Gut health is a huge topic in the health and wellness world, and we can’t scroll through our news feed without tips on how to achieve optimal gut health. Ultimately, gut health is rather complex, and science is still trying to uncover its vastness. In fact, it is so big that if we laid out our digestive system it would cover an entire tennis court! Crazy eh! We would literally be here until next year if we tried to explain all things gut health, so we are going to focus on one of the areas that can cause disarray to our gut.
Stress and the gut.
Did you know that stress has one of the biggest impacts on our gut health? Have you ever had a "gut-wrenching" experience? Do certain situations make you feel sick to the stomach? This is because the gut sends emotional signals to the brain, suggesting we “feel” with our gut first. You know that nervous feeling that we get which feels like we have little butterflies flapping in our belly – that’s our gut telling our brain that something isn't right. Roughly 95% of serotonin levels are found in our gut, (one of our feel-good chemicals that you know makes us feel so damn good) as well as 70% of our immune system, so it is important that we keep our gut happy and healthy.
Self-care is the first step.
Self-care is more than just getting our nails done and having a massage (even though these do play a role!). Basic self-care is ensuring that our physical and emotional needs are being met, and most importantly that our stress levels are being managed. Adequate self-care is critical to wellness as we are unable to connect to our body, and listen to what it needs when our self-care is lacking. When we are in the throes of deadlines, overworking, and running around like a headless chicken, our body’s biological fight on- or flight survival kicks in. This means the basic functions of our body switch off including our digestive system. This causes digestive issues such as bloating, gas, stomach pain or cramps. Eating under stress also makes it harder to hear our hunger/ fullness signals as inhibits our ability to absorb all of the nutrients from our food.
The first step to a happy gut is ensuring that our basic physical and emotional needs are being met. Here are some tips to get you started.
Getting enough sleep.
This is probably one of the most important parts as we need 7-9 hours per night. If you are finding it hard to meet this, have a think about some of the things you can do to help you. I use an eye pillow, earplugs and spray lavender on my pillow. I also switch off Netflix at 9pm (I know! This one is tough!)
Exercise does amazing things for the mind and body as long as it is enjoyable. What are your favourite ways to move your body? Is it walking, dancing, swimming, weight lifting, yoga or something else? Start by making a list of your favourite movement activities and circle one that you can do this week.
Journaling is a powerful tool that gives us awareness of our thoughts and feelings as well as time to reflect. If you haven’t tried it before, I would highly recommend giving it a go. Treat yourself to a gorgeous little journal too. I love buying beautiful stationery!
Who doesn’t love to relax? But how much time do you take to truly relax and switch off each week? Make it a priority and set aside a few hours each week to really switch off. My favourite relaxing activities are being out in nature, and reading a good book tucked up in bed with a huge pot of peppermint tea. What are yours?
Laughing and playing.
When was the last time you laughed so hard you nearly cried? Regularly do something that makes you laugh- ring a friend, watch a funny movie ,go to a comedy show or go and have some fun! Laughing really does wonders for the mind and soul.
Prioritise time for all the important people in your life. These are the people that give you meaning and purpose. I always make sure I book time with friends and family each week and call them most days.
Yoga, meditation, breathing and being out in nature help us connect to ourselves and the present moment. They also boost our happiness levels and general life satisfaction. If yoga or meditation isn’t your thing, then head out for a nature walk.
Book a holiday, have a lunch break every day, and say no to the things you don’t want to do. I know this one can be tough, but once you start setting boundaries it does become easier I promise!
Stress around mealtimes.
Reducing stress around mealtimes is also another simple way that we can keep our gut happy.
Breathing not only helps reduce stress around mealtimes, it also supplies our organs with much needed oxygen and removes toxins from our body. Therefore, the deeper and slower that we breathe, the more optimally our digestion and metabolism can function. Take 5-10 full deep breaths before meals and snacks. This calms our digestion down and puts our body in a relaxed state. This means it will be in an ideal metabolic state when we eat and digest.
As well as breathing before meals, slowing down and paying attention to our food will also impact our ability to digest, as well as help us to get in touch with our hunger/fullness signals. Eat slowly, with no distractions, chew food until pureed and put down cutlery between bites. Give it a try with one snack or meal this week.
Eat for pleasure.
Discover the satisfaction factor and eat food for pleasure. When we eat what we truly want and enjoy- slowly and mindfully, we will have a whole different relationship to the entire meal experience. We will also feel content and satisfied after meals rather than looking for something else when we have finished eating. Ask yourself before each meal and snack- what is it I truly want to eat? Is it something savoury, sweet, salty, buttery, smoky, hot, spicy, bland or mild? Do I want it to be smooth, creamy, crunchy, crispy, chewy, crumbly, hard, soft, gooey, flaky, dry, moist, heavy or light? When you have decided what you would like to eat, prepare it and get in touch with all your senses- smell it, taste it, feel the texture of the food, savour it and enjoy every bite. Your gut will thank you for it!
If you'd like to find food freedom and body peace, then you can sign up for a free week on my Nourish Me Intuitive Eating & Wellbeing program here