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Is ‘Leaky Gut’ really a thing?

If you’ve spent any amount of time in a conversation with me about nutrition, chances are you’ve heard me refer to something called ‘Leaky Gut’. I remember when I was interviewing nutrition schools/programs a few years ago, and one of the admissions counselors brought it up and the term just sounded so elementary to me. ‘Leaky Gut’- boy, that’s scientific, seems legit. And as I embarked on my educational journey to becoming a nutrition therapist, I heard the term everywhere I turned, and the more I learned about it, its causes, its symptoms, and how to treat it, my nutritional world exploded.

What IS leaky gut?

Frankly, leaky gut is simply another name for intestinal permeability. It’s a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged, allowing undigested food particles, toxic waste, and bacteria to literally leak through the lining of your gut and in to your blood stream. When these foreign substances enter your blood, it causes an autoimmune response in your body including inflammation and allergic reactions like migraines, irritable bowel, eczema, chronic fatigue, food allergies, and a ton of autoimmune issues like psoriasis and arthritis. What’s more is that it’s estimated that 80% of us have leaky gut, which is a HUGE issue when you (and you may not know this) between 70-80% of our immune system tissue is located in your gut… let that sink in. 8 out of 10 people have leaky gut, and about ¾ of our entire immune system is located in our gut. It is the year 2019, we are more technologically advanced than ever before, and as a society we are more sick than we’ve ever been. Given these facts, it’s my personal opinion that leaky gut is the root cause for the majority of the illnesses we face (including depression) AND the top reason I will always recommend that you start following an anti-inflammatory diet as your first step to improved health. You cannot make significant improvements to your health until to you fix the foundation for it, and to do that you must heal your gut.

What causes Leaky Gut?

In most cases, leaky gut is caused by a poor diet. Common food ingredients like soy, dairy, SUGAR, gluten- largely found in highly processed foods, play a factor in developing leaky gut. Additionally, if you’ve taken antibiotics, steroids, over-the-counter pain medications like aspirin or acetaminophen, you’re a high risk too! All of these can cause irritation in your gut that upset the balance of healthy bacteria, eroding the safe mucous layers and eventually causing intestinal permeability. And before I forget, STRESS is a contributing factor as well. Stress is by far the single biggest toxin to our bodies, even more than sugar, and it causes our bodies to elicit such a strong inflammatory response that over time, we just simply break down. We’re tired all the time, we’re sick all the time, and it just seems like we can’t dig ourselves out of that cycle. Our medications only treat the symptom, not the root cause.

How do I know if I have Leaky Gut?

Well, for starters, if you’re breathing right now there’s a high likelihood that you have it. ☺ All jokes aside though, here are 10 common signs that you have leaky gut:

1. Chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas, or bloating
2. Nutritional deficiencies
3. Poor immune system
4. Headaches, brain fog, memory loss
5. Excessive fatigue
6. Skid rashes and problems like acne, rosacea, or eczema
7. Cravings for sugar or carbs
8. Arthritis or joint pain
9. Depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD
10. Autoimmune disease such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, celiac or Crohn’s Disease

Read this list and really think about how any of these symptoms may apply to you. Being sick all the time (toddler in daycare or not) is NOT normal. Being excessively tired (OK- having a toddler might be a pass on this one) is NOT normal. Irregular bowel movements and gas are NOT normal. I’m not highlighting any of these as a way to shame anyone if you do suffer from any of these, but I do want you to know that these are NOT normal and they shouldn’t be things that you’ve just come to live with and accept as symptoms of getting older or being an adult. You deserve to feel good and you absolutely can take control of your health by paying attention to the food you eat, managing your stress levels, and paying close attention to the medications your doctor prescribes you.

OK- I think I have leaky gut, now what can I do to heal it?

If you believe you have leaky gut and let’s be honest, the odds are ever in your favor that you do, you absolutely can support healing through a series of lifestyle changes. NOTE: I’m not saying a diet, I’m saying lifestyle. BIG difference. A lifestyle is designed to set you up for long-term success, long-term health.

To start, I highly recommend eliminating gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Now, I know that most of you will read this list and say ‘I’m out’ and not consider going any further than reading this blog. But hear me out. You’re an adult and you’ve likely spent a good amount of your adult years feeling like crap. Give your body time to heal, and give this a try for 4 weeks and see how you feel. Brain fog lifted? Bloating reduced? Give yourself 4 weeks of just that and see how you feel. I’m definitely not saying that you can’t ever eat a donut or that you can’t enjoy your favorite cocktail, I’m saying it takes time for your body to heal. You’ve eaten and lived a certain way for years, and it will take time to reverse the damage and get you feeling whole again. You can do this.

