The word detox triggers both positive and negative emotions for people. While some see it as a valuable approach to getting rid of unwanted bacteria or toxins, others see it as a form of yo-yo dieting that strips the body of both good and bad nutrients – which can later spiral into more restrictive patterns.
No matter which side you align with, it’s common for people to hop on the detox bandwagon this time of year – from digital detoxes and Dry January to juice or smoothie cleanses. Some have spent the past few weeks indulging in refined foods and sweetened or alcoholic beverages they don’t normally consume. Others might have ditched their exercise routine due to travel plans and busy schedules. It’s okay to get sidetracked, especially around the holidays, and it’s important to unwind and enjoy yourself. However, it’s also important to recognize when your body needs a little TLC.
We often get so caught up in what we think detoxing means that we fail to realize how simple it can actually be. Detoxing doesn’t mean you need to skip meals or drink your veggies. Instead, it's about making modifications to your daily diet and lifestyle that are attainable and not overwhelming. In fact, taking small steps can help relieve stress, calm your mind, boost your immunity, and reduce inflammation – in ways that a fad diet or cleanse simply can’t. Think about your current day-to-day life...how does stress affect you? Are you getting enough sleep? Do you eat a variety of fruits, veggies, and whole grains? Are you more likely to reach for a cup of coffee instead of drinking water throughout the day?
Simply put, it’s important to “listen to your gut” since it’s usually trying to tell you something. Have you ever experienced butterflies when you’re nervous or felt gassy or bloated after eating certain foods? We’ve all been there before, and it’s your gut’s way of telling you that something is off.
Because the gut is connected to nearly every system and organ in the body, your daily choices and habits have a significant impact on it – from stress and poor sleep to inactivity and lack of nutrients. All these things (and more!) can contribute to gut imbalances.
Signs of an imbalanced gut include:
- Mood swings
- Depression or anxiety
- Digestive issues, like gas or bloating
- Suppressed immunity or autoimmune disorders
- Skin problems, like eczema
- Food allergies or sensitivities
Did you know that 74% of Americans are living with digestive issues? An imbalanced gut has also been linked to chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and Crohn’s. Because nearly everything you do impacts the diversity of your gut microbiome, it's essential to incorporate simple changes that are good for your whole body.
Here are five tips to detox your gut this month so that you can head into 2020 feeling like a happier, healthier, and more inspired you!
Water is one of the easiest (and cheapest!) ways to cleanse your body. However, because it’s so readily available, we often overlook its benefits and opt to drink oat milk lattes or soda instead. H20 flushes out the body’s toxins and bad bacteria while helping you stay full longer, promoting mental clarity and digestive regularity, and providing your skin with a healthy glow! And while you've likely been told to drink about eight glasses of water daily, bio-individuality is key when it comes to proper hydration! If you’re an active teen who plays basketball after school every day, your water needs will be vastly different than those of a middle-aged woman who’s stationary for most of the day. Nonetheless, the general recommendations are 2.7 liters of water per day for women and 3.7 liters per day for men. Plus, don’t forget that about 20% of daily water needs are met through diet, so it’s also important for you to eat hydrating foods, such as celery, spinach, pineapple, and grapefruit.
And if you’re used to breaking up your day with sweetened beverages or caffeine, here are a few ways to consistently stay hydrated:
- Add fruit! Lemon gives water an extra boost of vitamin C, but what about berries, melon, or cucumber? These fruits add both flavor and natural sweetener to your water, which may trick you into thinking you’re drinking juice.
- Invest in a BPA-free, reusable water bottle. You can carry it in your bag when traveling or keep it at your desk at work. Sometimes we confuse hunger signals with thirst, so having a full water bottle will ensure you’re never dehydrated.
- Instead of turning on your coffeepot as soon as you wake up, reach for a glass of water first! Quenching your thirst in the morning will help stimulate your bowels and kick your digestive system into gear.
Add more fermented foods to your diet.
Fermented foods are a type of probiotic that supports your microbiome and promotes good bacteria. They also improve digestion, decrease inflammation, increase immunity, and may help protect from infection (which reduces the need for antibiotics).
