Defining, comparing and judging our “health” / “fitness level” by way of stomach appearance (i.e. having visible ab muscles) has always been kind of funny to me. And to a point, I get it. The tummy is a very common place to store body fat, so if we have abs, then we have no fat, right?
And beyond funny, (considering we can store fat other places), it’s also intimidating for me and you, I’m sure. Growing up as a kid who stored all my body fat in the gut region and dealt with digestive problems, (thanks antibiotics and steroid for asthma treatment), I was not only mortified of my “unfit” belly, dreaming of someday being able to rock a sports bra, but constantly uncomfortable in that region.
After experimenting with the Whole 30, paleo eating and more, I began to study nutrition as a hobby, (no, I am not a licensed Dietician), and for a while I was obsessed with super food consumtpion, high fat diets and more. But still was unable to get “abs” or to the body I wanted.
After college I attacked my passion with education and eventually got the Precision Nutrition certification that allowed me to help others achieve their fat loss goals as well.
I knew that ample protein would support my lean muscle mass, I knew that calories were KING and I created my own personal #Daretoeat Program to follow, in order to step on stage and rock a bikini… something that young Garrett with cellulite tummy would’ve never thought was possible. Flash forward and I realized my dreams of looking as “fit” as culturally agreed upon.
But, I ignored a lot of signs just before the end of my first competition. And after winning second place, I decided to compete again.
I thought that maybe I’d developed Celiac along the way (more than five family members have it), and that I simply wasn’t blessed with healthy digestive health. I was constipated most days of the week, suffering from severe distention (I’ll save those photos for a later article) and chronic fatigue.
But I still thought it was in my head, or I just wasn’t hashtag-blessed. So I drank more (fizzy) water, had spinach in my shakes and committed to remembering my probiotic in January 2017.
But I my symptoms worsened, I had ear infections, long-lasting colds and coughs and yeast infections I could not kick. I was really tired every day. Granted I do get up at 3:30 a.m., my energy levels were not how they once were. I kept going. My primary care physician would not get me to a gastro doctor until I begged a new physician to do it, and once there, they tried to turn me away, “Every woman has bloating,” she said.
But beyond horrible fatigue, feeling foggy brained and feeling like no amount of caffeine or sleep would fix it, my belly wouldn’t deflate and I started getting anxiety. Hormonally, many signs were masked, because I have an IUD, and its job is to regulate things. But I still felt cramps when I shouldn’t and emotional all the time.
Thankfully, I had an extreme motivator (besides my mom) by my side who pushed m to ask for help and answers. My boyfriend is not only very keen on his health, but proactive with mine. I went back to the gastro doc, who put me on a horrible antibiotic last July. It helped kill the bad bacteria in my gut in the short term, which allowed me to use the restroom on a consistent basis. However, she forgot to mention that the side effects of the die-off are terrible– it made me feel like I had the flu for 21 days. Worse, after the antibiotic I still didn’t know the following:
- Should I be on an elimination diet? Should I eat Gluten-Free
- Why am I so exhausted every day? (Sometimes I got tired walking from the bedroom to the kitchen)
- Why do I look six months pregnant most days?
- Why am I have cold flashes and anxiety?
- What foods should I eat/avoid?
- Do I continue with an elimination diet forever?
- Why can’t I kick these infections?
My quality of life was like a three out of 10 day-to-day and so I went back to my gastro doctor to follow-up. I walked in with that exact bulleted list. Her response was, “Life is hard.”
Jeff pushed me not to give up. Therefore, I went back to my MD, and told her I wanted another referral, a second opinion, or help from her, going through the bulleted list again.
Her response was, “There will be ups and downs, I think Dr. **** was right.”
Through tears I left the office and realized this was going to be on me. Taking it into my own hands, like one of my bodybuilding idol’s has mentioned, I pulled on my big girl pants and try to self-heal….
…..Until an old college sorority sister reached out and offered help (she’s an angel!).
Since then I’ve been working with her and I’m on a serious protocol with supplements. I will mention them later, but my goal in sharing this is not to tell you to “eat this, not that,” or “take this supplement” because in all of this I’ve learned how unique each of our microbiome’s truly are. I’m sharing my story in hope that you too can shift your mindset towards nutrition the way mind has been shifted.
Over the course of the next several weeks I’m going to share parts of what I’m doing and offer facts about why I’m doing it and why it helps me for a few reasons.