If you suffer from a number of the symptoms on the list above, I highly recommend at a minimum that you eliminate the ingredients above in addition to adding supportive foods and supplements to your diet such as: healthy fats (coconut, avocado, and fish oils), a good probiotic to restore gut balance, and L-Glutamine to support intestinal wall repair.

If you lead a super stressful life, learn to devote some time to de-stressing… whether that be weekly massages, meditation, acupuncture, long hot baths, or hiking in the outdoors- do the things that help you calm your mind, calm your body, and feed your soul. Whatever that is, do more of it.

As always, I am more than happy to help answer any questions you may have about leaky gut. This blog post just scratches the surface, but I’m always here to support and empower you to improved health, one better bite at a time.

Why a ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ mindset doesn’t work with diets

Could you imagine if we walked into Nordstrom and were offered one style and size of shoe, say a 6” stiletto in a size 7? Or what about going to get a bathing suit and only being given the option of a bikini in a size 2?

Quite frankly, this sounds like hell on earth to me.

So that begs the question, why do we approach diets as if one specific diet is the best diet for everyone? Keto, Mediterraneon, Whole30, Atkins, Vegan, Raw, Paleo, Vegetarian, Weight Watchers, The Zone, Southbeach… OR you HAVE to follow a 40/30/30 macro profile to lose weight… You get the gist. There are SOOO many ‘diets’ out there that come and go and while they’re a trend, a lot of folks will swear on the Bible that their diet is superior and YOU should follow it… and when you do, you inevitably compare yourself to others who’ve gone through it and if your results aren’t as great as someone else’s then you resolve to throwing in the towel and going back to your old habits. Sound familiar?

I’ll never forget when I first moved to Washington, D.C. back in 2007. I was still going through my cervical cancer recovery and autoimmune diagnoses and trying to figure out how to feel human again. I got a job working at the International Economic Development Council just around the corner from the White House (which, to me at the time, was the coolest), and I met a gal there who, to me, was #goals. She was a vegan. We would go out to lunch together and I’d try what she was eating and it was good. So I decided that being a vegan was right for me too. I’ll never forget one day when our boss insisted on treating us to lunch at his favorite restaurant, Bobby Van’s, a well-known steakhouse in D.C. The only ‘vegan’ option on the menu at the time was a side of broccoli without butter… I’m not kidding, they brought out an ENTIRE HEAD of steamed broccoli on a plate, with a steak knife. To say that was entertaining for everyone at the table would be an understatement, but I happily dug in knowing that my vegan friend was also enjoying the same thing and clearly what worked for her would work for me too and I’d lose unwanted weight and be healthier than ever. *Sidenote: She also smoked cigarettes like a chimney, glad I didn’t take up that habit.

During my 18 months as a vegan, Trader Joe’s became my best friend. I mean, he’s still pretty much one of my BFF’s but with all of the affordable vegan options at Trader Joe’s, I felt like he just made my life so much easier. I could browse the aisles (yes, I said aisles) to pick out the very best vegan processed foods I could find. My coworkers would affectionately call my vegan chicken breast “ficken” (fake chicken), and I felt like I was really on the top of my game because, after all, I was a vegan. During that time I gained weight, felt hungry all the time, my skin was awful, energy was non-existent, and I continued to battle with my health as my psoriasis was worse than ever AND I had to have 3 more biopsies during those 18 months. Then I met and started dating my husband, an avid hunter and lover of all things meat and potatoes. He tried my vegan concoctions and liked some of them, and I slowly tried some of the food he ate and I noticed a substantial change in how I felt after eating things like wild game. And I’m not saying that all meals were 100% processed for me, but the majority of my plate was processed… I realized I needed to figure out something new for ME that would help me feel good. Alas, Veganism didn’t make me look like my old co-worker and I was downright mad that it didn’t.

Now, I, personally, eat a whole-foods based diet that most would consider “Paleo”. That means foods that are foraged and easily eaten with minimal cooking, like how our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. It consists of meat, veggies, some fruit, nuts, healthy fats, etc… It’s pretty easy for me, and I love how it makes me feel. I’m healthier than I’ve been my whole life, and it works for ME. It’s anti-inflammatory too, which means I can easily manage my autoimmune disease while preventing other chronic diseases that are so common when consuming the Standard American Diet (SAD). It’s also a big part in why I choose to hunt for elk every year and harvest a purely organic, free-range animal for myself and my family- but we’ll save that story for another place and time.

