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My gut is a know-it-all. It’s been talking to me my whole life, answering questions I didn’t even realize I was asking. To this day, after years of studying digestion, food and eating, there are times I still neglect to take its advice. When I don’t listen to my gut, it continues talking to me anyway.

Just this Sunday, my stomach ached as I prepared to leave on a trip. All day… the ache was constant. I knew it was due to the stress of trying to complete the demanding to-do list I created, yet I did not take the steps I knew would settle my discomfort.

My need to feel like I can do everything took over, and I suffered all day. I can’t do everything. And I can’t do anything right when I’m feeling shame for not being perfect. My stomach was telling me I had reached my stress limit and it was time to make adjustments. I realized it was time to listen to my gut. I made some phone calls, cleared my schedule and had an awesome day skiing powder in Vail. Now, as I sit in my sweet little condo with a fire roaring, sipping a hot tea, and my gut feels as happy as I do. 

My whole childhood I had stomach aches. My mouth was riddled with canker sores. My mindset of perfection over happiness was already in full swing. But today I have the tools. My gut guided me to study Emotional Eating, Gut Health and Eating Psychology. I know what to do. 

It’s well known that stress can influence mood. In my experience, that is partly due to the role stress plays in gut function. According to an article published by Harvard Health Publications, psychosocial factors such as stress can directly influence your gut’s physiology, affecting the balance of bacteria and impacting your system and mood. If you want the gut and brain working together in favor of more positive emotions (in addition to overall health), it is vital to keep your stress levels in check. For me, engaging in the sheer bliss of a skiing powder all day, stress is completely wiped away. Lifestyle changes can be made to help bring gut bacteria closer to equilibrium, in turn influencing your emotional health, AND lifestyle changes can be made to help you feel emotionally balanced, bringing balance to your gut.

Follow these 5 tips for gut health:
1. Take a Probiotic and Prebiotic: Probiotics are live bacteria that live in the gut. Often referred to as “good” bacteria probiotics can improve digestion function, strengthen the immune system, and boost mood. In a 2011 study conducted in the Netherlands, participants who took a probiotic every day for 40 days reported thinking fewer negative thoughts and feeling less sad than participants who took a placebo. Prebiotics are classified as the non-digestible food ingredients that probiotics can feed off. They are used in the gut to increase populations of healthy bacteria, aid digestion and enhance the production of valuable vitamins. Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) is the most advanced form of prebiotics which belongs to a group of particular nutrient fibers that feed and encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut. I prefer my probiotics in food form, but do supplement when I need to. 

2. Eat More Whole Foods: Whole foods not only provide nourishment to the body, but they can also help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. Try replacing processed foods with foods that benefit the gut, such as asparagus, carrots, broccoli, leafy greens, garlic and turmeric. 

3. De-Stress: Stress plays a big role in gut health as it has the power to actually change the gut balance of bacteria, according to research published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Reduce your body’s stress levels by practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, journaling, yoga, reading, and mindful breathing. 

4. Seek Professional Guidance: If you’ve noticed a change in your mood accompanied by gut issues and would like professional input, seek a Healthy Living Coach who specializes in gut health. While research is still emerging, the professionals trained in gut health and lifestyle wellness will support you in finding ways to improve it. 

5. Be Mindful of Antibiotics, Tap Water and Sugar
While antibiotics can be lifesavers, in the right situation, they kill bad bacteria in the body, unfortunately, they also affect the body’s good bacteria. Tap water can contain a host of contaminants, including chlorine, a bacteria-killing chemical. Invest in a water filter to avoid the potential consumption of harmful impurities.High consumption of sugar can also lead to an imbalance of gut bacteria, affecting your gut and immune system. Try to limit your intake of refined sugar and instead stick with the natural sources of sugar found in fruits, vegetables and honey. While there are many habits that can negatively impact your emotions and moods, there are many ways to positively impact your emotional and mental states as well. Listen to your gut! Take these healthy eating habits and steps that are well within your control, to increase your overall happiness.