- Don’t restrict your food.
Just eat real food. Any and all real food. Flood your body with nourishment. No calorie or food group restriction. Be sure to enjoy it instead of feeling guilty about it (that guilt is another form of stress – stress related to food choices negates the food choice itself).
- Get enough sleep.
This is not second on the list. It is just as important as nourishing, real food. I tried to ignore this one for the last fifteen years. I thought for sure I could fix everything with just food. Nope. It doesn’t work. Your body needs sleep to heal. 7 – 9 hours a night for most people. The more run down you are the more sleep you need. During the day your body has to work hard to keep up with life. When you sleep is when the restoration happens.
- Reduce stress.
This is another tough one. There are so many good things you can do with your time. But just because it’s good doesn’t mean it’s good for you in this season. When you are in need of healing, that trumps just about everything else.
Most people want to go from feeling rotten right into a strict gut healing protocol. But if you are run down you simply can’t do it. Your adrenals will not be able to keep up without proper rest and sufficient calories. And you’ll just feel like you don’t have enough determination or will power (a recipe for disaster). But that’s not what is going on.
It’s not about will power. If your adrenals are run down the last thing you need is a low carb diet. Your adrenals need those carbs! You can get them from vegetables or grains or whatever works for your body. Lots of real salt is critical too. Yes, there is as reason you crave salty carbs!! Listen to your body.
Don’t force yourself to drink gallons of water either. That will contribute to adrenal fatigue as well.
Once you have given your body time to rest and recover you will be amazed at how much better you feel – even without a special diet! Your thyroid and adrenals control so many basic functions so when you allow them to heal your symptoms will begin to resolve.
Ready for some simple steps to healing?
Don’t make it complicated. Good health for most people boils down to some basic principles.
- Balanced nutrition
Eat every few hours to keep blood sugar stable, consuming protein, carbohydrates and fat together. Make nourishment your goal. Eliminate processed foods and high sugar foods. But don’t overthink it to the point it causes stress. When healing, getting adequate calories is very important. So eat good food, but don’t restrict calories.
- Quality sleep
Get uninterrupted sleep every night, going to bed by 10 pm and sleeping until you feel rested (I know this is not always possible with young children – do your best to sleep at night and take naps or even just lay down for a few minutes during the day).
- Move your body gently
Running marathons or doing CrossFit seven days a week have no place in a healing lifestyle. Focus on gentle movement – walking, yoga, T-Tapp, weight lifting. Simply incorporating movement in your day (gardening, doing laundry, cleaning, playing with your kids, etc.) is enough for many that need a lot of healing. If you are run down exercise is one more form of stress (and will make you gain weight!). Find something that feels good and leaves you feeling energized instead of tired.
- Monitor your body temperature
If you are like me, you like to have evidence of the progress you are making. Check your basal body temperature (BBT) every morning. It will give you a general idea of how your metabolism, adrenals and thyroid are performing. BBT should be at least 97.4 degrees F upon waking. For women of reproductive age 97.4 – 98.2 is a good range during the follicular phase. 98.2 and above is good for the luteal phase. A low body temperature is indicative of thyroid problems. A body temperature that jumps up and down (instead of staying steady) is indicative of an adrenal problem. Low temperatures that jump up and down are indicative of both thyroid and adrenal problems. You will feel the difference in your health when you get your BBT up where it needs to be and stable.
- Take time for yourself
Whether it’s five minutes to pray, a thirty minutes yoga video or allowing yourself to sit and read, making time to do something you love is so important.
We’re all different.
The other problem with generic diets is that they don’t take into account how your body works and what it needs. Avocado might be on the “approved foods” list…but that doesn’t mean you tolerate it. Even if your best friend does.
So another step towards healing is to do hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA). This will give you a detailed report of what vitamins and minerals are out of balance and where you are lacking. Then you can add supplementation to your diet to make sure you get what you need. No more guessing. (I worked with Lydia for this.)
Are gut healing diets bad?
Absolutely not! They are very important. But save the gut healing until you have allowed your body to fully rest and recover from stress. Then you will naturally gravitate towards a more Paleo or Ketogenic diet – without even having to try!
Healing is portrayed as such a complicated process these days. If we all just slow down a little, nourish our bodies and get some rest we’ll feel a lot better without the need for extremes.
Your cortisol will balance. The weight in your belly will disappear. Your hormones will balance. Moods will stabilize. It’s really a beautiful thing.
Don’t forget that healing diets are meant to be temporary. Not a lifestyle. A lifestyle is something you can maintain for life without a lot of effort. If you are constantly bemoaning what you can and can’t eat you probably aren’t ready for the lifestyle you are attempting to create.
Don’t go to an extreme that makes you feel like you can’t partake in life. Healing is a temporary phase leading you to a manageable lifestyle.
It’s been about six years now since I jumped off the gut healing diet bandwagon (read about my mental shift after GAPS here).
And at 37 years old I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life!
I went from years of fertility treatments to conceiving naturally (you can read my story of healing here). I got my body temperature from below 95 degrees F to totally normal. Now in the luteal phase my BBT is usually 99 degrees F or higher!
- My weight went from under 100 lbs. to a healthy weight.
- I have more energy than ever.
- My moods are stable.
- My hormone levels are getting back in balance.
- I have been able to expand my diet considerably. Foods that once caused me pain I can now eat without any problems.
It didn’t require any extreme diet or gut healing protocol. Just getting back to the basics of eating well, resting and moving gently. And doing a few HTMAs to figure out where things were out of balance so I could supplement accurately.
Now that my thyroid and adrenals are working I don’t need to rely on piles of bread or rice to keep me going.
I naturally eat a lower carbohydrate diet because that’s what my body wants. I actually eat loads of vegetables accompanied by healthy fats and proteins. I don’t have to force anything and put extra stress on my body. I just listen to my body. That’s what I now crave. It gives me so much joy to nourish myself.
Note: There are more extreme illnesses like autism that may require a more serious healing protocol. Especially for kids. But most adults do not have extremes. They have symptoms of an undernourished and over-stressed body. Don’t confuse the two, because they require a very different treatment.