Adulting 101: Gut Health

Look. I’m going to say something here, and it may be hard to hear…ready? Ok.
I’m not perfect.
There. I’ve said it. No, no, no; please don’t argue with me I’ve decided it’s time to face facts and just admit to the hard truth.
But there’s something else…
You’re not perfect either.
I’ve said it! It’s out. It can’t be unsaid. #sorrynotsorry
Unfortunately you and I are not perfect; none of us are. We are human and we struggle from one end of the day to the other, and some of us even struggle through the night with shitty sleep too. But we exist side-by-side in a world where perfection is painted up as the norm for us all to aim for, driving our levels of anxiety, comparison and self-criticism.

Almost perfect?

I have officially given up on the idea of ever truly having all my shit together at the same time. It’s unrealistic and even the best laid plans will have peaks and troughs of good and less-good stages. Somedays you’re up; nailing life, sharing bad-assery, meeting friends and having ridiculously glossy hair. Other days…not so much. Those are the days where effort feels so much more effort-y, and you really just cannot be bothered.
I completely hear you, I am with you. But, understanding my own frailties and imperfections has allowed me to spot some small interventions I can take to make life just a little bit easier, more productive, happier, healthier etc. None of us are going to achieve perfection in all areas of everything we do, but why not focus on some small changes that can make you more fulfilled in some way?

In this “Adulting 101” series I want to explore some of these actions with you. I’m pretty average, I am not superhuman in any way; so this is intended for fellow non-super-heros to read and enjoy. If it works for me it might just work for you, and we can be a little closer to kick-ass together!

Adulting 101: Healthy Gut = Happy Hooman

First up in the series is a topic that has exploded over recent years. It seems like you don’t have to go too far without hearing about the latest gut health trend and where there are facts you can be sure you’ll find some fiction too. Gluten is bad, sugar is the devil, flour gives you gills, pasta will turn your skin purple, you should be pooping 7 times a day and it should smell like freshly-baked, gluten free blueberry muffins…GAH!
It’s really hard to know what’s up and what’s down and what sources you should be trusting. Not only that, where should you start if you do want to optimise your gut health. Should you start taking probiotics? What about digestive enzymes? How do I know if my gut is unhealthy? Should I pay for some expensive gut microbiome screening?!
Before you go get completely overwhelmed by the hype, I think it’s best to strip it down to take a step back to appreciate some of the basics.

There’s some mad craic going on inside us.

When you step away from the hype and mania for a minute, you can actually see what an absolutely fascinating area this whole gut health thing is. Like anything, if you scratch the surface you are just going to be overwhelmed with data, so I have pulled together 3 facts about the microbiome that made me sit back and say woah!

1: We are not alone…

Your gut is made up of millions (and millions…) of microbes including bacteria, bacteriophage, fungi, protozoa and viruses. These lads start at the entrance, which is your mouth and run the whole way through to the exit (don’t make me say it, Becky…) Due to their nature you will find them congregating in some areas more than others. For instance, due to the acidity in your stomach only specific bacteria will hang out there but in your large intestine it’s basically a bacterial Glastonbury festival and they are all ready to party.
This is the thing that blows my mind; we have about 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells so, we are technically more “them” than “us”. Which is pretty special. The next time you’re feeling alone with no one to talk to, have a chat with the millions of creatures zipping around you right now!
If that creeps you out, it’s worth remembering there is a complex relationship of mutual benefit with your bacteria. Without them you wouldn’t be able to efficiently absorb essential vitamins B & K, so if our gut flora is off then we will be off in a very real way. If we feed them, they feed us…but more of that in a minute…

Feed your microbial friends with colour & variety

2: What happens in Vagus…

The gut is connected to the brain via the vagus nerve, which is directly related to your parasympathetic nervous system. You know the old saying “I feel it in my gut”, well that saying probably makes more sense if you think of it in the context that your gut is often considered to be the “second brain; and with over 100 million neurons your gut has more neurons than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system, which runs throughout your entire body! Interestingly, 90% of your body’s serotonin is made in your gut as well so, very literally, if your gut is happy it will have a direct impact on your own happy feels. Mmmmmf.

Happy gut = Happy You

3: Outside, over there.

