With more than 60% of Australians being overweight or obese it’s no wonder that losing weight and toning up are the two most common goals when it comes to our health. It’s also no wonder why we spend over $300 M per year on diets and related products!
Diets and health fads to rid the body of unwanted kilograms and inches have been around for a long time and in this modern age of information overload, we are increasingly bombarded with new ones. From meal replacement shakes to diet pills to counting calories to ditching carbs or fats, it’s easy to get confused and become paralysed by conflicting recommendations. Especially too when we examine our current obesity rates: if the multiple diets constantly being promoted actually worked, would obesity be the global epidemic that it is?
Could it be that we’ve missed the point all along and the secret is within our gut?
We know simple factors like sleep, adequate exercise and a good nutrition plan are vital to weight loss but perhaps the most important factor is often overlooked or not given enough attention: your gut microbiome.
Gut ‘microbiome’ is a pretty buzzy term these days but with good reason. There isn’t a single system in the body that the microbiome doesn’t impact. Think of it as ground zero for your health issues.
Each person has up to 2kg of microbes in their stomach and together these microbes make up their unique gut microbiome. The microbes, which include trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses, help your body digest and assimilate nutrients, produce vitamins and amino acids. They also play an important role in the digestive and immune systems, blood pressure and mental health.
From my days working as a nutritional coach and examining my clients ‘engines’ through live blood and fluid analysis, I can say that the overwhelming majority of people that I treated had a gut imbalance to some degree. In Australia, it’s estimated that one in three people over the age of 25 years have metabolic syndrome, which is essentially a fancy way to describe a cluster of conditions which all stem from gut/digestive imbalance.
With every individual health condition, I always started at ground zero – the gut. Along with improving their primary health concerns, we noticed side benefits of less cravings, more energy and motivation, and healthy weight loss! In fact with a balanced gut and healthy digestion, fat seemed to melt off often without doing much else. Put it this way – busting your butt in the gym, restricting your calories and dieting will work, but without fixing your core metabolic organ, your gut, you will only get so far and it will be hard work. Not only that your weight will pile back on once you stop all this hard work!
Here are 7 ways fixing your gut first will make losing weight so much easier:
- Eating healthier becomes easier as your cravings decrease and you will not have to eat as much as your body is extracting more energy and nutrition from your food.
- More energy makes it easier to exercise!
- A balanced gut means balanced hormones like the ones that make us feel satisfied and keep our blood sugars steady. Serotonin, our main happy hormone, is also produced in the gut. More happy hormones means less stress and weight-inducing cortisol.
- Sick gut bacteria release toxins that trigger inflammation throughout your entire system. High levels of bacterial toxins have been found in people with type two diabetes and obesity.
- Toxic liver: Leaky gut due to bad bacteria causes a steady release of toxins and pollutants into the blood stream, making the liver work extra hard. When our liver is burdened our metabolism slows down and the kilos keep on creeping up.
- For millions of people, obesity is a form of malnutrition because nutrients aren’t absorbed due to a wounded gut. Without nutrients reaching the cells, diseases creep in. When the cells become ill, so do we. When the body goes into starvation mode it saves everything it can, which includes fats, toxins and poisons found in chemically laced foods.
- Good bacteria produce enzymes: As we age, our enzyme levels drop. Good bacteria can provide our bodies with over 400 enzymes that are needed to break down foods fast and efficiently.
And perhaps the most important benefit to balancing your gut health? Long-term sustainable weight loss as your body finds its natural state of wellbeing!
So here’s my plan of action for a healthy gut which has helped countless clients of mine, and myself. After all gotta practice what I preach!
I’m a big fan of simplicity so I’ve boiled it down to some core basics that have the biggest impact:
Ditch sugar and alcohol.
Apart from the obvious fact that unused excess sugar gets stored in your body as fat, sugar feeds bad bacteria and yeasts in your gut including the all too common nemesis Candida. Alcohol kills your good bacteria leaving the gate open to these opportunistic yeasts. Eating sugary foods spikes blood sugar levels and leads to energy slumps which leads to an unhealthy cycle of craving more sugary junk!
