Sunday, January 12, 2014

Happy Gut, Happy Mind, Happy Health

In this month's Jan/Feb. Vegetarian Times, there is a great article, Gut Health Tune-Up. Well worth the read and a great guide to have on hand to remind yourself how to bring your gut/digestive health in balance. I would highly recommend picking up this Vegetarian Times issue just to have this clear, 5-point action plan on a happy gut.

The brief run-down and take aways for those who don't pick the issue up:

The whole concept behind the article is to reestablish and/or maintain the level of healthy bacteria in your gut. 70% of the immune system is in your gut. Any gut imbalance will inevitably effect your immune system, but also your hormones, your mental health and your metabolism.

"The gut microbiome runs our metabolism. If it is imbalanced-which is easy to do [as well all know]-your metabolism won't work the right way."

While most of us think of metabolism more about how quickly we process and digest food in relation to being thin or overweight there is a lot more to your metabolism than just weight. How many times have you heard, "Oh, I have a fast/slow metabolism, that is why I am thin/overweight"? While this is partially true, your metabolism is more than your body's propensity for weight gain or loss, your "gut microbiome is established during the first two years of life by diet, antibiotic use, stress, other environmental factor" and genetics. Metabolism is the efficiency measurement of your digestive system, which can and often results in unwanted weight fluctuations, especially for those with digestive issues not addressed. The key thing this article explains is that metabolism is something you can work with and change. It is not set in stone and what you think is a slow metabolism does not mean you are destined to have digestive issues and potential excess weight the rest of your life.

Problem 1: We eat less natural fibers than we have ever before, "The average American gets less than 50% the fiber than we did 150 years ago." Americans eat too many processed foods that are stripped of natural fibers. Even when the packaging says it has added fiber, the fiber that is important is the fiber coming from real whole foods like root and cruciferous vegetables, whole grains and some fruits. If you need an added soluble fiber to your diet, choose natural psyllium husk. Mixed with water or juice it starts to bind in front of you if you let it sit too long (imagine what that does in your intestines!), but stir the glass and drink. The texture is challenging to get past at first, but your poops will be firm, solid and easily passable. Psyllium husk is a wonderful additive to any one's already naturally fiber-filled diet from fibrous foods.

Problem 2: Overlooking of food sensitivities. Identifying food allergies is crucial to balancing your metabolism, gut health, mental health and overall health. Eating the foods your body reacts negatively to and registers as pathogens triggers a defensive reaction in your entire gut flora and digestion that no matter how well you are eating, if you are eating foods you are allergic to, everything will be off. The article recommends eliminating problems foods for 10 days including sugar and alcohol and you should notice an overall feeling better in a 3-4 days. This is a great, quick way to identify potential food allergies if you already eat a clean well balanced diet, but if you are just recently identifying food allergies and are completely in the dark of the the potential culprit I would recommend a more intense elimination process by reading and following How Do I Know I Have Food Allergies?

Problem 3: Overeating. We all do it. And unfortunately some of us do it too much. We can over eat due to sadness, boredom, stress, or just being social, it is bound to happen from time to time, but we all should know what that just-before-full feeling feels like. If you eat consciously and slowly you can register just-before-full coming and can stop eating at an appropriate time and place in your meal. Unfortunately this sensation is easy to ignore and so many factors can allow us to override that brain response. I have found that regular juice cleanses bring me back to center. It reestablishes my brain-stomach connection when I go back to eating 3 meals a day. It helps me remember what hungry feels like, as well as what just-before-full feels like. There are many, many ways to do a juice cleanse (which there will be a followup post) but the goal is to maintain nutrients and your calorie intake to reduce light-headedness and irritability. You should juice up to 5x per day of a wide variety of vegetables (mostly) and fruits and either eat 1 small meal or none. If you go with the none, never do the cleanse for longer than 3 days and don't ask too much of your body and mind. You should choose a calm weekend with a lot of meditating, yoga and reflective time. If you go longer, have 1 full meal each day of the cleanse, consisting of only whole grains, vegetables and fruits.

Problem 4: Sugar. The average American consumes 135 pounds of refined sugar each year!!! This is just insane. We eat the weight of a smaller person in sugar in 1 year! No wonder we have health problems. Sugar wrecks havoc on our guts. Over consumption of sugar "causes bacteria imbalance in the gut, such as overgrowth of candida yeast..[which can lead to] acne, vaginal discharge, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, obesity, diabetes and chronic inflammation," the later on this list leads to an entire onslaught of many other potentially fatal diseases if not addressed. The article also discusses the dangers of over consumption of sugar for women, which unfortunately is the common gender to over consume in sugar specifically. Women as a whole, it seems, have excessive sweet tooths, they love sugar and bond together of the indulgence of sugar. Liz Lipski, PhD, director of nutrition at Maryland University of Integrative Health, the expert throughout the article, says that excessive sugar intake for women "changes the way hormones work in the body; the pancreas works overtime releasing insulin to try to get the sugar out of the bloodstream, which can lead to insulin resistance and hypoglycemic tendencies," that if continually ignored could lead to a multitude of health problems. So what is a sweets-loving chica supposed to do? Refined sugar is highly addictive, but luckily the addictive stimulation in the brain can greatly diminish in about a week of cutting out refined sugars. The balance can be restored in your brain and gut with the removal of sugar for even a week, and you will crave less sugar after cutting back.

