10 New Year's Resolutions For Your Gut
So, it’s a new year and chance for a fresh start. To be honest, I’ve never been one for all of that ‘new year, new you’ business. I think, if you want to make a change, do it straight away, don’t wait until the new year. I’m also not a believer in making a load of crazy resolutions that will most likely be given up on by March.
However, the start of a new year is a great chance to reflect and plan. It’s a good excuse to reflect on what went well over the past year and what you’d like to do more of or less of in the year to come. For most people, health or wellness is normally a focus in some way. Our gut, however, normally gets overlooked. Don’t let this be the case for you this year. With more and more focus and information on gut health coming out, this is the best time to focus on sorting your gut out.
If you’ve been struggling with an uncontrollable gut for god knows how long, your bowel habits are a nightmare or you’re just sick of your stomach blowing up like a balloon more often than not, this is for you. Below are 10 resolutions you can make this year to help improve your gut health. There are little, easy ones, as well as bigger ones that take a bit more commitment or investment. So, find one that you like and make it one of your resolutions for 2019.
..by the way, I do realise it’s already 3rd Jan…but nobody will tell you off for starting late
10 NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS FOR YOUR GUT
1. DRINK 2L OF WATER PER DAY
Drinking enough water helps with so many health issues, including your digestion. It helps to move food and waste through your body, so aids in digestion and healthy bowel movements. The amount of water each of us needs to drink will be different, depending on your size, the climate you live in and how much exercise you do. However, 2L is a good starting point for most of us.
Here are some ideas to help with this:
Invest in a 1L bottle of water that you love and make sure you fill it up 3 times throughout the day. Keep it on your desk at work and keep sipping throughout the day.
Start the day with a big glass of warm water (boiled water from the kettle plus some tap water to cool it to warm) and some fresh lemon. This will help to re-hydrate you as soon as you wake up and it’s great for getting your digestive system started in the morning. For extra gut health benefits, add turmeric or ginger.
Download an app that helps you to track the amount of water you drink.
2. EAT MORE REAL FOOD
One of the best things you can do for your gut is cut down the amount of processed food that you eat. There are so many processed foods available today, which are part to blame for the huge numbers of people with damaged guts. Processed foods get absorbed really quickly into your small intestine without any help from the good bacteria in your micro-biome. That means your greedy gut bacteria aren’t fed, so they start eating the walls of your intestines. This wall acts as a barrier between your gut and the rest of your body, so when it’s eaten and broken down, bits of food can get through it and enter your blood stream. This can cause inflammation and lead to lots of digestive, and other, problems.
The other thing that happens when you eat processed foods and refined sugars is that you feed your ‘bad’ bacteria. The unhealthy bacteria feeds off these foods. When they do this, they grow and they overpopulate the good bacteria. This causes an imbalance of your micro-biome. On top of this, the fibre and nutrients in real food helps keep your digestive system in optimal shape. Reducing processed foods in your diet can help promote better digestion, weight loss, improved sleep and mental health, as well as increased energy. Also, eating this way is a much more sustainable approach to health than dieting.
Limiting processed foods and eating mainly whole, unprocessed foods is the basis of clean eating. There’s been a lot of hype around eating clean lately, but all it really means is eating a balanced diet of fresh, unprocessed food, including fruit, veg, whole grains, healthy fats, and animal products, if you’re comfortable with them. There are varying degrees to how ‘clean’ you eat and you don’t need to remove all processed food from your diet. You could start by making a resolution to have an unprocessed breakfast every day or swapping from processed to real food snacks, then building on that once you’ve mastered it.
Here are some ideas to help with this:
Choose whole foods - things that occur in nature and don’t need flashy packets, e.g. fruit, veg, seeds, nuts, eggs. If buying something in a box, make sure you can imagine how every ingredient on the list grows.
Try cooking more - you’ll know all the ingredients that go in your food and can guarantee they won’t be processed.
Cut back on white foods - e.g. standard desserts including white sugar, and foods containing white flour, e.g. pasta, bread, pastries.
