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Taking Care of Your Gut: Why It’s Critical to Health + How to Do It

With Samantha McKinney, RD

Season 3, Episode 3  | September 8, 2020

The gut is connected to many aspects of our wellness. In fact, it’s often considered the gatekeeper to our overall health — and imbalances many times surface in surprising ways. Hint: They’re often not digestive symptoms. Samantha McKinney, RD, discusses the gut’s far-reaching effects, what harms it, and the daily lifestyle strategies we can use to support our gut health.

Headshot Of Samantha McKinney.

Samantha McKinney, RD, is a Master Trainer at Life Time and the creator of Life Time’s GUT.FIX program

  • While your gut health is essentially your digestive health, many think of it more simplistically — as what you eat, digest, and eliminate. But it’s much more complex. It’s in your digestive tract that what you eat, drink, or consume is either absorbed to drive metabolism or eliminated. It can be thought of as the gatekeeper to your overall health.
  • Gut imbalances can present as overt digestive issues, such as bloating, IBS-type symptoms, or irregular bowel movements. However, some of the most significant imbalances don’t display this way at all: Instead, they show up in places like your joints, brain, sinuses, and skin.
  • It’s estimated that 70 to 90 percent of your immune system resides in your gut.
  • Your gut has a lot to do with how resilient you are to viruses, bacteria, and other sicknesses you’re exposed to. The more balanced your immune system, the more likely are to be more resilient; you’re less apt to get sick or experience as strong of symptoms.
  • Poor gut health can increase your risk of autoimmunity. When it comes to autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s, thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, and multiple sclerosis, there is often a genetic predisposition. However, a gut imbalance also has to happen to trigger the issue. Once you develop one autoimmune disease, your chances of acquiring another are much higher.
  • Reasons gut issues may occur include the following:
    • Chronic stress: Stress can wreak havoc on your gastrointestinal tract.
    • Changes in our food environment: The food we consume now is dramatically different when compared to that eaten by our ancestors. It often comes along with pesticides, toxins in packaging, added sugars, and artificial colors and flavors — all of which are problematic.
    • Consuming foods our bodies don’t tolerate well or that trigger food sensitivities.
    • Too sedentary of a lifestyle.
    • The overuse of antibiotics or certain medications.
  • There are many ways we can rebuild or support our gut. McKinney suggests:
    • Managing stress.
    • Eating a solid, nutrient-dense diet that’s high in produce and focuses on fiber.
    • Avoiding sugar, additives, and excess alcohol as much as you can.
    • Taking gut-supportive supplements, such as probiotics, digestive enzymes, and L-glutamine, at least periodically.
    • Staying well hydrated throughout the day. Be conscious, however, of your intake at mealtime: Drinking while you eat can dilute the enzymes needed to break down your food.
    • Slowing down while you’re eating, taking time to thoroughly chew your food, and not multitasking while you eat.
    • Considering intermittent fasting — a shortened eating window gives your digestive tract a break and may help you feel better.
  • McKinney often recommends trying a short-term elimination diet. For a determined period of time, you’ll eliminate common food sensitivities, followed by a strategic reintroduction period where you’ll learn which foods your body does or does not tolerate well. This is a component of GUT.FIX, a program McKinney created for Life Time, which is coupled with other gut-rebuilding supplements and strategies.
  • Gut issues or digestive upset may be common, but it’s not normal — it’s a red flag that something deeper is going on in your body.

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Transcript: Taking Care of Your Gut: Why It’s Critical to Health + How to Do It

Season 3, Episode 3  | September 8, 2020

Jamie Martin 
Welcome to Life Time Talks, the healthy-living podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor in chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.

David Freeman 
And I’m David Freeman, the national program leader for Life Time’s Alpha program. We’re all in different places along our health and fitness journey, but no matter what we’re working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving forward in the direction of a healthy, purpose-driven life.

Jamie Martin 
In each episode of this season, we’ll break down various elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, mindset and community, and health issues. We’ll also share real, inspiring stories of transformation.

