A few months after the pandemic first started wreaking havoc, internet searches worldwide began showing a significant increase in the quest for weight loss information, according to Google Trends. It seems covid robbed us of not only our individual freedoms, but also our willpower. Many of us have put on weight as a result of gym closures, more time at home, fewer social interactions, and higher stress levels. In addition, several news stories at the inception of the virus focused on increased consumer demand for comfort foods such as hamburgers & fries, hot dogs, pizza, and ice cream. These foods, which are often filled with artificial ingredients, salt, sugar, fat, and excess calories, can offer a brief sense of stress relief as a result of their effects on the brain’s reward center, much like cocaine or heroine. But once that fades, we can be left with a sugar crash, extra calories to burn (or store as fat), an unhappy gut, guilt, and an overall sense of feeling worse than before we ate them.
So what can we do to feel better and drop the extra weight? Learn to work with, rather than neglect, the needs of our bodies. As you may have already discovered from past articles, the health information shared on Micro of the Macro is well outside the box, based on new or unpopular scientific studies. The star of this article, the gut’s microbiome, has become an area of extensive study over recent years, and the findings are changing the way we understand the concepts of health and disease.
I’ve written before on the importance of this colony of bacteria in our guts (check out this article for my tips on immunity). What I didn’t mention in past posts is the fact that these microbes are often in charge of the foods we crave and those we choose to eat. Yes, you read that right, in charge. According to an article from the US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health entitled Is Eating Behavior Manipulated by the Gastrointestinal Microbiota?, the gut bacteria that we “host” can manipulate not only the brain’s reward center, but also our tastebuds, cravings, and mood. Furthermore, the less diverse the bacteria colony (largely a consequence of antibiotics and nutrient-depleted foods), the more power the bacteria has to manipulate us, increasing our chances of obesity. In fact, the control our gut bacteria has over us is so exacting that the article refers to them as puppet masters! Frightening, huh?
In order to regain mastery of your cravings and relationship with food, and therefore your weight, it is necessary to diversify your microbiome. Making healthy choices, such as organic fruits and vegetables, local and seasonal if possible, is a great first step. Introducing new foods to your diet results in new bacteria in your gut. Probiotic food and drinks, such as miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, and kefir result in greater numbers of diverse healthy bacteria. Fiber-rich prebiotic foods, such as onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, dandelion greens and jicama support the growth of those good bacteria. And a healthy, diversified colony of microbes can help you make healthier food choices in the days, months and years ahead.
Fiber is extremely beneficial for gut bacteria, according to Justin & Erica Sonnenburg, PhDs, researchers at Stanford’s University of Medicine. Fiber is actually a carbohydrate (something worth considering if you’re doing keto or another low-carb diet) that is indigestible. The Sonnenburgs’ research team has done long-term studies of the gut bacteria of a hunter-gatherer tribe in Tanzania, whose members, young and old, are considered models of vitality. Their studies revealed that each member of the tribe consumes between 100 and 150 grams of dietary fiber daily. Most Americans, it pains me to say, get about 15 grams per day.
In addition to being a favorite food of your good gut bacteria, fiber also helps your body eliminate toxic chemicals, such as artificial food additives, pesticides, and environmental pollutants. These toxins, often stored in fats, interrupt the body’s normal functionings of blood sugar and cholesterol, which can lead to diabetes and obesity. (For more on this, check out Environmental Pollution and Diabetes: a Neglected Association.)
Proper hydration makes your microbiome happy, as well. (For additional info, see my article Hydration – No, Really). Healthy fats like seeds, nuts, and avocados are deeply hydrating and should be a part of your daily intake. Drinking plenty of mineralized water (made with fresh lemon juice and/or Himalayan salt) & eating lots of melons, cucumbers, celery, grapes, peaches, berries, & other water-rich fruits keeps your cells & fascia hydrated. When your body is not properly hydrated, you become unable to regularly eliminate food and toxins. You have less energy. You can feel dull and heavy. Your blood thickens, making your heart and kidneys work harder. (For more on that idea, check out New York Times best-selling author Anthony William’s book Liver Rescue.) A poorly-hydrated body cannot function optimally, and may very well thwart your weight loss efforts.
Eating fewer flesh foods, dairy, and eggs may also help. Not to say that you need to become vegan, but I’d like to share my experience with you. I adopted a whole foods plant based vegan diet in stages. I became vegetarian first, and lost so much weight, so fast, that it scared me. In fact, I started binging on granola to stop the weight loss! Years later, after learning about the evils of animal protein, I gave up cheese and eggs, which made me totally vegan. Again, I lost a lot of weight in a very short period. A testament, I believe, to the power of good plant food bacteria crowding out animal food bacteria in my gut.
The folks that live in Blue Zones, the places that have the healthiest, longest-lived populations in the world, typically eat whole food plant based diets. Usually, if they do eat meat or dairy, it’s only a few times a month, and in very small portions. In these areas, it is common for people to age without the chronic diseases that plague the majority of Americans, and to have leaner builds.
Weight loss is something many of us struggle with, especially when we turn to food as a source of comfort. Choosing to supply your gut’s microbiome with what it needs goes a long way in helping you accomplish your weight loss goals and feel better in general. And, not just for now, but for a lifetime.
Blessings for a Healthy Microbiome,
Note: The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. I am not a medical professional. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed here have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.
And Another Note: The original version of this post was shared in July, 2020.