- You are NOT alone in this, as Bridgitte said, things like SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) are an epidemic, and you must take them seriously
- Something as simple as hearing that being constantly distended every day might motivate you to seek help too
- I’ve undergone some serious mindset shifts about how I look at food, and they might help you with regards to food selection, recipe ideas, and promote better overall health.
Today I want to start with “signs you shouldn’t ignore” with regards to gut health.
For starters, I’ve said this in several articles, but, it seems like so many people want to lose five pounds. Like, all of their problems would be solved if they were leaner. It also just so happens that most people (*cough* perfectionists like me) seeking to lean out are highly motivated individuals starting from a low body fat already. Starting from a “fit” point with aims to get more shredded is not only very difficult, it is not always the best choice for your long term health.
Dieting means reducing calories (and at Crossroads of Fitness we specialize in helping people reduce calories in the most moderate safe way, to avoid severe issues); but if you are someone like me who was lean trying to get serious ab definition for a bodybuilding stage, when you reduce calories fats typically drop because they are higher in calories per gram, and sometimes hard to be moderate with, (i.e. spoon to the peanut butter jar!). For women especially, this is dangerous as fats play a role with our brain health and hormones.
This brings me to my first point: how “whole” is your diet?
I’m not talking about doing the Whole 30, because being overly militant with anything can have bad psychological effects, however, when dieting, if you notice you’re not eating enough colors, and all macros, something is bound to go wrong. It’s so easy with all the yummy protein bars out there to want to only eat those, but you have to make sure you are still getting fiber from whole foods and consuming vegetables, fruits and eating packaged foods in moderation.
Confession: the longer I ate protein bars, the more I *only* wanted to eat protein bars. The erithytol in the bars was addictive and it fed certain bacterias in my body.
We all have our own microbiome which is as unique as a fingerprint. Each of our microbiomes has it’s only perfect harmony of the levels of good bacterias that work for us. When I continued to put truvia in coffee and meals, have snack bars with erythritol, drink diet drinks and powders it fed some of the bacteria in my body which made it out of sink of where it should be.
Point number two: how much sleep are you getting?
Getting sleep is crucial for general health, but even more, if you think you might be fighting something or having stomach issues, it becomes even more important for the healing process. As a 5 a.m. teacher who rises at 3:30 a.m. I needed to start prioritizing an 8-8:30 bedtime. The problem? I didn’t start until it was almost too late, and no amount of sleep helped me, at least not in the beginning of my haling journey.
Confession: I was only sleeping 3-5 hours a night, as Bridgitte taught me, the first four hours of sleep are for physical restoration, and the second four hours are for mental restoration and processing.
This brings me to my third and final point today: How is your mental state?
I must admit, I was never fully able to emphathize with people who struggle with anxiety until very recently. I don’t get nervous unless I felt the fun endorphins you get right before a speech or performance. But, with lack of sleep, lots of work stress and the dysbiosis in my gut (meaning the bacteria were out of that unique balance/harmony), I started feeling moody more often than when PMSing. Then, I started feeling like I was dreaming during the afternoon sometimes. It was had to focus. I wouldn’t say I felt depressed, but my mood was more negative than positive.
Confession: sometimes I felt like I couldn’t still my thoughts. My wheels were constantly turning like they were on overdrive. This made falling asleep at night more difficult and work flow during the day nearly impossible.
If you feel like your mind is going a mile a minute it may be trying to tell you something. If it feels foggy you might need a nutrient you don’t know you’re missing.
This article is not meant to scare anyone or pity myself. This is “entry one” into a series I feel compelled to share; if I can positively affect one person and let them know they are not alone.
Also, I’m here to say that this is NOT a quick fix; like fat loss, it takes time. After going through this for more than 16 weeks, I think it takes much more time than fat loss. And more importantly, fat loss cannot be the focus if you may be going through any of these things. If you are gaining weight or losing weight unintentionally it could also be a sign that something is wrong in your gut, so instead of feeling frustrated, try to show your body some compassion and check in on the three things above before putting yourself on a diet or killing it in the gym.
Lauren and I are committed to making sure out fat loss clients are safe and now have a very serious gut health and hormonal health check-list for all #DTE clients. Next week I’ll be discussing the “Mindset Shift” I’ve undergone from focusing on an exterior “fit” to an internal health mindset.
Stay tuned and feel free to email me with any questions. I will mention again, I am not a registered dietician and cannot help any indiviuals the way that my professional, registered dietician has helped me. However my email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you need to vent, and Bridgitte’s email is Bridgitte@bostonfunctionalnutrition.com