Is your gut feeling off? I’m a dietitian with IBS, so I know how it goes. These are my personal strategies for getting my gut back on track once it’s gone crazy.
I just got back from a wonderful beach vacation in Kauai…one of my favourite places on earth. We had been planning this trip with our friends for a couple of years and as we all sat around chatting one evening, we couldn’t hardly believe that we had actually made it happen!
I loved every single second of being there but unfortunately, my gut didn’t. And it put a damper on things.
If you suffer from tummy troubles, you know the ‘ugh’ feeling I’m talking about. It’s always so hard to describe it to others. Maybe your gut feels thick, heavy, gross…or maybe it’s more intense: sharp, clenching and tight. It might leave you constantly running to the bathroom…or not being able to go.
My issues began after my son was born, and my interest in gut health shifted from a professional to a personal one. Irritable bowel syndrome reared its unattractive head and it took me about a year to really get things under control. However, these days, I largely feel like I don’t have any issues. Sure, I might eat some pizza and have some beer on a Friday night and feel bloated or uncomfortable, but so do a lot of people when they eat a less healthy meal. When I eat well, it’s as if I don’t have any issues at all. And since that’s my baseline, I’m good.
On vacation, my gut trouble came back with a vengeance. For many people, the opposite happens because they are relaxed. For me, the last three months have been filled with so many wonderful opportunities which meant long days, lots of deadlines, travelling constantly, drinking wine a bit too often and almost no weekends off. Stress is a massive trigger of gut issues, particularly IBS; however, as part of my self care, I have been moving my body and eating well. And that has kept things in check.
Cue the vacation: 18 people, including the babies. (Did I mention I am a very strong introvert who works alone in her home office?)
Everyone ready to party…and I am the only one in the bunch interested in eating kale and quinoa. The wine, however, I was looking forward to (full disclosure!!).
So, with a body still coping with stress, I heaped cocktails and a cheesy bread fest on it. By the last few days of my vacation, I was in agony. For me, that feels like horrible burning sensations and urgency. Sharp pain. A belly that looks four months pregnant (as a woman with two kids, I know, and mean it literally). Feeling exhausted with eyes so puffy I don’t look like myself after 10 hours of sleep.
Not such an appealing vision of me, I know…but I want to share it because so many of you who read my blog are in the same boat. And for some of you, you may not realize that a heavy dose of self-care could make you feel better.
Now that I am home, it’s time to go into recovery mode. Here’s how I do it:
- Reestablish healthy routines.The body…and especially the gut…loves routine. Up at the same time, bed at the same time. Meals at roughly the same time. Moving my body at lunch time.
- Get back to my ‘no drinking during the week’ routine. Alcohol is such a gut irritant that even if you have just one glass a day, it can be enough to make your ongoing issues worse. That’s what happened for me (unless you were worried that I had become a heavy drinker over the last few months!)
- Ditch the wheat entirely, and lay light on grains and dairy in general, until my tummy is feeling better. I am lucky because I know my primary dietary trigger: wheat (not gluten). When I am feeling well, I can handle it in small doses but when I’m not, every single wheat meal aches. I find I recover quicker with less grains and dairy too, because, in part, it frees up room in the diet for even more veg, beans, seeds and nuts that help me feel really good. If you don’t know your trigger, working with a dietitian can help.
- Get reacquainted with my appetite.Something that I have long worked on – and was proud to finally reach – was getting back in touch with my hunger cues. Eating when hungry, not before. Stopping when full. Eating what you truly crave…not just eating chips because they are chips.
Eating treats…and eating socially…over vacation overrode this for me. Being mindful to eat the right amount – and not eating constantly – really gives your gut the space it needs for better digestion and it can be particularly soothing if you have trouble with slow stomach emptying.
- Bulk up on fibre.This is not a problem for me but this week, I am going hard on beans, greens, and pseudo grains. Breakfast every morning is oats with lots of seeds. Lots of veggie heavy stews for dinner.
- Stick to my supplements, especially probiotics. You all know that I am a fan (and ambassador for) Bio-K+ Probiotics. All the comings and goings made me less routine with my intake this fall and I know it contributed. I have also fallen off with my omega 3s (love NutraVege) since I had my daughter and it’s time to go back. I will also be using lots of turmeric and ginger in my cooking and as a tea…because it’s yummy and helps settle my stomach!
- Meditation. A busy mind exacerbates the stress effect on the gut. I love Headspace app and only did it sporadically on vacation. Am aiming for daily this week as I have lots to get done before another week long business trip next week.
There you have it…without too much oversharing! This is my experience and my personal formula for getting things on track…but yours might be different.
Get the personalized guidance you need!
If you are feeling not so hot in the gut department, go talk to your doc about a diagnosis. It might be irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease or there might be no diagnosis (lucky or unlucky, depending).
Once that’s done, see a dietitian who knows the gut…it can be so helpful at getting to the nutritional root of the issue…or you can always check out my Banish the Bloat program for a healthier, happier gut.