When it comes to gut health and health in general, usually nutrition and exercise comes to mind, but some other equally important pillars to health are often overlooked. The science is in and the evidence is undeniable. A more holistic approach to your health is the best way to achieve the results you desire.
You can’t heal your gut with diet alone if you have a high level of ongoing stress in your life. You can’t feel healthy and energized if you aren’t getting adequate sleep. So please read on to explore the pillars of health that contribute to keeping your gut in great shape with a flow on effect to all other areas of your health and your life.
Diet and nutrition
With all the fad diets and differing opinions about health and nutrition out there, it can be pretty confusing to know what you should be eating. You are also very individual and require different foods for your different body type and the make-up of your unique gut microbiome.
Getting a wide range of colourful fruits and vegetables, quality protein, healthy fats and fibre is a great place to start. Also ensuring that you are consuming enough resistant starch to keep those gut bugs happy. Resistant starch is a dietary starch that ‘resists’ digestion in the small intestine, leaving a fraction of the starch to pass through to the large bowel for your gut bugs to feast on. Great foods that have resistant starch include cooked and cooled rice, cooked and cooled potatoes, green bananas, jerusalem artichokes and uncooked oats, to name a few.
It’s always best to consult with an Integrative Practitioner who has a focus on nutrition, a Naturopath or Holistic Nutritionist if you are uncertain of what you need to eat. They can tailor a diet to suit you based on your particular symptoms and needs.
Exercise is not only good for cardiovascular health and keeping a healthy body weight, it’s amazing for a heap of other stuff too. When you exercise your body releases the feel good hormones dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. Serotonin helps regulate mood, endorphins give you that post-exercise high and dopamine has a similar effect creating feelings of pleasure. This helps to relieve stress and make you feel good.
Another healthy side effect of exercise is improved gut motility. If you have issues with constipation or a sluggish bowel, exercise can help get things moving. This means more frequent bowel movements, faster transit times and less fermentation of foods and holding on to toxins. Movement also helps to circulate both blood and lymph throughout the body. Blood brings fresh nutrients to the different part of our body and lymph carries the immune cells required for fighting infections.
Everyone requires a different amount of sleep to feel great but the usual 8 hours is a great place to start. It’s common in the post-partum years for a mother’s gut health to decline as the broken sleep stacks up and our bodies have less time to rest and repair. Obviously there’s not too much you can do in these early days of motherhood, but below are some tips to ensure your quality of sleep is optimized.
- Don’t watch blue light/screens for at least 1 hour prior to bed; 2 is even better (there are special blue blocker glasses and filters that can go over your screen if this is unavoidable).
- Don’t eat just before bed. It’s good to have an early dinner and let your food go down before heading off to bed.
- Meditate or journal to reduce those thoughts circling around your brain before your head hits the pillow.
- Try to keep the same bedtime and wake time where possible.
- Avoid caffeine after lunchtime.
- First thing in the morning, head out to get some sunshine to help with those circadian rhythms.
- Exercise daily.
To test to see if you are sleep deprived, Dr Michael Mosley has a great way to test the severity here. I’d love to hear about your results in the comments below.
How good do you feel after a walk along the beach, a bushwalk, having a picnic outdoors in a park or after time away camping? In fact, some doctors are now prescribing these activities to their patients.
Being outdoors is where us humans are naturally meant to be spending our time. Instead we are inside, in front of computer and TV screens and not enjoying the wonders of nature that we’re so fortunate to be graced with. Spending time in nature exposes us to a diverse range of microbes in the soil, on grass, sand, the ocean and streams. This diversity helps keep your skin and gut microbiome healthier.
The benefits of sunlight for a burst of vitamin D – the “sunshine hormone” – is great for energy levels, good for strong bones, muscles and overall health. We all should be getting a little bit of sun-induced vitamin D daily. Just ten minutes in the middle of the day is generally enough. If you are heading out for longer periods, then earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon is best.
Community, connection, family and friends
As humans we are wired for connection. If these needs aren’t being met, a piece of the health puzzle is missing. Mum friendships or connecting with people who can empathise with the daily challenges of motherhood can be great to offload and feel heard and understood. Listening to other Mums and lightening their load can feel good as well.
A recent study has revealed that cultures that are living the longest and are healthy into old age have frequent cross generational socialising and connection. So from great grandparents down to our babes, all in the same place, socializing, laughing, dancing, connecting and learning from our elders. The babes keep the great grannies young and the grannies share their wisdom with the younger family members. These people are also not obsessed with their health and on the green smoothie train. They enjoy most things in moderation.
Spending quality time with your immediate family unit is very important too. They say love is spelt T.I.M.E when it comes to our kids. Doesn’t it feel amazing when you actually forget about everything else in that moment and spend quality time with your kids?
Making time for a regular date night or walk along the beach or cup of tea or movie with your partner (if you have one, or besties if you don’t) really is imperative for long lasting healthy relationships. Those small moments of connection keep the relationship strong and help you get through the hard times.
Becoming mindful of your thoughts, seeing what’s triggering them and flipping them into a positive where possible, can be a great tool for reducing stress and anxiety. Putting your thoughts down in a journal can help you dump them from your brain and also help you to gain clarity on your situation. Giving your full attention to whatever you are doing at the time is another way to practice mindfulness.
Taking time to calm the mind and give it a break with meditation, either guided or on your own can improve your health and wellbeing. You can start off with just ten minutes a day and increase if you find little windows of time.The improvement can be felt very quickly so it’s worth taking the time and making it a habit. Some people achieve similar results from their favourite hobbies like surfing or craft, where they can lift their focus from daily life, and just be in the moment, enjoying the activity.
Practicing gratitude is another way to achieve greater happiness and satisfaction. In the moment that we are feeling gratitude, we can feel no other negative emotions. A simple practice is to think up 3 things you are grateful for first thing in the morning, and last thing at night before you go to bed. Or even just bring up three things you are grateful for at the dinner table and everyone gets a turn.
I hope I have shed some light on the many pillars of health that require effort and attention to living a quality, fulfilling and healthy life. I know it’s impossible to have them all balanced at once with the crazy roller coaster of motherhood. But having awareness and trying to carve out time for the things that will contribute to keeping you as healthy as possible and nourish your mind, body and soul is definitely something to aim for. Your gut will thank you for it.
Written by Meagan from The Gut Healing Community
Meagan from The Gut Healing Community is Mum to 3.5 year old Meika. Meagan had to learn the hard way about gut health as she navigated gut issues faced by Meika when she was a baby. It was a long and winding road but Meagan has gathered so much information and inspiration along the way that she wants to share. The Gut Healing Community has an amazing Support and Chat group on Facebook where there is a team of experts to help you out on your own journey, whether you are just beginning or some way down the track. Find out more about the Gut Healing Community Facebook Support and Chat Group here in our directory.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is intended as a general educational aid. It should not replace advice given by a qualified healthcare provider in relation to your own unique circumstances and those of your family. Always consult your doctor regarding medical or mental health concerns that you or your family may have.