We’re feeling just a tad excited about our new Happy Gut Granola. Made with 11 different super grains, nuts, seeds and fruit (the pre-biotics) and a natural, science-backed probiotic, we want to help people to achieve a diet that’s rich in fibre and variety for a healthy gut, body and mind.
We are fascinated by the subject of gut health and all the scientifically proven ways to maintain or improve our own microbiomes. For this blog post, we chat to clinical Nutritionist and Naturopath, Lauren Windas about intuitive eating and how this can contribute to not only a happier gut, but also an improved body image and state of mind.
Firstly, please tell us a bit about yourself and what you do for work.
To tell you a little bit about myself, my name is Lauren Windas and I am a clinical Nutritionist and Naturopath, my specialties include helping those with issues which include gut health, chronic fatigue, weight management as well as disordered eating. I am also co-founder of the wellbeing brand ARDERE, which comprises of non-toxic natural self-care products as well as a Nutrition Clinic. We very much centre on offering a 360-degree approach to wellbeing, as I recognise there is not simply one pillar that makes up your health.
I journeyed into the world of wellbeing and nutrition because of my own health problems at university. I suffered with chronic fatigue syndrome and IBS and, after being unable to find help through orthodox medicine, I ventured down the alternative route. This is where I changed my diet, lifestyle, switched over to non-toxic products, and managed to regain back my health. Seeing the transformational effects of lifestyle medicine is what ultimately led to my work in this field, and my passion for helping others.
There are many factors that contribute to gut health such as sleep, exercise and what we eat. But we’re interested to find out how we eat and our relationship with food can play its part. We’d love your thoughts on this.
Your relationship with food can certainly play its part when unwanted gut symptoms arise. For example, if you are someone who suffers with bloating or IBS, what you may not realise is that it’s not just the foods themselves that can elicit adverse gut symptoms, it is also our mentality around foods which can also impact our digestive systems, too.
The explanation for this? The gut-brain axis!
Your mind and body are intrinsically linked through what scientists are now terming ‘the gut-brain axis’. This refers to the fascinating connection that exists between our belly and brain, where we host a network of neurons within our digestive tract (known as the enteric nervous system).
This enteric nervous system consists of more than 100 million neurons which all communicate via the brain and a large cranial nerve, called the vagus nerve. This means that brain and gut constantly communicate with one another, with the brain influencing the gut and vice versa.
The gut-brain axis explains why you may feel the urge to use the bathroom ahead of a big exam or event, or experience digestive symptoms when you are feeling stressed out. Therefore, if you become food phobic or eat in an anxious state, you are much more prone to experiencing IBS symptoms (regardless of how healthy your diet is!).
That’s why I am a big advocate of getting my clients to eat in a calm and relaxed manner, away from distractions and ensuring that they work on supporting their relationship with food to ensure that their gut terrain remains relaxed and symptom-free. The ideal scenario is to eat your food when you are relaxed, away from distractions (e.g. no social media or technology!), and chew slowly (20 times per mouthful to really help you digest your food).
For anyone that’s on a low FODMAP diet, how can they approach elimination diets to help with gut symptoms but also avoid deprivation in the long run?
A low FODMAP diet is a diet that is low in fermentable short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) and stands for:
F – fermentable
O – oligosaccharides
D – disaccharides
M – monosaccharides
P – polyols
Foods that are high in these types of sugars have been shown to be poorly absorbed in the small intestine, where our gut microbes can ferment them and cause digestive upset (cue the bloating, cramping and diarrhoea!).
A low FODMAP diet is a type of elimination diet which was developed by scientists at Monash University in Australia to help those suffering with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It is split into three phases, including the Elimination (cutting) phase, Reintroduction phase and the Personalisation phase (this last stage is when you return to a normal diet, however maintain avoidance of your identified FODMAP triggers). Always seek out a qualified practitioner if you need help with navigating a low FODMAP approach.
The important thing to remember is that this diet does not have to last forever! This means that whilst you may be cutting some foods out of your diet initially, the elimination part of the low FODMAP approach should only last around 6 weeks, when you then re-introduce foods back into your diet once again (as you isolate your unique triggers). Once trigger foods have been identified, you then look to avoid those foods moving forwards and incorporate more variety back into your diet once again.
This is often the missing link, as so many clients have come to me in the past and stayed in the elimination phase and ended up fearing every food under the sun, which we know can add to the vicious cycle of stress-gut problems in the first place!
My top tips on approaching elimination diets without feeling deprived is:
- Remember that this does not need to be forever! Your gut environment changes over time, as does your ability to tolerate certain foods (in the exception of food allergies or anaphylaxis).
- Be aware that stress and anxiety around foods can play an equal part in gut health problems, so holding a balanced and healthy relationship with food is key!
- Diversity is the spice of life, so remember that whilst you may be cutting back on some things for your gut health initially, experiment over time with what your gut can handle and you may be surprised at what happens. A diverse cocktail of different foods is key for your gut microbiome, so keep this in the back of your mind as you navigate and aim to move forwards from any elimination protocol.
