There’s a lot of new research about our gut’s microbiome (aka the assemblage of various bacterias that live inside our intestines) as it pertains to our immune health, our mental health, our body fat percentage and our energy levels. Fortunately for many, the research is allowing people to figure out how to heal their insides, curing dysbiosis (that’s when the good and bad bacterias are not in harmony with each other), decreasing inflammation, lose unwanted pounds, and allowing them to live a better quality of life.
After my gut health woes (read about them here) I sought to heal my insides in hopes of also shedding some unwanted weight. Sounds like a simple fix, right? Today I want to talk about the process one goes through while healing, and how body composition will change potentially for the worse, (and it’s OK!), before it gets better. I hope this helps you and your journey.
I spent my early twenties chasing a lower body fat percentage. Trials and tribulations with fad diets catalyzed the quest, but by age 24 I began looking at the research, studying the science and thriving by way of counting calories. In bodybuilding especially, calories are king. I wrote articles about how to keep calories moderate, emphasizing the quantification of fats and oils in order to have a “diet” full of protein and carbs for weight lifting energy.
Not only were my clients doing well, I too nailed the goal! Abs of steel, legs I’d dreamed of and medals to prove it, everything fell into place! (Special thanks to calorie counting and protein powder). Until something went wrong.
If you’ve been following along, you know that whether it was life stress, antibiotics as a kid or adult, food sensitivities or lack of sleep, my gut health took a turn for the worse. Whatever was going on in my gut affected many areas of my well being– everything from belly discomfort and distention, being plagued with adrenal fatigue and anxiety, to unwanted weigh gain.
And in my quest to remedy my health, look better and feel better, it was really hard to not want to emphasize the “look” part of it the most. I grew more and more uncomfortable in my skin, midst trying to figure out *how* to heal.
When setting out to heal your gut, like anything you aim to conquer, you have to have one goal at a time, putting your best efforts into one basket. For instance, as a bodybuilder, I enjoyed getting stronger, however, I’d forgo the heavier set of deadlifts if I had to, while doing a #bikiniprep fat loss diet….. nutrition first!
While powerlifting competitively, I had to cut out extra Barry’s Bootcamp classes to save energy and enhance my recovery time between powerlifting workouts.
Flash forward to last summer and I struggled with this concept of “one thing at a time” greatly. I needed to get my body back, I needed to eliminate my brain fog and anxiety, I needed to clear up my skin, I needed to be able to eat a wider range of foods and feel OK.
To get my body back, I needed to eat less, train heavier, blah blah blah, while healing.
Right. I know. What should’ve happened? Healing, only.
I knew the right answer somewhere in the back of my head, but it took a while. After a breaking point, I leaned into my functional dietician’s advice, allowing myself to indulge in the calories… all of them! I promised myself that I’d sleep more, I’d worry less (okay, *try* to worry less), and try not to judge myself as weight crept on. The hard part? Even while taking steps forward, I’d experience bloating flare ups, making me look and feel even heavier, but still had to eat the calories. Healing my gut was going to be a bigger challenge for me than I realized! I’d later learn what a process it can be. Read on as I shed light on the gap between beginning to heal, and getting your body back.
Good and Bad cravings
When my journey began, I was hungry … all the time. It began with an addiction to sweeteners. They’d become my kryptonite so much so that I wouldn’t feel satisfied without the sweet zing on everything. If I had one diet coke, I wanted three more. if I had one coffee, I wanted more… Honey? Icing? I’d have a ton of it. Bananas, pineapple? Anything sweet left me with an insatiable desire for more.
With exorbitant amounts of sweeteners, lack of sleep and stress, bad bacteria had begun to over grow, unbeknownst to me. The bacterias were ones that feed on sugars, and thus made me crave them even more in a completely out-of-control manner. Sometimes I felt like someone else inside me was hungry, not me!
After a series of medications to kill some bad bacteria, I had to work really hard on taking out the sweeteners. This was a challenge because the cravings were compounded by adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue left me feeling hungry all the time– cortisol levels (a hormone which is produced by the adrenal glands) were ridiculously high, and studies have proved that high cortisol levels increase cravings for high sugar, high calorie foods.
At this point, I had increased desire for sugars and carbs, but no longer could I have the 0-cal, fake stuff, enter extra bananas, honey, salt and sweetned peanut butter.
Working with a coach, she advised me to eat the calories, my body was trying to heal from something, and if I was hungry? Eat. (Good fats and protein and veggies!)The other part about reducing the cravings, was that I had to work on healing adrenal fatigue, which can be done by resting more, and exercising less. I grew frustrated very fast, but made an effort to tone down my exercise intensity, take three rest days a week, and fuel with dark greens, portions and fats.
