There’s a lot of quips being said these days—the post-pandemic world has ushered in more than ever—but one that may be not-so-familiar to you is the phrase that’s been said for a long time, “the gut is the second brain.” We know Googling gut health may not be on the top of your list, the latest tweet you’ve read is likely not written about it and scrolling through “gut” memes just doesn’t seem very plausible, but it turns out there’s quite a bit of truth to this phrase.
The gut microbiome plays a significant role in your immunity, mental health, digestive function, and yes, even your body weight. Of course, some aspects of your gut microbiome are genetic, but it turns out that the health of your gut relies even more heavily on your environmental and lifestyle factors—like stress, food choices, and the amount of sleep you’re getting. There’s so much you can do within your daily lifestyle to promote a healthy gut and to pave the way for a healthy life.
While you can’t control your genetics, there are so many things that you can do to take care of your “second brain” to support your weight care journey. Let’s take a deeper dive into how your gut health can impact your weight care journey, and what you can do to take control of yours.
There are tens of trillions (yes, you heard that correct!) of microorganisms that reside in your gut. The “gut microbiota” (the organisms that make up your gut microbiome) not only provide energy to the body but also control the nutrients it absorbs, all of which heavily influence your metabolism.
Why’s this important?
We need the good guys (AKA the good bacteria). An imbalance in gut bacteria is normally the result of lifestyle factors well within our control, such as poor diet choices, overall activity level, and overuse of antibiotics. Moderate movement, for example, is known to have a positive impact on gut health by reducing inflammation, healing intestinal permeability—meaning less bad bacteria and harmful substances getting into your bloodstream—and improving total body composition. Research shows that movement can enhance the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut, as well as promote a greater diversity of species. Those beneficial bacteria are necessary for your metabolism to do its job.
Based in New York City, endocrinologist Dr. Rekha Kumar, MS, MD and Chief Medical Officer at Found explains, “we are starting to learn that the gut microbiome plays a big role in metabolism. An interesting example is that after taking a medicine like metformin (a medication that Found prescribes for weight loss), a population of gut bacteria, known to be more prevalent in lean people, goes up. We are learning about a few species of gut bacteria that are associated with a healthier metabolism.” It’s exciting news as unprecedented global research is done to uncover more about the importance of a healthy gut in connection to a healthy metabolism—making it crucial for your weight care journey.
Think about this—have you ever eaten a sugary donut for breakfast and then felt hungry shortly after? On the other hand, have you ever found yourself feeling full and satisfied after eating a bowl of whole grain oatmeal with fresh fruit and nuts? The short explanation: Fiber. Fiber is plant-derived and a type of carbohydrate that can’t be digested—it’s your friend when it comes to keeping hunger at bay and keeping your gut happy. Another key player is “short-chain fatty acids,” they’re produced when gut-friendly bacteria ferment fiber in your colon, and are the result of eating fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and resistant starches like legumes and whole grains. Short-chain fatty acids are in charge of metabolizing carbs and fats in the body, and some studies have shown that increasing short-chain fatty acids through a fiber-rich diet can improve insulin sensitivity, weight regulation, and reduce inflammation, all of which can help you thrive while also reducing the risk of developing metabolic diseases. As a bonus, dietary fiber is well known for reducing cholesterol levels and even improving control of blood glucose levels in those with diabetes. Fiber helps the growth of healthy gut bacteria—crucial in maintaining a healthy weight.
Eat more mindfully
Thoroughly chewing your food, eating when you are in a calm state of mind, and eating with fewer distractions, you can have a significant positive impact on your digestive system. Ever tried to eat a salad while running from a tiger? (Please tell us your story if the answer to this question is “yes!”) Well, most of us haven’t and eating when you’re stressed out has the same effect on your nervous system and your digestive system—our brains haven’t evolved to differentiate between the stressors. Beat the bloat by slowing down, putting your utensils down between bites, and truly enjoying your food.
Eat more whole foods
Processed foods, though widely part of our Western diet, can negatively affect your healthy gut bacteria. For this reason, it’s important to eat plenty of plant-rich whole foods whenever possible. This is where fiber comes into play—load up on those fiber-filled fruits and vegetables! Fiber also helps to keep bowel movements regular (just one more way your gut can do its job).
Move your body
Cardiovascular movement not only benefits your heart, but also strengthens your “good” gut bacteria. Research suggests it’s proven to strengthen your gut microbiota and reduce permeability. Movement also leads to more diverse good bacteria in your gut—try going on a brisk walk (at least 30 minutes), cycling, or yoga to reap those gut healthy benefits.
Practice stress management
Ever come down with a cold after a stressful week at work or school? Studies show that stress can actually alter your gut bacteria and inhibit its ability to ward off threats to your immune system. Stress also shuts down communication between your brain and your belly, making it more difficult to tune into your natural hunger and full cues. Try practicing some deep breathing, going for a walk outside, or anything else that can bring calm into your routine! Your mind and body will thank you.