Does intuitive eating pose any risks for those suffering with an eating disorder? (given that it has been marketed in some instances to contribute to weight loss)
Intuitive eating is a philosophy that puts you in control of your eating and hunger signals. It shuns diet mentality and promotes trusting your own individual choices and body wisdom when it comes to food.
Whilst in some cases intuitive eating has been marketed as contributing to weight loss, the reality is that we have no way of knowing for sure how a person’s weight will be affected when trying to eat intuitively. Some might lose weight when they tune into their natural hunger and fullness cues, whereas some may stay the same or gain weight.
Intuitive eating may certainly pose risks to those experiencing an eating disorder. Take, for example, those who are prone to food restriction or suffering with anorexia nervosa. Anorexia can disguise itself as intuition, so you opt for the salad and not the burger. Conversely, those prone to bulimia nervosa (or binge eating disorder) may mask their desires as intuition so they eat the burger, not the salad.
Also, eating more than feels intuitive can be a critical part of the recovery process for those eating disorders where people need to restore body weight. Therefore, intuitive eating may present as a risk for those who may return to disordered habits and beliefs surrounding food, restriction and hunger.
All in all, there are indeed some issues with intuitive eating for those with problematic relationships with food, who can confuse being in tune and listening to their body with listening to their mind. Often, they may get wrapped up in thoughts and emotions, body image anxieties, listening only to cravings or desires to restrict (the list goes on!). However, for those who do not have an eating disorder and may find it a little easier to tune into their body’s innate eating cues, intuitive eating can be a powerful practice to find more of a balance in your relationship with food.
Growing up on restrictive diets and being told to look a certain way has been ingrained on us from a young age. How can we break away from diet culture?
It is true that diet culture surrounds us in modern-day society. However, it is certainly possible to break away from the diet dogma through a sound nutritional education.
I think it is ultimately about going back to basics when it comes to nutrition and knowing how we can nourish our bodies with a diverse array of quality whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrains, legumes and ethically-sourced animal proteins should make up the majority of our diets and you can’t go far wrong.
I love to use the balanced plate analogy, advising my clients to build their meals around a good source of protein (think of a palm-sized serving of fish or chicken, or plant-based alternative such as tofu), half of their plate consisting of non-starchy veggies (e.g. broccoli, aubergine, courgette, red pepper, spinach, kale), 1 fistful of complex carbs (e.g. brown rice or lentils) and 1 tbsp of quality fats (e.g. a drizzle of olive oil or sprinkle of sunflower seeds).
I think it’s also great that in the media there has been a move away from restrictive diets and the focus has become more about promoting body positivity and a focus on feeling healthy, rather than solely aesthetics. Remember that what you consume in the media also impacts your wellbeing and relationship to food, so consume what is healthy for your mind and thus your body too!
Ultimately, though we need to remember that life is about balance. It’s such a cliché term, but it’s true! Yes, it’s okay if you eat something that isn’t as nutritionally replete, as long as we ensure that the majority of our diet is consistent and well-balanced on the whole. Consistency is key.
We’d love to hear about your own relationship with food and what you do on a daily basis to improve / maintain your own gut health.
My relationship with food has definitely changed over the years!
When I first had my health issues with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and IBS, I was advised to go on strict elimination diets and whilst they did help me overcome some of my health problems I was also left with a poor relationship with food as a result.
I became anxious and phobic of certain foods and that in itself would trigger many of my symptoms.
That’s why I am a big advocate on educating people that it is not always the food, but also how your mind perceives that food, thereby triggering an unhealthy gut-brain response and digestive symptoms.
It’s also why I very much take a holistic approach when seeing clients in my clinic. I think it’s important to look at the body, mind, and lifestyle as a whole to address someone’s health. I also went onto additionally qualify as a Master Practitioner in Eating Disorders and Obesity so that I can support my clients in the healthiest way possible with any dietary regime they may need to embark on for health reasons.
My diet is pretty balanced and very nourishing. I do look at ways in which I can get good quality protein into my diet, as well as a wide variety of vegetables and wholegrains like oats. I try keep myself accountable by buying 2 new vegetables in my weekly food shop (foods which I have not tried before or in a long time). This helps my body (and gut) reap a cocktail of fibres from different plant-based foods, which feeds my gut microbiome and supports widespread health. I also try and eat fermented foods such as saurekraut and kimchi, which I will often add on the side of Asian dishes, salads or a brunch with eggs and sourdough.
I also LOVE Spoon granolas to get some plant-based protein and fibre into my diet on a busy morning, paired with some fresh blueberries and raspberries. Delicious!
Finally, one of my number one rules is to enjoy food in a relaxed manner, eating away from technology or distraction and aiming to make eating a ritual. This supports the cephalic phase of digestion, where I can engage with the plate that’s in front of me and ward off any digestive distress.
Where can we find you online?
You can find me at www.laurenwindas.com where you can learn more about my specialties as a Nutritionist and Naturopath, and weekly inspiration on all thing’s health and wellbeing on Instagram @laurenwindasnutritionist
You can also find more information on my nutrition clinic that I founded on www.ardere.com as well as some delicious and creative recipes that will work to support your gut health.