3. START EXERCISING REGULARLY
Exercise is one of the best ways to support regular bowel function. It increases motility in your gut, so can be especially beneficial for reducing constipation. It is also fantastic for relieving stress, which is a huge factor in gut health. Recent studies have also found that regular exercise can help promote a diverse gut micro-biome. They found that, after 6 weeks of exercise (just 30 - 60 minutes of cardio 3 x per week), participants had an increase in gut microbes. The more, and more varied, microbes you have in your gut, the better your digestion will be. When they stopped, the number of microbes went back to how they were before. This shows that starting a routine that you can keep up is more important than intensity or type of exercise. Consistency is key.
Here are some ideas to help with this:
Make it fun - find something that you love to do and will look forward to.
Be realistic - start with 10 minutes every day or 30 minutes 3 times a week. Make it achievable so that you’ll feel good when you meet the goal, and can then choose to increase it. This is far better than being too ambitious, not being able to keep it up, and then feeling annoyed at yourself and giving up entirely.
Schedule it in - decide on what exercise and times will work for you, then schedule it in your diary. Once they’re in, commit to them in the same way you would with any other commitment.
Find accountability - choose a way that works for you to keep you accountable. It could be a workout buddy, signing up to exercise classes, getting a personal trainer, or starting a blog/instagram record.
4. SORT OUT YOUR SLEEP
A lack of sleep can really affect our digestion. Have you ever found you’re much hungrier the next day, when you don’t get a good night’s sleep? The reason this happens is because, when you sleep, hormones that regulate appetite control and metabolism are released. So, when you don’t sleep for long enough, not enough of these are released. You could be eating all the kale in the world but, if you’re not getting enough sleep, you’ll have a very unhappy gut. So, aim to get 7-8 hours every night.
Here are some ideas to help with this:
Technology ban - don’t use any technology (phone, TV, laptop) 1 hour before your bedtime. Read a book or have a bath instead!
Embrace darkness - make sure your bedroom is pitch black. This will help you fall asleep as it signals to your body to produce more melatonin (the sleep hormone).
Cut back on caffeine and alcohol - they both affect the quality of your sleep and ability to fall asleep.
Create a sleep routine - going to bed and waking up at the same time each day will get your body into a natural rhythm.
5. START DAILY MEDITATION
When you’re stressed, your parasympathetic nervous system turns off. This is the nervous system that allows your body to rest and digest. When it’s turned off by stress, you’re actually unable to digest your food, and your digestive system is hugely compromised. On top of this, the rush of hormones and increased heart rate can really upset your digestive system, causing heartburn, bloating and affecting the way your food moves through your system. This can result in constipation or diarrhoea. This is the case with both acute stress (e.g. when you have a big presentation) and chronic stress (e.g. sub-conscious worrying about financial situation over a long period of time). You may not even realise you’re stressed sometimes, but your gut will.
Stress is a huge contributing factor to IBS symptoms, so finding a way to manage it will help ease them. Mindfulness practices have been proven to help reduce the effect of stress on your gut. They reduce levels of cortisol, which leads to stress and weight gain. Meditation is a type of mindfulness practise, but you could also try yoga or deep breathing for the same effect. Find out what works for you.
Here are some ideas to help with this:
Commit to 5 minutes of meditation every morning and stick to it
Find a meditation app, e.g. Calm or search for guided meditations on YouTube
6. SET AN EATING SCHEDULE
Your gut loves a routine! When you eat meals at the same time each day, your gut gets used to it and is ready to digest at those times. So, avoid missing meals or leaving long gaps between eating and try setting and sticking to set eating times. Try setting a breakfast, lunch and dinner time and roughly sticking to it (it’s unrealistic to expect you’ll eat at exactly, say 7pm, every evening, but try to eat within an hour window). Even if you’re not hungry or don’t have anything in, try to make something small and easy, e.g. an omelette, quick salad, rice cakes and peanut butter. Whatever schedule you go with, the more you can stick to regular times, the happier your gut will be.
As well as eating at regular times, try to eat regular portions - watch the amount of food that you’re eating in one go. If you have IBS, your gut can get overwhelmed when you eat a lot of food in one go. So, you’re much better off eating slightly smaller portions but more often.