Problem 5: Lastly the article addresses medications, 70% of Americans take some form of prescription medication! And about a third of women are taking antidepressants which have been linked to digestive problems from diarrhea and constipation to weight gain. While there is no scientific evidence linking antidepressants and gut health, intuitively it make sense that if are depressed, your mental health is imbalanced, so you seek comfort. Any additional stress, which we all will inevitably encounter, lead us to overeat, which takes us back to step 3 of the article, but unfortunately when we overeat and are depressed, we don't make the best food choices, which leads to problem 1 and 4 of the article; not eating enough fiber and indulging in too many sugars. The cycle is vicious. While the medication might be addressing your mental health issues the entire digestive system is often adversely effected and potentially ignored. The ironic thing is though, if digestive health was taken into consideration in the aiding and curing of mental health, potentially antidepressant use could be reduced. I know simply when I eat poorly or fall under any 4 of the problems listed in this great article, my mental health greatly suffers, I am irritable and cranky, tired and grumpy. Furthermore, when you are depressed and don't eat well the last thing you want to do is get up and move. And exercise is the cure-all for mental and digestive health ailments. As the article states, "If you're not moving, neither are you bowels. Exercise stimulates the contractions that move the things along the GI tract." I know when I don't exercise, I don't poop well, which leads to the vicious cycle again of irritability, irregular, uncomfortable bowel movements and crankiness.

This Vegetarian Times article is a great reminder for those of us who try to live a balanced life and who have made it through the holidays needing a re-centering, but this article also is a great way to kick-start your new year in the right direction, by addressing these key 5 steps to integrated, balanced and happy gut health.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Blah Humbug

This time of year is challenging. No matter how hard you try, those delectable holiday treats sneak in, no matter your good intentions and hold-strong self-control, you (i.e. me) will inevitably fail.

My self-control is very good all year round, even other holidays and special occasions, I can easily say no to the sweets, meats, dairy and certain delectables I choose not to consume on an almost-never basis. My food allergies, gluten and lactose intolerance, make it a simple choice, no one wants to engage in birthday festivities with the belching, stinky-farting birthday girl, nor the grumpy, bathroom-bound, one-year-older-cranky-next-day-birthday-girl either. So I kindly say, "No thanks."

But there is something about the holidays! It starts with Thanksgiving and snowballs from there into a zitty, gassy, bloated, chapped lips, irregular pooping (read irritable and oh-so lovely) me. I have the zits, raw private bits and irritability to prove it. Concluding thoughts, the holidays are evil.

Thanksgiving I did well, as I hosted, so I had most control. I made everything vegan, except, well the turkey. I proposed the idea of a turkey-less Turkey Day and that did not go over well. How could I resist the herb and lemon, crispy skin, dark meat that I have long loved, so I indulged slightly. Other than that Thanksgiving was easy. I didn't over eat, didn't eat the desserts others brought and thought to myself I can handle this.

Ha, nice try...then there is my Mom's birthday, which is overindulgent by nature. We went to Boston (hello yumminess). Between the long sitting/traveling time (i.e. traveling gas and bloating) to the overindulgence of yumminess and mucho vino, I was constipated and achey all over. My yoga sessions in our hotel room hoedown space helped, as did some intestinal massage and probiotics, but the entire weekend, I was not a happy camper.

I came home and immediately started a juice cleanse. Knowing Christmas was around the corner, my system needed a break. After my 4-day cleanse, my body, poops, discomfort and irritability finally balanced out.

Not consuming alcohol during the holidays is a nearly impossible feat, it seems. I swear the holidays are the only socially acceptable time to be drunk continuously for days, hey "it's festive!"

I was good, happy, pooping regularly and balanced until Christmas Day. Christmas Day is filled with family traditions that have been modified to fit my dietary restrictions yet still, is so far from my normal eating habits; mimosas, lots-o-coffee, bagels, lox, goat cheese a plenty. Then the following days is chocolates, more champagne, more, more. Hence poop, fart, poop, zits.

Oh wait, and Then there is New Years Eve!! More booze, more gooie-yumminess....Ahhhh....I'm too sore to keep wiping!

How do you do it? How do you celebrate without celebrating with food? Each childhood holiday was surrounded in celebratory foods, meals, drinks that marked and made that specific holiday special. Letting go of those family traditions is hard and somehow the idea of a holiday without them is less festive.

I think this time of year wouldn't be so hard except for the fact that there is 5 holiday celebrations for me, back to back with little to no break in between. It is also amazing to me how quickly our bodies get confused and tell us we crave things that we don't normally. It goes to show you the power of processed foods, sugars and fats, and their addictive properties. So rarely eating such things, this little dose is making my body go, "give me more, give me more."
My body can't handle that much irregularity and I normally don't subject it to so much hatred. It is ironic that the holidays are celebrating family and the holiday spirit, yet somehow I forget to celebrate me, my body and my health. I need to learn to merge the two, be celebratory and involved, while still celebrating my normally happy-healthy body.

@yoga_girl after Christmas smoothie
I am mesmerized by people like @Yoga_Girl, Rachel, a girl on Instagram I follow, she is so inspirational in her practice, positive thoughts and uplifting posts. She posted a pic the day after Christmas of a smoothie that she made from leftovers. I know, sounds gross, but it is beautiful and is rather amazing, because she eats so clean and mostly raw (Even on Christmas!!!), the mix included fruit, nuts, and a raw cinnamon roll thing. I was inspired and amazed. 

How does she do it? How can I do it?