Mindful Eating and Gut Health: Saying No To Diets

By Monique SC
19 October 2016

Learn how stress, hormones, and gut health determine your overall health.

Probably the most common saying or phrase I have come across my whole life is the saying “A Gut Feeling”. These sayings transcend the truth in listening to your gut because it knows a lot about you, your body, and emotions. For the past year or two, there has been a significant buzz around gut health and the studies that have prevailed from new found knowledge. 

Gut health has come into the health and wellness industry at a time when society needs it most. Today’s culture and negative association with all manner of different foods have promoted a generation of eaters that associate certain foods with guilt and anxiety. This has created an unhealthy relationship with food and general social perception of health. This is where gut health could be the answer to revolutionize the way we see foods, health, and diets.To be honest, although I had heard about it I’d never really taken a moment to find out what it is all about. This past weekend I attended the Wellness Festival by Colour and Coconuts where I learned a lot on the subject of gut health and had the opportunity to hear from two incredible International Health Bloggers and Nutritionists Jessica Sepel and Jacqueline Alwill.


Jacquline Alwill - The Science behind the Gut

The communication between your gut and your brain is essential to you inner health. The vagus nerve travels from your brain to your digestive system, your circulatory system, and cardiovascular system and delivers all that information back to our brain. An interesting fact is that the vagus nerve delivers more information from our gut to our brain than from our brain to our gut. 

This is why nutritionist Jacqueline Alwill believes it is so vital to be in tune with your gut and your gut health.  Your gut has the ability to feed immense amounts of information back to the brain that is derived from your emotions and physical state of your body. This information the gut is communicating can determine the way you think. When your body is stressed, or you’re emotionally stressed, your gut will suffer and communicate that bad information back to brain creating an even worse state for your body. It is imperative to take away from this that nothing in our body works independently. 

Caring for your gut is essential to your overall health and we have to look at our body in a holistic way. You can restore your gut through bone broth, fermented foods like gelatin, coconut oil, kimchi, kombucha, kefir and herbal remedies that can help heal gut lining damage. Herbal remedies include slippery elm, marshmallow root, and Deglycyrrhizinated licorice. Jacqueline uses these ingredients in health to restore gut health. 



What Happens When Stress Enters Your Body & Gut

Our body responds to stress through the Enteric Nerve System which is one of our body’s autonomic nervous systems, the other two being the sympathetic and parasympathetic. These two systems are responsible for how we process and digest stress or allows us relax and digest. 

The parasympathetic nervous system is how we relax and digest and needs to be cared for and loved to improve our health. More often these days the parasympathetic is not in charge and the sympathetic nervous system (i.e stress) has gone into overdrive for so many people. When this happens it triggers adrenaline and our stress hormone cortisol causes a cascading effect throughout the body. 

When the body is continuously stressed it starts to affect several hormones in your body which can cause havoc with all kinds of hormones.  So often these days, people are operating under chronic stress, not acknowledging it, and spending their life in the sympathetic state. In the long run, this is detrimental to your general health and your gut health. Your gut plays an essential role in your entire well-being so it’s best to listen to it and take care of it.


 Jessica Sepel- Gut Health and Healthy Eating

Jessica Sepel is a former chronic dieter and discovered healthy eating and gut health when she went on to study a bachelor of health. Jessica’s turning point was when she started studying nutritional medicine and learned about the body in a holistic light in regards to the importance of gut health, hormonal balance and stress. 
Jessica learned how to change her way of eating to improve her gut health.  She reveals the benefits of whole foods i.e carbohydrates, fats and proteins and how beneficial they can be to our body as well as diet.  Like many men and women, Jessica always struggled with her relationship with food but was able to discover how to eat with a sense of enjoyment. 


Your Relationship with Food and How It Can Cause Your Body Stress

Being aware of what you are putting into your body is essential to your health. Jessica says that you cannot be a mindful eater if you are a dieter because you are so fixated on what you should  or shouldn’t eat that it results in anxiety and guilt around food. 

The impact of stress on your body causes it to hold onto the food when your mind thinks you’re eating a “naughty” or “forbidden” food and this complicated relationship is detrimental to your gut health. When your body associates certain food or eating with stress or anxiety, your digestive system shuts off , the cortisol levels spike and this affects your blood sugar balance and your sleep, creating a nasty rollercoaster of emotions for your body. 



Don’t Call it a Cheat Meal, It’s Healthy to Indulge

Promoting balance and a healthy relationship with food is key to your health. It is encouraged to indulge in foods you enjoy in moderation because that promotes a healthy life. Those at risk are dieters because they will take part in binge eating and emotional eating because they believe they should not eat certain foods. Restricting or depriving yourself of food is stressful on your mind and body which will not lead you to a healthy life. By giving yourself the permission to have food you are able to enjoy what you are eating. Indulging with moderation perhaps 3 times a week has been proven to improve people’s health. 

A good way to start is to commit to eating healthy 80% of the time and clean up your diet by trying to cut down on common overindulgences such as refined sugars, alcohol, and caffeine.  A surprising tip for coffee lovers: more than two cups of coffee a day will cause weight gain. Other great changes to aim for a healthier life is to make sure you are sleeping 8 hours a day, de-stress by putting your legs up against the wall, meditating for 10-20 minutes and exercising daily. 

Q&A With Jessica

What is in Jessica’s Fridge? 

Berries, greens, seeds, nuts, homemade granola, almond milk, greek yogurt, mustard, avocados, homemade bliss balls, carrots, tahini, and lemon water, hummus. 

What is Jessica’s Favourite Smoothie?

The Power Protein Smoothie which is half a frozen banana, berries, chia seeds, a good quality protein powder, almond milk, cinnamon, and a little stevia. 

What is Jessica’s Opinion on Protein Supplements?

She thinks protein powders are really great for people who are highly active. It is always best to try and get as much protein from food but if the protein powder is clean and has no artificial sugars, preservatives or artificial sweeteners then it is a good addition to your diet. Jessica mentions that nowadays people are really struggling to get protein into their diet so protein powders are a good option for increasing daily protein intake.

Would Jessica Recommend Fasting?

She says fasting would create a complicated relationship with food because it is not sustainable in the long term. Mindful eating is about creating a healthy way of eating long term. 

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