David Freeman 
And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond who’ll share their insights and knowledge, so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.

[Music]

Jamie Martin
Hey, everyone, I’m Jamie Martin.

David Freeman
And I’m David Freeman.

Jamie Martin
And welcome back to Life Time Talks. In this episode, we are talking about gut health. It’s one of those topics that just keeps coming up time and time again because it relates to so many aspects of our health and wellness. So, I’m not going to wait. We’re not going to wait to introduce our guest. David, tell us a little bit about who’s joining us today.

David Freeman
Subject matter expert extraordinaire, miss Samantha McKinney. She’s been a dietitian, trainer, coach for over 10 years, with a strong focus on wellness and prevention. Over the years, she’s helped thousands of Life Time members work towards their health and nutrition goals, and she’s also the creator of Life Time’s GUT.FIX. So, who better to talk about the gut than miss Samantha McKinney?

Jamie Martin
I know. I’m so excited for listeners again to tune into this one. Sam is so, so knowledgeable on this topic, you guys, and there were moments where I was like, I jotted notes down the entire time because from the anatomy of our gut, what all comprises our gut — it’s not just our stomachs, just so everyone knows — but there’s so many aspects of it, just in terms of how do we nurture it, how do I identify problems, you know, and the range of health issues that can be connected to gut health…it’s much broader than we realized not even, you know, five, six year ago. It’s a relatively new area of research that just keeps getting connected to more and more things.

David Freeman
Yeah, and when you think about it, we always talk about knowledge being power, and Samantha brings so much knowledge to the table. What we want to take from this episode, guys, is not only hearing all that is being said, but applying. So, it’s the application of knowledge that’s really going to be empowering for you guys. So, understand the gut as a whole and taking the tidbits from today’s episode is going to send you on your way.

Jamie Martin
Alright. Here we go.

[Music]

David Freeman
Guys, we always are taking about being healthy, what does it mean to be healthy? We talk about exercise. We talk about stress management. But you know what you really need to talk about, guys? Your gut. And that’s what we’re going to be hitting on today with miss Samantha McKinney. So, without further ado, let’s welcome our guest. Sam, how’re you feeling?

Samantha McKinney
I’m doing great. How are you, Dave?

David Freeman
I’m super excited because I get to speak to you again.

Samantha McKinney
Oh, look at that. That was so nice. Thanks for having me on, you guys. I’m definitely excited to be here today.

Jamie Martin
So, OK, Sam, gut health. Chances are many of our listeners have heard about it. They’ve heard reference to it, and it’s more than what we might expect. So, let’s talk about like, first off explaining exactly what the gut is. Let’s start with the basics because many times people, they’re like, oh, my gut, I’m thinking of my stomach, but it’s more than that. So, let’s just talk through that right off the bat.

Samantha McKinney
Yeah, it does get confusing because people, you know, talk about their gut, and then sort of pat any . . . you know, like belly fat that they might be struggling with. I’m like, no, it’s way beyond that, you know. Gut health really, in other words, is digestive health, and so we hear about the importance of digestion to overall health, but I think sometimes people sort of boil down digestion almost too simplistically where they think, hey, you know, I eat things, they digest, and then they . . . you know, waste comes out the other end and that’s sort of it.

But really, at the end of the day, you have to think of your digestive health as sort of the gatekeeper to your overall health. If you think about it, your digestive tract kind of decides, out of everything that you eat and consume and drink, what gets absorbed into your body to help drive metabolism and then what stays in that digestive tract to eventually be eliminated. In a way — this isn’t totally physiologically accurate, but it’s helpful for the thought process — in a way, your digestive tract is kind of external to the rest of your body because, theoretically, something can go in, never really get broken down and digested, and then come out. So, almost think of your digestive lining as the bouncer of a club, right? And then the rest of your body and your metabolism is sort of how you get in and sort of get past.

But what’s interesting about gut health is that it’s really not as simple as it seems. So, you think it kind of goes in, foods break down, they get utilized, they get eliminated or whatever you don’t need, but there are so many different really cool and interesting processes that happen in between, and the impacts of your gut health can really, really impact you systemically in a big way and ways that might actually be surprising.