When we imagine our “guts” we will generally picture a weird, indescribable space inside where it’s dark, gooey and a little bit mysterious. However, your digestive tract is not actually considered to be “inside” you, weird right?! This is because at no point does it actually come in contact with the interior of your body.
Think of it this way; the tube your food runs through has a start point and an endpoint, kind of like a garden hose. There should be no other opening other than these two places and the essential micronutrients will move across the gut wall or barrier thanks to our gut bacteria. Other than that it is sealed off from your inside squishy bits so it is considered to be outside of the body.
Scientific semantics, don’t ya love it?

On the outside, looking in.

Optimising your own gut health

So now that we know a little bit more about it; how can we navigate the complex world of symbiosis with these bugs and critters that populate our bodies? How can we start optimising our gut health?
Here are the five things I do for gut health, particularly on my good days, to ensure my microbial mates are doing alright and in turn are looking after me.

Eat fermented food

If you do nothing else, this is probably the thing I would recommend most highly. Fermented foods are basically alive and packed with probiotic cultures, so they are crucial in keeping your good-bug populations healthy. Foods like unpasteurised yoghurt, kimchi, kefir, kombucha are all made with a process involving fermentation. You might even try making your own Sauerkraut using my recipe here.
I eat fermented foods every day, no exceptions and I have found this diet change to be one of the most important I have ever made.

Eat a variety of fresh foods

Get as much colour, texture and variety on your plate as possible. Just like us, each microbe is going to be a little different and enjoy a unique type of food so it’s ideal to have a varied diet to ensure you are catering to their teeny, tiny snowflake requirements. When you are prepping your meals just try to include as much colour as you can on the plate, or integrate flavours and spices from around the world. The main thing is to mix it up, because when it comes to your gut health, variety really is the spice of life!

Listen to your body

If you learn to pay attention, your food cues will come from the little crew you have working away in your gut. For the longest time I listened to mainstream pseudo-science and cut out gluten because I thought it was “bad for me”. Let’s get this clear; gluten is only going to be an issue if you have a gluten intolerance, the same goes for lactose from dairy etc. If your body gets bloated or sluggish after eating a specific food, then maybe don’t be indulging in that snack? But don’t cut out whole food groups based on what a blogger, influencer or some daily instagram account tells you. Learn to read your own cues and pay attention to your own body.

Make time for sleep & relaxation

Having high levels of stress or disturbed sleep patterns in your life can have a direct impact on your gut health and can lead to higher levels of inflammation in your body. As we have seen, if your gut isn’t happy then you are going to feel fairly miserable as well so make sure your sleep hygiene is in order, and try meditating, even just 10 minutes a day. I will come back to both of these points in more detail in later posts, but ideally we should be keeping stress at bay. This will have so many other benefits, but a stressed gut is a constipated, blocked, inefficient gut and you are going to feel undernourished, sluggish and low in energy.

Biting off more than you can chew?!

Chew your food & eat mindfully

The process of digestion starts in your mouth with the action of mastication (or chewing). Here you have a chance to kickstart the process, so try to chew your food as much as possible. Like so many of us, I spent years wolfing down my meals, looking at my phone without barely tasting a bite, and what happens? A stomach full of barely-chewed morsels head their way down into a digestive tract (with a load of air too, just so you know) where it will all sit and stress the system out unnecessarily. If you mindfully chew your food, and take your time with it, you take the pressure off the digestive process and in turn your gut will be better-equipped to do its job. You might even start to enjoy the flavours of your meals as well!

The microbiome really is a complex topic so it’s tricky to try to cover it all off in one blog post! But hopefully you’ve found some help with these few simple interventions to make your life a little bit easier. You don’t have to be perfect, but there are probably ways we all can adult just a little more efficiently.
Keep an eye out for more in the Adulting 101 series coming at you soon!

Tamara is the self-proclaimed Unqualified Blogger. She is a freelance Copywriter and Marketing Communications / Brand Strategist and Creative Generalist. She is available for speech writing, tattoo conventions and karaoke parties or would love to work with you on your latest marketing or creative challenges. Stay in touch on  InstagramFacebookLinkedIn or Twitter or Contact her directly.

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