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How to stay motivated by feeding your Gut Health

Photo by Alicia Petresc 

How do you stay motivated in these challenging times? Have you thought about feeding your gut health?

 

Do you think of food as fuel for the body?

 

I didn’t for a very long time and yet when you stop and think about it that is exactly what it is. In this article I share a little about how important gut health is for mental health, not least motivation and stickability when things get tough.

 

Food as fuel for your body

Food is an emotive subject. I get it. Our society promotes and encourages a dysfunctional relationship with food. Our food environment is saturated with highly processed food that is designed to be addictive.

 

Food is really our source of energy, life, nourishment. Imagine setting out on a road trip of a thousand miles in a car. This is an adventure that you’ve been planning for a while. What would you do to get ready for the journey? You’d check the oil and water levels, you’d check the pressure of the tyres and you’d fill up the fuel tank.

 

Now imagine that you’d done all of the above but then realised that you put the wrong fuel in. This car runs on diesel, but at the petrol station you got distracted by a message on your phone and absentmindedly put in petrol. You’re not going to get very far before spluttering to a halt and needing to pay for recovery and draining the petrol out of the engine. Your road trip is delayed and your mood is somewhat soured by the mistake.

 

Eating enough during the day

This story is a metaphor for how we often treat our bodies. We set out on this adventure of life with lots of excitement planned and then expect our bodies to run on ‘fuel’ that just isn’t appropriate. Often (in my case) we fail to fuel it at all for long stretches because we’re so focused on our work.

 

 

I am amazed at the number of clients I see who struggle with both energy and weight gain and yet are expecting their bodies to run on very little fuel. I shouldn’t be surprised really, because I did the same for many years, frequently eating a paltry breakfast and skipping lunch only to crash around 3pm. I’m often working with clients on creating habits of eating more regularly in the day time so that they’re not starving by the evening.

 

The Gut-brain connection

Our whole digestive system, or ‘the gut’ as I’m referring to it for the rest of this article, is one of the most underrated parts of our bodies. Yet scientists are now referring to it as our ‘third brain’ because the health of our gut is so key to the health of our whole bodies. In case you’re wondering, the ‘second’ brain is the heart, although the gut has more neurons with the latest research indicating some 1400 human gut neurons.

 

For example, two feel-good chemicals that our bodies produce are serotonin and dopamine. Over 90% of our serotonin and over 50% of our dopamine are produced in the gut. Amongst others, these chemicals are responsible for making us feel good and happy. So if your gut health is not great, you’re going to feel pretty awful both mentally and physically.

 

Lack of motivation can be a sign of poor gut health

Most people are only too aware that when they’re really nervous about something, like a presentation or an exam, it impacts their toilet habits! It runs both ways though because if you’ve got an inflamed or unbalanced gut this can create and cause stress, anxiety and lethargy too.

 

There are several reasons for this, the key one being that our microbiome and our overall digestive system is directly linked to our brains by the vagus nerve. In reality, the systems aren’t just ‘interconnected’, they are one. We are one whole system. Scientists refer to this as the ‘gut-brain axis’. I talk more about this in a previous article so do read that article if you want more detail around the mechanisms.

 

To stay motivated try focusing on your gut health

In short, when you take care of your gut health, you are taking care of your whole body. If you’re wondering how to stay motivated try focusing on your gut health. You might just be amazed at the impact this has.

 

The busy person’s take-away? What, how and when we feed ourselves has a big impact on our stress and motivation levels. And the good news is that we have control over what we put in our mouths.

 

Eat real food

So, what can you do about it?

 

The short version is to eat real food, food that is closest to how it appears in nature. Our bodies are designed to process food in its most natural form and will peforrm best when given this raw ‘fuel’. A quick litmus test of this is to ask yourself, “would my great-great grandmother have been able to find this in her day?”.

 

The longer version? Change your diet so that fresh food makes up at least 80% of what you eat. As much as possible, avoid foods that appear in a bag or box or have more than five ingredients. Do a quick audit of what you eat and notice how often you follow this key principle. For most people it involves a big shift in diet and often a full overhaul.

 

Improving gut health – what has worked for others

Here are some of the things that have worked for me and some of my clients:

 

  • Go all out and do a transformational reset for 30 days. The hardest part of this is getting to the point of being committed to it. However, once clients have committed to this, often they find the clarity liberating.

 

  • Others find it easier to begin by cutting out just one food group that they realise isn’t doing them any good, such as sugar.

 

  • Get the whole family on board because going it alone is really hard. Clients who are single often find it helpful to have a coach, accountability buddy or friend to do it with them.

 

  • Taking back control of your food environment is another thing that is key to success. Personally, I can’t have crisps in the house as I know I’ll just eat them. I’m unlikely to make a special trip to the shops, but the temptation of snacking at 9pm on some salty crisps is just too much.

 

  • Finally, take stress seriously and aim to make it a priority to manage your stress levels for the sake of your gut health as well as your mental health. That gut-brain axis works both ways so the best diet in the world can’t outweigh a highly stressed lifestyle.

 

What small step will you take this week to look at your gut health and help yourself to stay motivated?

 

References

Carabotti et al . The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems, . 2015 Apr-Jun; 28(2): 203–209. Pubmed.

Drokhlyansky E. et al. The Human and Mouse Enteric Nervous System at Single-Cell Resolution.Cell. 2020 Sep 17;182(6):1606-1622 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32888429/

Stasi et al. The Relationship Between the Serotonin Metabolism, Gut-Microbiota and the Gut-Brain Axis. Curr Drug Metab. 2019;20(8):646-655. Pubmed.

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