Take these 5 steps - in order - to heal your gut fastFeb 23, 2021
So here’s a thing that makes me want to throw dishes at the wall and strangle the nearest mannequin…
All of these functional medicine personalities going on and on about how you need to heal your gut if you want to fix your immune system, but not providing any action steps for how you actually do that.
“What should I do for my fatigue?” “Heal you gut.”
“Is there a way I can make my joint pain less severe?” “Oh, you should probably just heal your gut.”
“I have the worst skin issues ever, what should I do first?” “Well first, I would heal your gut.”
Ugh - go eat some more batteries, you robots!
If you’re a hip cat, you already know that gut health and immune health are pretty much interchangeable (if you’re not privy to that knowledge but are down to learn, please check out the free Gut Primer series all about just that.
While becoming acquainted with this concept is a fabulous step in the right direction and makes you well-poised to embrace the most effective therapies for your immune health, this knowledge can really only take you so far without specific, and practical applications.
That’s where this article comes in: I want this to serve as your roadmap for how to heal your gut: which steps to take, and in what order.
Spoiler alert: these 5 steps form the foundation for how I work with virtually all of my clients, and for most of the programming here on GutsyGreen. I even named my proprietary approach after them - “Revive in Five”. They are the culmination of all of my experience, both personal and non, and each is based on plausible scientific mechanisms. Follow these steps, and you’ll be in great shape.
STEP #1: Start with your Stomach
So, I am a functional nutritionist, and bow to the power of food regularly, but that doesn’t change the fact that you need ballin’ secretions before you can get any dang nutrients from your food… you’ll find nutrients to be quite helpful for things like living.
When I say “secretions” I’m talking specifically about your stomach acid (otherwise known as Hydrochloric acid or ‘HCl’), your pancreatic digestive enzymes, and your fat-digesting bile housed in the liver and gallbladder.
Stomach acid is by far the most urgent to address, because of its foundational role for triggering the proper release of the other secretions, as well as priming food for the angsty and sensitive intestines. So this is typically where we start.
3 Crucial points about why you should fix your secretions first, before you do anything else:
1. You need secretions to get nutrients from your food. So, if you take steps to optimize your secretions without making any dietary changes, you’ll still end up netting more nutritional benefit from your food, right now.
2. Likewise, if you try to adopt a whole foods based, nutrient dense, properly prepared diet – which, for most of us, means embracing more quality fats and proteins – you’re actually increasing the burden on your digestive furnace. Fats and proteins take more acid and enzymes to break down properly.
So without supporting your secretions when you make these changes, you may be subjecting your intestines to more undigested food particles... and undigested foods = inflammation!
3. Suffer from food sensitivities? Optimizing your secretions can actually move the bar in terms of which foods you react to and how severely you react to them. This is because many food sensitivities are the result of undigested proteins leaking out of your gut and inciting an immune response.
When these proteins actually start to get broken down, this process happens less - or even not at all!
To be clear, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t tackle your diet. Really, everyone who wants to provide their bodies with the fuel it needs for good health will eventually need to take a good hard look at what they eat.
I’m simply saying that you don’t necessarily need to start there, and often starting there can cause trouble. If you’re gung-ho and ready to get started with diet, you can definitely make food changes while you support your secretions simultaneously to really get things rolling.
STEP #2: Nail your Nutrients
Before you storm off and nuzzle that bag of Cheetos, let me just say that I’m not about long-term elimination diets, and really, the science on how they negatively impacts our stress and microbial health should put that notion to bed.
While I never start people on elimination diets, they do have utility in certain more advanced cases on a temporary basis, but I reserve that tool for when and if it’s actually needed in step 4.
Instead, simply eating real food is often a game changer. Let’s talk a minute about what that actually means.
Real food means:
Food that is in its whole form. Your food shouldn’t come from a package!
Think a ribeye steak with buttered broccoli and a sweet potato, NOT, a Philly cheesesteak sandwich with a bag of chips.
Food that is nutrient dense. Nutrient density is a measure of the nutrients per calorie.
Think veggies are nutrient powerhouses? Actually, organ meats and shellfish are the most nutrient dense foods around, followed by other meats, eggs, seafood, and dairy, then properly prepared vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Nutrient poor choices include most grains and virtually all processed food.
Food that is properly prepared. Some foods are toxic to us unless we process and prepare them before we eat them.
For grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, this means soaking and sprouting before consuming.
For dairy, this means raw, full-fat, pastured, and fermented dairy.
For gluten-containing breads this means slow-rise sourdough leavened forms.
Food that is properly sourced. Sourcing = quality.
Produce should be organic and local if possible.
Meats, dairy, and eggs should be from healthy pasture-raised animals who move in the sun and eat what they have evolved to eat. (i.e. cows eating grass, not corn)
Seafood should be wild-caught.
Grains should be non-GMO so that they’re pesticide free.
To be fair, changing your diet can feel like a big undertaking. But the reality is that most people who suffer from immune dysregulation have different and more intensive nutrient needs than people without these conditions.
An over-active immune system means you’re burning nutrients constantly, which begets deficiencies. As you begin to quiet your immune response, you may be able to ease up on providing a constant replenishment to your body, but you’ll likely always need to be diligent about hitting your nutrient bases to some extent.
