I work with a lot of people that are seemingly healthy, but struggle to lose those last few pounds. Most often, they lack energy (and rely on coffee), have occasional skin issues, and/or digestive issues. That’s when I usually suspect that its related to their hormones. The problem then becomes that most doctors just treat these hormonal imbalances by prescribing synthetic hormones, instead of trying to figure out WHY their hormones are off in the first place. (For ex., you have acne, so you get prescribe the pill). And what I have learned, and want to share with you today, is that almost always, when there is any hormonal imbalance, there is an issue with the gut.
A crucial step to achieving optimal health, and healing from the inside out, is improving your gut health.
How do you know if you have gut issues? If you have any occasional bloating, gas, tummy aches, loose stools or constipation (you’re not eliminating fully at least once a day), then chances are you have excess “bad bacteria” in your gut and not enough “good bacteria” (which is VERY common). This bad bacteria (often related to parasites or candida overgrowth) produce toxins which harm your gut, and have many implications in all of your body.
When it comes to your hormones, an unhealthy gut affects your body’s ability to produce the right quantity of hormones - including cortisol, thyroid hormone and sex hormones. For starters, a healthy gut is needed to fully absorb and metabolize nutrients from the foods you eat, which are necessary for the proper production of hormones (and for stress reduction!).
Also, an imbalanced gut can interfere with your body's ability to receive signals from your brain indicating to produce more (or less) of certain hormones.
On top of that, a gut infection causes additional stress on your body.
And if you're stressed and your hormones are off (for example, you're producing too much cortisol and/or not enough thyroid), this contributes to symptoms such as: weight gain, anxiety, fatigue, as well as imbalances in your sex hormones, menstrual health and infertility. Plus, it can worsen any digestive and/or skin problems.
So what can you do to improve your gut health and achieve hormonal balance, get more energy, better skin, stronger immunity, and weight loss?
Here are my 10 favorite tips to improve your gut health:
- Eat more probiotic-rich foods. Add fermented foods to your daily diet (preferably from organic sources), such as cultured veggies (sauerkraut, kimchi), cultured dairy (yogurt, kefir), fermented tea (kombucha) and fermented soy (miso, tempeh, natto); this is a practice that has been in many cultures place for thousands of years! Good quality probiotic supplements are also extremely helpful (message me for more tips here).
- Eat more fiber-rich, whole foods filled with "prebiotics" (that feed the good bacteria). Examples include: leeks, garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, avocados, whole grains (ideally soaked/sprouted, including sprouted grain toast), peas and soybeans (preferably organic), and fermentable fibers from starches like sweet potatoes/yams/yucca.
- Cut back on foods that harm your gut and feed the “bad bacteria”:
- Processed foods
- Sugar and all white starches/flours (that quickly convert into sugar, and spike your blood sugar)
- Bad fats (a high fat diet kills the good bacteria)
- Caffeine and alcohol (at least try to limit these!)
- Manage your stress. A few ways to do this include: avoid multi-tasking and take things step by step (attack your to-do list 1 by 1!), organize your days (schedule your day the night before), tap into your spiritual practice (incorporate yoga, meditation and/or prayer into your routine), and prioritize activities that make you feel happy and relaxed.
- Eat a diet that supports your individual constitution. Try eliminating the foods that irritate your gut (such as gluten, dairy and soy; contact me for more on discovering your food sensitivities), and eat lots of the foods that give you energy and stabilize your blood sugar (I always suggest including some healthy fats, organic protein and nutrient-dense veggies in every meal, but the specific amounts and selection of fats/proteins varies depending on your individual constitution, including your activity level and even blood type!)
- Allow time for proper digestion. Leave at least 2-3 hours between meals/snacks, and avoid eating anything 2-3 hours before going to bed.
- Chew your food thoroughly. Take the time to eat in a calm environment, always sitting down, and chewing each bite until its almost liquid before swallowing.
- Pay attention to food combining rules, and do your best to apply them, especially at night. For the most part, try to avoid: combining proteins with starches, or mixing different proteins, and fruits are best eaten on an empty stomach and alone (or with small amounts of "fatty proteins" such as sprouted nuts/seeds). Almost everything goes well with low-starch veggies.
- Apply the 80/20 rule. I suggest applying it in 3 ways. One, always eat until you're 80% full (avoid over-stuffing yourself). Two, aim for 80% of your plate to be plant-based (only 20% be animal protein or starches, following the food combining principles as much as possible); Three, follow all of the above suggestions at least 80% of the time!
- Find out if you have any intestinal infections / pathogens such as parasites or candida overgrowth, and work with a functional medicine doctor and/or knowledgeable health coach to treat these.
So before popping more pills to "solve" your hormonal imbalances (or relying on fad diets to jumpstart weight loss), I suggest you first tap into your gut (aka microbiome). Apply these 10 general tips to strengthen your gut health, and start tuning in to which foods support your digestion, energy, skin, and consequently, your hormones. Remember there is a strong connection, and a healthy gut and balanced hormones are your key to a healthy, balanced life!