Jamie Martin
So, let’s actually just talk about that for a second. So, what can the gut health affect in terms of that systemic health? I mean, I know inflammation is a huge thing, and that’s implicated in a lot of chronic health conditions. So, let’s talk about that a little bit.

Samantha McKinney
Sure. Yeah. So, if you think about it, you can obviously have overt digestive issues, right. If somebody is struggling with bloating or IBS-type symptoms or issues with, you know, not moving their bowels regularly, or pain, or discomfort, that’s really obvious.

The systemic issues come a lot from the immune system interplay with your digestive tract, because, again, a lot — it’s estimated that 70% to 90% of your immune system lies in your gut, and it’s because it’s that gatekeeper. But if you’re eating something that maybe your body doesn’t tolerate or if you have some sort of underlying issue where that lining doesn’t have the integrity that it needs to sort of decide what gets absorbed, what gets eliminated, this inflammation that gets triggered is systemic in terms of being able to reach your joints, being able to reach, you know, your brain health and your brain fog. It could impact your sinuses. It could impact your skin. There’s just so many different systemic manifestations.

And in fact, just from clients that I’ve worked with, some of the most significant gut health imbalances don’t show up as overt digestive issues at all. They’re like, oh, no, my digestion is fine. And I’m like, oh, let’s look through these symptoms that you’re having. I actually think that the underlying driver here is some sort of imbalance going on that’s deeper, that you might have not thought of.

And the other think that can come up a lot, there’s a lot of interplay between digestive health being in balance and just risk of autoimmunity. So, as we know, autoimmune conditions are on the rise, too. And what . . . you know, that sounds like a big word, but it’s basically when your immune system, which is designed to protect you, looks at otherwise healthy tissue as some sort of invader, and autoimmunity is . . . like you always need a genetic predisposition for it, but then a gut imbalance has to happen, and then there’s some sort of trigger that, you know, your gut sort of allows to trigger the issue, and then you develop autoimmunity. And you know, a lot of these autoimmune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves’ or MS or even Type 1 diabetes, these are all . . . they can be interrelated. And once you have one, oftentimes with some sort of underlying gut imbalance, you chances of developing another one are a lot higher, too.

So, I could go on for days of how it could impact you, so you cut me off.

David Freeman
In comes David. We always talk about the core factor of understanding nutrition and what’s going in your body and how it’s being broken down. It’s so complex, like you said. It’s not a simple fix, so when we think of all the different terms that are thrown out there, like the microbiome, probiotics, prebiotics, enzymes. Can you break those down a little bit so people understand what exactly some of those things mean?

Samantha McKinney
Totally. Yeah. So, let’s start by thinking of the digestive system in chronological order. Right? You obviously eat food. You swallow it. The tube connecting you mouth to your stomach is called your esophagus. Then, there’s your stomach, and it’s kind of . . . there’s, you know, some chemical reactions that happen there, but it’s sort of like a holding cell. And your, you know, your stomach releases acids and enzymes. And what that enzyme word means, it’s essentially a compound that helps you break down larger molecules of food into smaller ones.

From there, the food gets slowly passed into your intestines, and we’ve got the small intestine, which is small, obviously. That’s in the name, but that’s where most of the nutrient absorption magic happens. Your small intestine is lined with finger-like projections, almost think of it as like a carpet on the inside, to really maximize the surface area to absorb as many nutrients as possible. And there are more enzymes that are released in your small intestine, as well.

We start to hear about — and this kind of moves outside of that digestive tube that I’m kind of working you through — but you start to hear about things like bile and your pancreas and all that type of stuff, and these are really important ancillary organs that in some way, shape, or form are interacting with your GI tract. So, for example, your liver makes bile, which is important for digesting fat, that goes into your gallbladder. So, we all hear . . . we all know somebody that’s had their gallbladder removed or had a gallbladder attack or something like that. That stores bile, and then the bile gets secreted into your small intestine, and that helps break food down more. So, you can see where the complexity comes in, right?