The Ketogenic Diet is wildly popular at the moment, and so I often get asked my thoughts on the diet and people want to dive in feet first because they saw someone on Instagram lose 150 lbs in 4 months doing Keto… First of all, Keto is not new. It’s been used by the holistic community for years to help treat Type 2 Diabetes and Cancer… why? Because the diet is specifically designed to lower and maintain stable insulin levels in your body, which in turns help Type 2 Diabetics reduce their need for insulin and Cancer patients are able to literally starve their tumors because Cancer feeds on glucose… this is greatly simplifying the process, but Keto is shown very effective in suppressing both diabetes and cancer. This diet gets your body into a Ketogenic state, which means your body switches from using glucose for energy to using ketones as energy, which essentially means your body uses fat for energy (hence the weight loss). It means you’re consuming about 80% of your calories every day from fat, it should NOT mean you’re sitting around eating bacon and spoonfuls of butter. Yes, I’ve done Keto (I literally experiment with every diet so I’m more informed how to coach clients through one IF it’s one that fits their individual situation) and while I did like it, there are just some of those days where you really crave an apple or a sweet potato.

The point that I’m trying to make here is that there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to a particular diet. What works for you may not work for someone else, and that’s OK. I will add, however, that if you choose a diet that encourages processed foods that that specific diet creates and endorses (read: Jenny Craig, Isagenix, Atkins, Weight Watchers, South Beach), then I encourage you to step away and focus on REAL food. Keep it simple. When people ask for my advice about what diet they should do, my answer is always the same (and vague at the same time). Anti-inflammatory. I hope that becomes the dietary buzzword of the year. #antiinflammatory  🙂 Simply implementing anti-inflammatory principals in to your diet, which EVERYONE can benefit from, is a great place to start. Inflammation leads to obesity, hormone imbalance, chronic illness and disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disease, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease… the list goes on and on. The best part of incorporating anti-inflammatory elements in to your diet is that it’s simple, and you can pick and choose which ones work for YOU and which ones don’t.

Here’s an easy breakdown of how you can get started on an anti-inflammatory ‘diet’:

DO

  • Add anti-inflammatory foods to your diet like cold-water fish, berries, tree nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, and other whole, real foods.
  • Include more organic food in your life (Costco has a great selection!)
  • Increase fiber in your diet (read: WHOLE FOODS)
  • Take a probiotic supplement
  • Switch to healthy fats like Avocado Oil, Coconut Oil, Olive Oil

ELIMINATE

  • Reduce your sugar intake
  • Cut out junk food and fast food (this food does not serve you)
  • Throw out stale food, including poor cooking oils like vegetable or canola oils
  • Reduce salt intake
  • Reduce trans fat intake
  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol

Per usual, you won’t find me saying that you need to do ALL of these at once. But take some time to sit back and evaluate your current eating patterns. Make a list of the things you regularly consume and how they make you feel. Do those foods make you feel good and give you energy, do they serve you? Or do they leave you feeling fatigued or mentally groggy? From there, evaluate the lists above to see which elements you want to incorporate and then give them a try. Small changes over a period of time lead to bigger results and set you up for better success at truly making this a LIFESTYLE change, and not just a diet. It’s OK for your progress to be slow, it’s OK for your journey to look different than someone else’s. Take ownership of your own health and focus on you. When you turn the focus on yourself and away from comparing yourself to others, that’s when the change happens.

As always, happy to answer any questions you may have about any particular diet of interest, and as always I’ll give you my 100% honest opinion. Diets have their time and place, and most often we don’t need a ‘diet’, we need a lifestyle reset.

What is ‘Nutrition Therapy’, anyway?

There seems to be a lot of confusion out there about what Nutrition Therapy is and how it’s different from being a dietician. The biggest differences between the two are the educational/licensing requirements and the overall approach with our patients/clients.

For starters, Registered Dietitians typically complete both undergrad and graduate programs that have been accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They also have to complete a supervised practice program, pass a national exam, and then complete ongoing professional education requirements. They obtain a ton of formal training on nutrition (obviously), and usually go on to work in medical and health-care settings.They are licensed to practice in every state and most insurance companies will cover the cost of an RD.

Nutrition Therapists typically obtain a masters level certification, no undergraduate degree in nutrition required. We study clinical and holistic nutrition, in addition to a lot of other disciplines. We do a ton of research and work on a number of real-life case studies, and we apply the principles learned in school in our own homes.This graduate level certification usually takes about 2 years to obtain, with varying degrees of coursework and employment opportunities. Nutrition Therapists aren’t allowed to practice in every state and, depending on the state, our fees typically have to be covered directly by the patient and aren’t covered by insurance. Over time, with continued education, practice hours, and taking an exam, a Nutrition Therapist can become board certified by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals, an organization designed to further awareness of holistic nutritionists.