Remember this doesn’t have to be forever, I recommend doing this strictly for a month to start with to give your gut and liver the best chance to recover. Once you achieve a balanced gut and weight enjoying a glass of wine or a sweet treat EVERY NOW AND THEN is ok. Seriously though, if you follow these steps effectively you won’t even feel the need to eat sweet stuff
Avoid high starch carbohydrates
Think bread, cereal and grains! What a lot of people don’t realise is that high starch carbs get converted into sugar after being eaten and stop your body digesting fats and protein effectively. Eating one piece of bread is the same as eating roughly 4 teaspoons of sugar! High starch carbs tend to inhibit proper digestion of proteins as well which leads to a build-up of toxic undigested protein waste in your system over time.
Increase healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, butter, ghee and good quality lard or tallow. Avoid any other oils.
While the ‘good fat/bad fat’ rabbit hole goes deep here are some fast facts as to why you need these for a healthy gut.
Fat is required for the absorption of some important vitamins (the fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E, and K).
Fat is essential for the production of hormones.
Fat is essential for bile production. Bile is an often over-looked vital component of your digestive system which in turn helps digest fat and promote good bacteria.
The fats above contain important fatty acids like butyrate and lauric acid which help heal your gut lining and kill harmful pathogens.
Most importantly for weight-loss, these healthy fats will supply you with slow-burning calories for sustained energy and stave of cravings. Slowly increasing your fat intake while decreasing carbs, namely sugar, will switch your liver and metabolism into fat burning mode.
A general rule of thumb – aim to eat two to three tbsp per day. If you feel nauseous start with a smaller amount and build up slowly as your liver and metabolism gets used to it.
Repeat after me: fats are my friend!
Eat a variety of fermented foods often. This is the most important step!
Live unpasteurised fermented foods are an excellent source of good bacteria and pre-biotics, the fuel they need. Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, water kefir and milk kefir are our favourites and the most probiotic rich. They are so easy and delicious to include into your diet and offer far more variety and nutrition then store-bought probiotics will. Also they’re a lot cheaper!
Consuming a broad variety of species of bacteria is key to restoring your gut. These foods will also help stimulate bile and stomach acid production. Eat them often, like with every meal!
Bone broth is chock full of collagen and amino acids which help heal your gut lining and reduce inflammation. Enjoy by itself as a hot cuppa or use as a base in soups, curries and casseroles. Also great for skin, hair and joints.
If you’re vegan there are good alternatives out there – harness the power of Google and research vegan bone broth.
If all else fails at least adhere to the first three steps. Your gut will heal and your body will produce it’s own collagen, it’ll just take more time.
Eat your greens!
Yep, your mum was right. Vegetables with every meal and a small portion of protein.
Along with vitamins and minerals veggies are the best source of pre-biotics, a fancy word for ‘food for bacteria’.
Tip: Minimise raw vegetables. Veggies are a lot harder for us to digest when raw and our bodies don’t actually produce the enzyme Cellulase which helps us digest plant fiber properly – this is where our good gut bacteria come into play again.
These days there is a big focus on high fibre foods, like grains and legumes, however too much fibre tends to also feed bad bacteria which is not good if you have a gut full of them. Vegetables contain all the fibre you need.
There are lots of different ways to lose weight, but it’s best when weight-loss is a by-product of good health. You’ll be surprised at how fast things will improve for the better, often my clients were new people after just 3 weeks.
The old adage of ‘listen to your gut’ holds truth too. Once you are on track and losing weight, cravings are gone and you’re feeling good, tune into your body and honour it. Our bodies are not static machines and sometimes you may only need one or two meals a day. Or you may feel that a certain fat or food doesn’t agree with you. While these recommendations are great starting points, be open to flexibility and listen to your body.
Start with your gut and the rest will follow!