STEP #3: Live Lucidly
By the time people augment their secretions and start eating foods that actually are food, they’re often feeling more energized and ready to continue their healing trajectory. But making lifestyle changes can feel overwhelming, so I like to shrink this into 4 categories:
1) Get the nasty chemicals out of your life.
Did you know that here in the good ol’ US of A, we have about 10,000 chemicals that circulate in common personal and household products that are banned in Europe and other places?
Yeah, they’re banned because they’re effing dangerous, according to science. But somehow when companies are like, “ehhh, but, money!” our regulatory bodies shrug and are like “interesting point, please proceed.”
This is a huge topic, but the biggies to address are:
- Making sure that your water is clean and properly filtered, I like this system.
- Making sure your cookware is safe (no teflon, yes to cast iron and stainless steel)
- Avoiding endocrine disruptors in things like synthetic fragrances, dryer sheets, scented candles, and other hidden sources.
- Using resources like EWG’s database to determine how safe your personal products and cleaning products are.
- Properly sourcing your food as discussed above.
2) Move your body in a non-punitive way. Everyday.
Fitness culture in America is so cultish. I guess maybe some people enjoy that kind of shamey, yell-in-your-face kind of approach - masochists, for example. But, for most people, especially those who deal with chronic illness, we need to embrace the gentler side of movement.
Make movement fun. Do you love to Salsa dance? Hike a new beautiful trail? Do a chill yoga sesh in your jams? Whatever it is, however gentle it is, it is great. Our bodies need movement to keep digestion regular, to move the lymph so that toxins are easily eliminated, and to regulate our circadian rhythm.
Do it every day if possible. If not, don’t feel bad, just do what you can! Your gut will thank you for it.
3) Your sleep is a window into your health, is it on point?
If you sleep any less or any more than 7-9 hours a night, then something’s off. Here are some things to try:
Try to stop eating at least 2 hours before bed. If you wake up hungry, it’s actually best to hold off until morning and then eat as much as you want then. This is because eating helps to set our circadian rhythm. So when you wake up and eat, you’re reinforcing that this is when your body should expect that food.
This is also an indicator that you haven’t gotten enough food or nutrients during waking hours. It may be difficult for the first few nights, but your appetite should correct after a few days.
Get outside and in the sun around noon every day for at least 20 minutes. Likewise, limit exposure to blue-light from screens after sunset. Set your phone to “night mode”. If TV is in your nightly entertainment roster, then embrace your inner nerd and purchase a pair of Blue Blocker glasses to wear after sunset.
Melatonin is a hormone that is made from fat and minerals. Increasing your intake of fatty fish such as wild salmon, mackerel, herring, or tuna, helps to provide the raw materials needed for production.
Broken record alert: Practice regular movement every day^.
4) Eliminating stress is a myth, so build in some stress management.
Reality check: life is full of stresses! And, it would be lovely to believe that one day you may be able to rid yourself of all obnoxious thorns in your side, and maybe you’ll be the mythical creature to do it… but in the mean time, pinning down some healthy coping strategies is pivotal to resting your immune system.
Did you know stress increases your mast-cell activity? That it shortens your life span? Revs up your nervous system and suppresses your precious digestive secretions?
Mmm, I think we all know stress is bad. But tools like journaling, meditation, therapy, spirituality, yoga, retreats and vacations, social connection, creating art, and getting the rest of this mess^ in line can do wonders for your resilience in challenging times.
STEP 4: Cleverly Cut-Out
Still feeling poorly? It’s time to collect some data.
I don’t want to hyperbolize but learning about how to use cutting-edge functional labs to craft personalized healing protocols may have made my life. I love applying this knowledge because it’s consistently so transformative. It’s precisely because of this value, and how quickly these tools lead to symptom relief, that I can confirm the tests are well worth the modest investment.
I should clarify this doesn’t include just any functional tests – many of the ones on the market are absolute hogwash. Rather, the tests I use are scientifically validated and use trusted and well-documented methodologies. In fact, I can’t actually condone any other test beyond the ones I work with.
Testing often serves as an important step for many people psychologically, who can’t seem to justify overhauling food or lifestyle choices no longer serving them, until they see the actual numbers.
Zapping the bad guys out of your gut, while eliminating foods that are more difficult to digest, either by using an Autoimmune Protocol template or using MRT testing, creates a powerful synergy that rests the gut while rebalancing and strengthening it.
Typical protocols last 12 weeks, and you’ll always want to re-test at the end to make sure you’ve gotten rid of those buggers.
STEP 5: Dynamic Destination
For some, step 5 is the most difficult part of all of this, because it means tapping into self-experimentation and identifying what your boundaries are, bearing in mind that those boundaries might change over time.
You’ll need to experiment and titrate to figure out your minimum supplement need, foods that you can reintroduce regularly vs sporadically vs not at all… and what to do when you (inevitably) fall off the wagon.
This is where the magic happens because this is where you have to begin to think critically and use what you’ve learned. You hatch from your rainbow egg and become a fully realized unicorn!
The great news: once you’ve worked the process and have had success, even if you have a setback, you’ll know there is a set of tools waiting for you so that you can address whatever obstacles come up in the future.