Not too long ago, I had an Instagram follower ask if I’d ever experienced any digestive issues and if so, how I’ve coped. Upon sharing my response, I received many messages asking me to elaborate, as it’s a topic so many of us can identify with.
It was then that I realized I haven’t discussed my personal digestive healing journey on the blog or Instagram, mainly because it’s not something I battle daily any longer – praise be! But for years I struggled with chronic constipation, causing me to rely on stimulant laxatives, herbal teas or just about anything to get things goin’ – ugh.
Not only did these likely do more harm than good, but they also helped perpetuate the anxiety related to my bowel movements (I mean, who has time for that?!), an unhealthy dependence on these remedies and a fear of travel or anything that might make my already upside-down digestion even worse.
Yet I’m happy to say that over time I’ve both identified habits that needed to be broken as well as uncovered simple but effective lifestyle changes that helped me heal from within.
Before I get any deeper, I want to preface with the fact that this is my experience with my body. Digestive issues are incredibly complex and bio-individual, and I highly recommend you consult with your doctor regarding any allergies, food sensitivities or conditions you might have that could be influencing your own personal digestive health.
Luckily, I don’t suffer from any of the above (that I know of), and I found that I was able to heal my gut and improve my digestion through simple diet and lifestyle modifications. I hope my story and tidbits help you to do the same!
A bit more background…
All of our bodies are unique, and given my family history, I understand that I’m likely predisposed to some of these issues to a certain extent. But I began to really battle constipation in college when I likewise went through periods of calorie counting and overexercising as well as just an overall challenging relationship with food and my body.
Looking back, I now understand that the stress I felt from my competitive college environment (and then corporate work environment after that) and the personal pressure I put on myself to be and look “perfect” (sigh) absolutely contributed to the flair in my digestive issues. We’ll dig into this more in a bit!
In addition to this heightened anxiety, during this phase of my life I wasn’t eating a very wide variety or large enough quantity of foods to properly feed my good gut bacteria and keep things moving down there.
I’d often go days without any sort of bowel movement, a reality that only worsened when I traveled or was out of my typical routine. Because of this, it was recommended that I begin taking an herbal laxative tea called Smooth Move, which, initially, really helped.
Yet I soon found myself using this every. single. night for years just to go to the bathroom the next day. First of all, a healthy teenage/young adult shouldn’t be so reliant on stimulants in the first place, and I now realize what a negative, messed up roll this played in the diet culture I was perhaps unknowingly engaging in.
Sometimes this tea would create a normal bowel movement (yay) but often it instigated pretty severe diarrhea, which is not only painful but damaging to the lining of the gut over a protracted amount of time. This might be TMI, but it’s the truth!
But for anyone who has dealt which chronic constipation, you’ll understand how uncomfortable it is to deal with (including the bloat and lack of self esteem that comes with feeling blocked up). Therefore, it’s incredibly difficult to completely write off the laxatives, herbs, supplements, etc. that seem to be your only lifeline.
It wasn’t until I left my incredibly stressful corporate job post-college, headed to graduate school and started blogging that I really reassessed my health and how I wanted to be a better version of myself moving forward. I realized that my dependencies on these products, the stress that went along with constantly worrying about my digestive issues and the physical repercussions were neither normal nor healthy.
I chose to make changes to my diet and lifestyle that, in return, helped heal my digestive issues to a point where I now spend very little, if any, time thinking about them at all. I’m by no means perfect and still have days or periods of time in which my digestion isn’t 100% optimal – I’m human too! But it’s when the tools intended to help us out during the times of discomfort become a daily routine that we need to identify the deeper issue at hand.
Below are my key suggestions for rebooting your system and feeding your body the right way in order to get everything moving and begin feeling like your best self!
Eat the good stuff & eat enough of it
It always boggles my mind when I read about how interconnected the gut is with basically every other aspect of our health. Though I’m really focussing on digestion in this case, I highly encourage you to observe how changing your diet to promote gut healing might likewise increase your brain function, hormone health, complexion issues, stress levels and so on.
Personally, I’ve found over time that embracing a diet filled with mainly plant-based, whole foods makes me feel my best. In order to promote a healthy gut and digestion, this also includes:
- reducing processed food consumption
- increasing fiber intake
- bulking up portion sizes
- incorporating gut-healing foods into my daily routine
Not only did my diet previously consist of way too much processed food in college, but I was likewise preoccupied with maintaining a certain weight and size that led me to consuming meals that simply weren’t enough (thank the Lord I’ve learned to embrace more balance since then).
When I began to bulk up my meals with more fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and grains, my body actually had sufficient quantity to work with, and thus my bowel movements began to become much more regular.