7. HAVE SOME CULTURED OR FERMENTED FOOD EVERY DAY
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about probiotics. What probably comes to mind, though, is powders and tablets…probiotic supplements. However, there are loads of ways we can get more probiotics into our gut through our food, without even thinking about a supplement. Probiotics are bacteria (usually) that live in our gut and have a HUGE host of benefits, including promoting great digestion. In the ‘olden days’ people in all cultures used to regularly eat cultured and fermented foods, like miso, kimchi and sauerkraut. These foods contain loads of amazing probiotics. The thing is, we don’t eat these foods as staples in our diet any more, as processed foods have replaced them, so we rely on supplements.
It’s so much healthier, not to mention cheaper, to get probiotics from foods, rather than supplements. Try adding a little bit of fermented, living food into your diet every day to strengthen your digestive system.
Here are a few ideas:
Raw vinegars e.g. apple cider
Just be aware that, if you’ve got gut problems, you might notice a bit of gas, bowel changes and bloating when you first introduce these foods into your diet. This is just your gut micro-biome adjusting.
8. EAT 5 PORTIONS OF VEG PER DAY
I know you've heard this one before, but this is why it'll really help your gut...Polyphenols are the nutrients in plants that give them their colour. These polyphenols have a whole load of health benefits. The interesting thing about them though, is that they have a symbiotic relationship with probiotics. What this means is that probiotics need them and they need probiotics. What happens when you eat kale, for example, is that the healthy probiotic bacteria in your gut digest the polyphenols in the kale. This feeds the probiotics and allows them to grow, but it also enables the nutrients in the polyphenols to do their job in your body.
So, eat more veg! In particular, leafy green veg will help bring lots of healthy and diverse bacteria into your gut. Veg are also highly anti-inflammatory, which will help to reduce any inflammation in your gut, which could be the source of digestion problems. On top of this, they are packed with fibre, which helps maintain a healthy digestive system. So, try and eat 5 different vegetables every day!
9. WORK OUT YOUR TRIGGERS
If you get uncomfortable symptoms like cramps, bloating, or constipation after eating, it’s likely your gut is sensitive or allergic to certain foods. The most common actual allergies are milk, soy, peanuts, corn, eggs and gluten. So, it’s worth testing to see whether you’re allergic to any of these foods. However, in most cases, you’ll probably have an intolerance/sensitivity rather than a full on allergy. Working out what foods you’re sensitive to is a big step in sorting out your gut and the new year is a great time to do it.
The low FODMAP Diet is a type of elimination diet that cuts out foods containing certain groups of sugars that aren’t properly absorbed by the gut (learn more about it here). You then gradually reintroduce these foods, group by group, to work out which foods are triggering your symptoms. The end goal is to learn what foods your gut is sensitive to, so you can choose to avoid those and improve your gut symptoms for life!
You can also do your own, less formal, version of an elimination diet. If you suspect your gut is sensitive to something, e.g. gluten or dairy, you can try cutting it out. I’d recommend cutting it out for 30 days and seeing if your symptoms improve. Be sure to keep a food diary whilst doing any one of these diets to allow yourself to identify trigger foods.
10. INVEST IN A HEALTH COACH
If you’re ready to make a huge shift in your gut health, but you don’t know what to do or you want some accountability to do it, consider investing in a health coach. A health coach is a guide that can help you to achieve your personal goals for your gut health. If you find a health coach who is experienced in gut health, they can help you out with resources and a plan to follow that’s personalised to you, and give you the accountability to follow through on it. Although this involves an investment, it’s so worthwhile to have someone help you on this journey.
I would love to help you on your gut health journey, but there are also lots of other fantastic gut health coaches out there. Take the time to find someone who resonates with you. If you’d like to work with me on taking control of your gut this year, please get in touch here.
SUMMARY - 10 NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION IDEAS FOR YOUR GUT
These 10 ideas are just a few things you can do to get started on improving your gut health. There are a whole lot more in my box of gut tricks! However, committing to any one of these this year will be a major step in your journey towards more control over your gut.
Drink 2L of water per day
Eat more real food
Start exercising regularly
Sort out your sleep
Start daily meditation
Set an eating schedule
Have some form of cultured or fermented food every day
Eat 5 portions of veg a day
Work out your triggers
Invest in a health coach
Wishing you lots of good luck with your resolutions and a very Happy New Year! Let me know which one you’re adding to your resolution list in the comments below.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this,