By August I’d done a stool test which showed dysbios, inflammation of the intestines, a bad bacteria called H pylori. Now I had proof that there was something really wrong inside and it was time to heal it. I cooled it on the sugar. I cut out the bananas. I got on a supplement that helped with absorption of food; upon consumption I began feeling full after meals. At least for a second– as my supplements began fighting off the bad bacterias, the hunger came back tenfold. I was constantly ravenous. I’d be eating a meal, wondering what else I could snack on. And my RD’s advice continued: you are healing, you need to eat; you need nutrients, listen to your body.
This far in, having proof that something was awry, I began to care less and less about my body composition. I felt annoyed that my bras didn’t fit and my thighs rubbed, but, I knew there was a reason for it. Slowly but surely, the cravings ceased.
Lesson: cravings are not normal. They will disrupt your body composition. If you feel out of control with cravings, it might mean there’s amore serious issue than body composition that you need to handle. And in the short term, your weight might increase, but that’s ok– read the next step for more assurance.
Eating fats and having “off” macros will not make you gain fat over night … and weight gain is a good sign!
As I began to increase my fat intake, I noticed more satiety from food, and better mood. It took time of consistently eating it, but soon enough, avocados, coconut oil, MCT oil in coffee, you name the fat– I ate it, and loved every bite. The feeling of fullness, the diverse and more flavorful meals, the vegetables without spray butter and the increased fiber made me really happy. I’d have regular bowel movements. I’d feel more energized after a meal. My bras got tight. My inner thighs puffed out, and my fat consumption continued.
Some days my protein was probably like a mere 18%…. is this ideal? Not really. However, my priorities became: eat the fats, eat the colors, fuel well. Not, count calories, limit fats, eat a ton of protein, processed or not.
My sports bras became tighter too, (ugh), jeans became a hassle (and not a fashion statement) and I dreaded seeing myself naked– which really let me down. However, it didn’t happen all at once. I hit my highest weight after 3-4 months of the entire process. It wasn’t until very, very recently that I was able to start watching my total caloric intake, as cravings are gone, energy is back up and bloating has decreased.
The plus of a high caloric diet is that I was abel to continue to exercise (moderately) through this process. My daily life is quite demanding as a fitness instructor, however, despite adrenal fatigue, the higher calories helped me sustain energy to be a productive human. Therefore while putting on fat, I do believe I gained some muscle. I have stamina, I have strength. Now as I proceed to work on eating less in coming months in order to get back to feeling like my more confident self, I don’t also have to tackle beginning a new gym routine.
Lesson: always put your (internal) health first. Losing or gaining weight doesnt happen over night and you’ll never be able to lose any weight if you don’t heal yourself, manage your stress, or find a healthy rhythm with your diet. Even if you put on 8 to 10 pounds like I did in about a year, in most cases you can still wear the same clothes, they just might fit a little bit tighter. And that weight gain is a sign of healing, if you know you’re taking the right steps with or without professional guidance.
Coming from the bodybuilding background, I’d base many of my bodily happenings on the scale. Weight up 3 pounds? It’s my period. Weight down? Dehydrated? Sick? What I didn’t realize is how much inflammation was impacting the scale. In the beginning of my journey I’d eat fewer calories to “fight” the scale increase, and get nowhere; my body was fighting me.
One thing to remember is that when HEALING nothing is “normal” in your body. Things will look and feel “off’ mainly because what going on inside is inflammation. Regardless of macros or calories, try to focus on eating an anti-inflammatory diet to combat the inflammation any way you can. Also consider doing a food sensitivities test with our partner, Kristin.
What can you do from the beginning to avoid the mistakes I made
Don’t judge yourself. Acknowledge your cravings, and ask your doctor or a functional nutritionist about them. (We have a partnership with Kristin Thomas of Thrive By Food!). Eat to feel satisfied and track what you ate, without guilt. It took me a while, but eventually I’d track “6 tbsp of peanut butter,” for the facts, not to judge myself. If you keep a journal it can help you notice progress as cravings diminish, your gut or adrenal fatigue heals, and you can have more insight into what might be causing you discomfort.
The moral of this story is that it’s true: gut health issues can cause weight gain directly or inadvertently; and healing your gut can help you lose weight eventually, but you might gain weight int he short term and WEIGHT GAIN IS A GOOD SIGN!! If you’re like me, you might get your period back, your skin all bright and shiny and mood in a better place.
If you’re reading this from the depths of the gut-healing struggle, remember, your health is the most important thing and you are a fighter. YOU CAN DO THIS. And, YOUR BODY FAT DOESN’T MATTER TO ANYONE. People who love you CARE about your mood, your energy, and your longevity in this life; healing your gut IS a care of theirs. I know it’s frustrating to feel like you’re clothes are tight, but it’s only temporary. You’re on the right track! If you need help, REACH OUT! We have a program to help you 🙂 Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re reading this with a super healthy gut, enjoy it! It does so many things for you (detoxes caffeine for you, it protects your from colds, it keeps you energized!)! It’s a brilliant think! Take care of it 🙂
Again, if you have questions, reach out!! YOU GOT THIS!