A few favorite high-fiber foods:
- Fruits: apples, pears, bananas (particularly unripe), berries & stone fruits
- Veggies: beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes & greens
- Chia seeds
- Crackers – check the ingredients though!
Likewise, incorporating more prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods into my daily diet has made a significant difference in the health of my gut flora, and thus on my overall health. While supplement probiotics are a wonderful option, I encourage you to consider foods rich in these microorganisms as well. Below are a few of my suggestions:
- Seed Probiotics – use code GEORGIA15 for 15% off the first month off a Daily Symbiotic subscription
- Silverfern Probiotics
- The Coconut Cult Probiotic Yogurt – I started to have this almost daily several years ago, and I absolutely love the brand and quality. I use it as a daily probiotic, and it’s worth the price!
- Sauerkraut – Cleveland Kitchen is my current go-to brand, which you can find at Whole Foods
- Pickled/fermented vegetables – look for real pickles, meaning they allow the vegetables to ferment themselves rather than “quick pickling” with vinegar
Prioritize stress & sleep
This seems logical in that adequate sleep and stress management are essential for warding off pretty much any illness. But I’ve witnessed firsthand just how powerful both of these factors are in influencing digestive health as well.
The times over the past few years that I’ve felt particularly anxious and stressed are likewise the times that I’ve experienced the most digestive distress. It’s no wonder that the gut is referred to as “the second brain” due to the vast network of neurotransmitters present in the gut that become triggered by a perceived threat. When our parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” system) doesn’t kick in to calm everything back down, our biological alarm never ceases to fire.
The American Institute of Stress has actually proven the link between stress and constipation as the body’s adrenal glands release a hormone called epinephrine, which plays a role in this so-called “fight-or-flight” response. It causes the body to divert blood flow from the intestines toward vital organs, such as the heart, lungs, and brain. As a result, intestinal movement slows down, and constipation can occur.
Likewise, according to Harvard Health, this so-called “brain-gut axis” explains why researchers are interested in understanding how psychological or social stress might cause digestive problems. Stressors are present in our every day lives, and the perceived threat doesn’t have to be a bear chasing us for our bodies to respond accordingly. Thus, prioritizing stress management not only makes us happier, calmer people but it can also help heal and repair digestive upset as well.
On the same note, as sleep is obviously closely linked to stress, lack of adequate rest can significantly impair digestive function as well. Recent studies suggest that there is a strong association between sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal diseases.
Prioritizing getting to bed and waking up around the same times each day and getting in around 8 hours of sleep are easy ways to improve your digestive health and simply feel your best overall.
Stop feeding into the cycle
This can be the hardest part when you feel like you need to take some sort of stimulant in order to feel better. But what you have to remember is in many cases, we’re creating and perpetuating the cycle of imbalance ourselves through these behaviors. By constantly manipulating and stimulating our system unnaturally, we never give our gut and digestive system the opportunity to just do their thing.
As an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, we’re taught that the body will heal itself if given half the chance. So GIVE your body the chance to find its own equilibrium. For me, this included several weeks of discomfort when I eliminated all stimulants, teas, etc., but finally I found that my body rebounded, and I soon wasn’t even thinking about having to take anything at night.
In addition, addressing my control issues surrounding food and focussing on fuel that’s wholesome and healing for my body has given my gut what it needs not only to get things moving down there but also to simply feel my best each day.
Challenge yourself to really embrace these lifestyle and dietary changes and see how miraculous the transformation can be!
When you need a lil’ help
None of us will have perfect digestion all the time. Traveling, dining out, enjoying a few cocktails, etc. are necessary parts of life that we need to enjoy as well!
For those days or weeks that call for a little extra support, I encourage you resist the urge to reach for a harsh stimulant and give these healthy, natural alternatives a shot.
Natural Calm, triphala and magnesium supplements are great, soothing additions to your nighttime routine, while GG Crackers make the perfect snack or addition to any meal and really get things movin’. Plus, I try to pack some digestive enzymes with me whenever I’m traveling – use code GOODNESSWITHG for 20% off on the Karen Berrios website.
Likewise, if bloating is something you struggle with particularly, I highly recommend downloading the free 5 Hacks to Beat Your Bloat E-Book that my good friend and Registered Dietitian, Mallory Page (@malsfitkitchen) put together. It’s an incredible resource!
As always, please feel free to comment below, reach out via Instagram or shoot me an email if I can ever be more of more help.
Finally, if you’re looking for a bit more personal guidance when it comes to your overall healing, I’d love to work with you one-on-one through my holistic health coaching program launching soon! CLICK HERE to learn more and join my waitlist 🙂 .