As ancestral foodies, gut healing is something that, if it didn’t bring us to this way of eating in the first place, plays a very large part in our consciousness.
I first became aware of the concept of healing the gut biome 15 years ago. It was a revelation – I’d grown up in a family where health and food weren’t connected. We ate cheap supermarket fare. By the time I was a teen I was obese and addicted to sugar (I was 280lbs aged 20 – you can see photos here).
I lost half my body weight aged 20, but I didn’t learn anything about health in that process – I just did the 1990s ‘thing’ of cutting out fat. It was a decade later before, hit with yet another bout of ‘tummy problems’, I stumbled across the word ‘candida’. That encounter prompted me to start researching the biome.
Since that day, I’ve been on a gut healing path. Back then, I thought it’d be easy (she lets out an ironic laugh whilst typing). It’s not, is it?!
Gut healing is not easy. We must give ourselves some space to acknowledge that and therefore feel better about our efforts.
Add together 15 years of my own healing, 15 years of watching and sharing my husband’s healing and 9 years of a healing journey with my son and here are 7 tips that come from nearly 40 years of a daily gut healing practice.
1. Figure out what might be keeping you stuck (not just what extra things you need).
Often giving a food up can make more difference than bringing in a new food. Experienced nutritionists talk about how we have a tendency to cling to the foods that are doing us harm – being without them initiates feelings inside our bodies that are ‘different’ (potentially healing) and we don’t like that change. As well as adding healing foods in, do a recce of what you’re eating now and how you relate to/feel about those foods.
2. Use protocols, but don’t become stuck in them.
My hand is up here. I have used and seriously become stuck in protocols. I ate raw vegan for two years, at the end of which I found it difficult to stand due to muscle weakness, yet I carried on for months, attributing it to ‘detox’. I stayed on the GAPS diet despite being in a position where I was losing too much weight and struggling to get through the day (listen to my GAPS experience here).
It can be hard to move on from a healing ‘diet’. We might have begun it thinking it was ‘the answer’ to our problems and be scared to move away. In addition, the force of habit can be binding – particularly when that way of eating has been a positive part of our lives for some time and we don’t want to make yet another change.
Our needs change and we need to stay attentive to every moment, questioning our experience and trusting our instincts to know (or feel) when it’s time to move on. Yes, protocols can be incredibly healing, but we mustn’t override our individual needs for the ‘safety’ of someone else’s rules.
3. Consistency and persistence always trump intermittent grand gestures.
Going on a fast, doing a cleanse, making a huge batch of kimchi and dousing your food with it for weeks – these things aren’t necessarily bad, but they aren’t the things that do the healing over time. It’s what we do every day that counts; the unsexy continuance of little, good things day in day out.
For years I would cyclically get really excited about the latest ferment I’d made and consume it with abandon…my sleep getting worse and worse until I was run ragged. It took me a while to realise that eating large amount of probiotics stops me sleeping – and even longer to be willing to give up my delicious binging on probiotics! Finally, about 10 years ago, I started weighing my sauerkraut (I started with 0.5g a day!). I’ve been gradually upping the amount of probiotics I have every day since then; for a decade. How many sauerkraut weighing sessions is that (I don’t even want to think about it!)?
Even without the issues I have with probiotics, I know that it’s what I cook, serve and eat every day that makes a difference in the long-term to the inhabitants of my gut and therefore my healing.
4. Think about prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.
Probiotics get all the press, but feeding our biome with prebiotics is vital and I am sure that future research will confirm that postbiotics and paraprobiotics (learn about them here) are just as important in the healing work they do. A varied ancestral diet, with processing of grains can give you all of these!
5. Healing is not fair – don’t compare yourself.
Some people seem to be able to not care about what they eat and have really great health. So how come I can’t?!
This statement honestly might be true, but it is certainly not helpful.
We are each on an individual journey and it serves us to pay attention to, learn from and act upon our own body. Comparison is not just the thief of joy, it is the thief of healing. It can put us into a dark space where we’ll be demotivated and sad – releasing a raft of negative chemicals into our bloodstream and affecting our next food choices.
If you end up in the comparison space and can’t get out, try the next step…
6. Don’t think you’ll get to perfect, contemplate how you might have been if you hadn’t started.
When I first began my healing journey, I thought I’d nail it – I’d be this bouncy, always-energetic, radiant, immune superbeing. After 15 years of hard, anti-social, time-and-money-consuming choices the mythical me hasn’t materialised! When a set back gets me down, I stop myself spiraling by thinking about how things might have been now if I’d not taken all the steps I have over the last 15 years.
I do not have a good history – obese in my formative years, a sugar addict, taking 5+ rounds of anti-biotics every year in my teens, on the contraceptive pill for over a decade. Where would I be now if I’d not taken responsibility for my own health and changed my life? Very far from the place I am writing this to you now. Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’re doing, whatever you can do – it has, is and it will make a difference.
7. Remember to nourish yourself in other ways
Gut healing is not just about what we eat. Nourishment comes to us in so many other ways. I often need reminding that I am not a machine – yes, I create a lot of learning content, but I cannot keep working when I am tired without consequences. Nor can you. We need touch. We need creativity. We need laughter. We need rest. These things affect our brain and blood chemistry and therefore our gut health.