Examples of fermented foods include:
Try adding a scoop of kefir to your morning smoothie, make a DIY yogurt parfait, sub tofu for tempeh as a plant-based protein in your salad, or make a homemade salad dressing with miso (which is also typically found in soup!).
Not all fermented foods are created equally, though, and they might not be beneficial for everyone. For example, if you’re pregnant or have a weakened immune system, drinking kombucha, which is unpasteurized, may not be recommended. Be mindful and read food labels before you purchase fermented foods. Some, like yogurt, have added sugar or other ingredients.
Up your fiber intake.
We often get caught up in macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbs. But if there’s one nutrient we should be paying more attention to, especially when it comes to gut health, it’s fiber. Fiber can help prevent constipation and other digestive problems while reducing the risk for chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
If you’re looking to enhance your gut health, we suggest upping your intake of fiber-rich foods, such as:
Whole grains are also a great source of fiber, but fruits and veggies really provide your gut microbiome with the support it needs to thrive. If you don’t regularly consume both throughout the day, make it a habit to add some at each meal. Jump-start your morning by eating a piece of fruit, make a colorful salad for lunch, or squeeze in an extra dose of fiber by snacking on fruits and veggies in the afternoon.
Minimize daily stressors.
Stress is a leading disruptor of healthy gut bacteria. Although moderate stress can sometimes motivate you to complete a task or overcome an obstacle, chronic or severe stress can have negative implications on your physical, mental, and emotional health.
The following types of chronic stressors can negatively impact the gut:
- Sleep deprivation
- Disruption of the circadian rhythm
We recommend checking in with yourself to better understand what’s stressing you out. Are you consistently under tight deadlines at work? Did you agree to too many social outings? Are you a working mom struggling to juggle both a career and a family? Try pinpointing one or two things that really cause your head to spin and write them down. Then make it a priority to unwind by making one or more of the following lifestyle modifications. Remember, de-stressing looks different for everyone!
- Practice breathing exercises.
- Incorporate physical activity, like running or yoga.
- Silence your phone or disconnect from your devices.
- Take a bath with essential oils.
- Treat yourself to a massage or facial.
- Take a nap without guilt.
- Grab coffee with a friend.
- Treat yourself to something nice.
- Get lost in a new book that you’ve been wanting to read.
- Have a night out with your partner or friends.
Move as much as you can.
Movement supports digestion by increasing blood flow and stimulating the bowels. Have you ever had to hustle to the bathroom during or after certain exercises? There’s a reason for that! Moving for just thirty minutes a day, five times a week can improve your gut and overall health. In fact, there are specific exercises you can do that support your microbiome, including yoga, tai chi, and aerobic activities. Certain yoga poses, including seated spinal twist, cat-cow, and child’s pose, focus on stretching, lengthening your abs, and breathing. Plus, taking long, deep breaths in any position helps stimulate your digestive tract! Whether you opt for walking, running, cycling, or jumping rope, there are a variety of aerobic exercises that can help you maintain a healthy weight, relieve stress, and reduce inflammation, constipation, and bloating.
If you’re already a regular gym-goer, start mixing it up! Instead of going for a run every other day, try incorporating some weights or swap cardio for yoga. And if you’re an exercise newbie, go for a walk or book a beginner class at your local fitness studio. It’s not about burning 500 calories or working out until you reach exhaustion, it’s about finding ways to move your body that energize and support your whole body.
How Health Coaches Can Help
While Health Coaches can’t treat diseases that stem from the gut, like IBS, Crohn’s, celiac, or leaky gut, they can recognize patterns and symptoms associated with them. People often deal with GI discomfort for years, but their issues go undiagnosed. As a Health Coach, you can address these problems with your clients and work alongside their doctors to support gut health by incorporating simple changes in their diets and lifestyles.
Want to learn more about how to create a diverse microbiome, reduce inflammation, and optimize your gut? Join our Gut Health Course, which is currently open for enrollment!