Now, you may be thinking, ‘Why are you telling us this Janelle? This makes you seem less qualified than an RD to work with people.’ I get that a lot… but I don’t believe that the education and licensing makes me any less qualified to work with you. I realize that I may not have the extensive education of an RD, but my education was also vastly different than theirs, and my approach is different too. Historically, the perspectives of reductionism and holism have been the biggest differing factors between dietitians and nutritionists. Reductionism in healthcare encourages practitioners to treat the symptom to bring comfort to a patient, whereas holism is the practice of finding and addressing the actual cause of the symptom in addition to providing relief of the symptom. A holistic approach is definitely not a quick fix solution as it looks to support the body in healing itself. Think of it as more of a total health overhaul, with complete balance of mind, body, and spirit as the ultimate goal. That’s why you’ll see me posting content on social media that extends beyond vitamins and recipes, your mind and spirit play a huge part in your in your overall health and well-being. Your mind and energy gives a lot of power to the food that you eat too, and it’s incredibly important to know that nutrition really does extend far beyond what you simply put on your plate and in your body.

When considering a nutrition professional to work with, be upfront about what your goals are and the approach of the professional you’re considering working with. If you have different beliefs, you may want to work with someone else. I know that I, personally, am not a fit for everyone and that’s OK, but I’m more than happy to help you determine what may work best for you. It all comes down to what your goals are and how you want to go about achieving them. Both are qualified in the field, both are passionate in serving others to improved health, we just took different paths to get there and have different approaches. ☺

New year, BETTER me: Conquering the ‘Resolution’ Mindset

Anyone else out there think New Years’ Resolutions are a bunch of poo? I do. Have for some time now but never came out and said it like this before. I remember back in college when I actually went to the gym (I workout at home now) and every year in January you’d literally have to put your name on a list and stand in line just to use an elliptical. Seriously, so effing annoying when you knew a month later the majority of those people will have given up on their resolutions to get in shape and be back in their dorms eating Doritos.

Why don’t New Year’s Resolutions work? Personally, I think it’s because of the mindset around them. Like they’re something you need to accomplish as fast as you can so that you can go back to whatever behavior you had in place before you worked on accomplishing your resolution. Once you accomplish them, you check it off the list and go back to the same A-hole things you did before. So instead of approaching a resolution with a “New Year, New Me” kind of mindset, why not think about the fact that you have 365 individual opportunities to just make yourself better over the course of the year? One day at a time, one step at a time, one bite at a time. Are you gonna get off track at some point? Probably. But the cool thing is that you get the chance to start over and do better, BE better, every single day.

A lot of people like to kick off the New Year with a goal to lose weight. GREAT! How are you gonna do that? Most think they have to go ‘all in’, balls to the wall, in order to achieve that… how effective is that in the long run? You end up hating the food you eat, usually borderline starving yourself. You overwork yourself in the gym and tire out your body to the point of exhaustion. And you end up giving up because you come to a point where you’re tired and overwhelmed with the amount of work it’s taking for you to reach your goal. What if you just made one simple improvement week over week over the course of the year to get you to where you want to be? It could be starting your first week out trying to each whole foods, or simply trying to consume 8 glasses of water in a day for a whole week straight. Then, the following week, try waking up earlier so you can start your day with a workout. These changes don’t have to be monumental by any means, but small, consistent changes over a long period of time will add up to big changes in the end and it’s a much more effective means to getting you to reach your goals. And this doesn’t have to just be focusing on losing weight or getting in shape, you can apply the same principles to financial, relationship, and career goals too!

I am personally committed to ending 2019 in a much better place than where I started it. It doesn’t mean that I’m starting off in a poor place, I just want to be better at the end of this year than what I am right now in this moment. I want to be stronger, healthier, happier. I want to build my nutrition therapy practice and serve more people to empowered and improved health. I want to educate and empower people to improve their decisions around better skincare and how that all impacts their health and their families health. And I want to be a better spouse to my cute little husband because he deserves that. And how am I going to do that? Well, for starters, I’m telling all of you reading this right now… nothing like publicly stating your goals for some accountability. I’ve written all of these down, with greater detail, and I’ve put them in a place where I can see and visualize my goals every single day. I’m going to check in with myself every single month to see how I’m tracking toward my goals, and I’m going to be 100% honest with myself and all of you.

2019 is gonna be a great year- what are your goals and what are you going to do to make them happen?