So, there’s the small intestine. Everything kind of passes through there. And then, finally, it, waste moves into your large intestine, and what happens there is there is some electrolyte reabsorption, some water reabsorption. That’s where solid waste forms before you obviously eliminate it.

Well, we hear about probiotics, or I’ll have, you know, clients that are trying to take supplements to help support their digestive health, and like, oh, do I need enzymes? I’m on a probiotic. Well, let’s think about this for a minute. Your enzymes work in your stomach and your small intestine. Probiotics, or good gut bacteria, actually live in your large intestine primarily, and that’s where all of their magic happens. So, we hear all these words tossed around. I know it gets confusing, but I think kind of understanding that physiology is helpful.

Probiotics . . . I think you mentioned microbiome, David, but what the microbiome is, that actually extends far beyond your GI tract. So, that is basically your body’s total bacterial balance. We can actually throw in certain yeasts and fungi and things, but we have these, air quote, you know, “good bugs” living on our skin, in our GI tract, in our mouth, our nose, all of that. And the microbiome is this total interplay of really cool, small, microorganisms that help us interact with our environment, and the ones in our GI tract are like our gut probiotics, if that makes sense.

One other word I want to define, though, too, is oftentimes people are focused on the probiotics and their good but bacteria. You might hear the word flora, good gut flora as well, those are living things. And so, you might have heard the word prebiotics. Think of prebiotics as food for your probiotics. So, it’s like, hey, what feeds this good bacterial balance. Another way that I sort of have described it to clients before is if you think of your large intestine where those probiotics are, think of the probiotics as like the flowers, right, and think of the prebiotics as fertilizer. So, you can take probiotics, but you have to make sure that you’re addressing nutrition strategies and changes, you know, fiber, garlic, onions, prebiotic-type foods to help feed that good bacterial balance.

Jamie Martin
I was going to throw one more word at you, and this is something we’re actually working on an article for Experience Life about: fiber, because fiber plays such a critical role in our digestive health, as well. Can you talk a little bit about fiber?

Samantha McKinney
Sure. Yeah. So, there’re a couple different types of fiber. So, there’s soluble fiber and there’s insoluble fiber. Essentially, both of them are really important for gut health. Soluble fiber kind of forms like a gel-like substance, and it has some really cool interplays with other body systems, like cholesterol and blood-sugar control. And then there’s insoluble fiber, which is really like roughage in your digestive tract, and it kind of helps sort of sweep through and kind of keep things moving. Both of them are really important performing healthy bowel movements, I would say, and keeping you regular, but there is a ton of interplay in making sure that blood-sugar levels are in control and that you have steady energy levels. Fiber become a really important factor in that as well.

Jamie Martin
We did not prep for this. I’m going to throw this at you, but the role of fiber and also the hormones, as well. I mean, my understanding is fiber can, certain fibers collect hormones and move them out of out of your system, right?

Samantha McKinney
Oh, yes. It is one of the most important ways for your body to detoxify, bar none. When we hear detox, that might not, you might not initially make the leap to hormone balance, but one of the things your body has to detox from is used, or what we call metabolized, hormones, and so, when you’re done, this is men and women using estrogen, because men have estrogen too, it has got to get bound in your GI tract and eliminated.

It you don’t have enough fiber, you’re going to have an issue there, and what happens, and I know it’s kind of funny to talk about, you know, waste and bowel movements, but it’s really important for your overall health and vitality. But if you, for example, if you’re a woman and you know moving your bowels every single day, I can almost guarantee, and I’ve seen it with my work with clients, that you have estrogen issues. Like your estrogen is too high and it’s probably causing unwanted symptoms. It might make fat loss a little bit more difficult. There are . . . if you don’t have enough fiber and it’s sitting in your GI tract, there are enzymes that sort of activate and take those used hormones and bring them back into circulation in your body. So, yeah. It’s a big issue and a really important point, for sure.

Jamie Martin
OK, so Sam, we’ve talked about the GI tract now. Let’s talk about how does it become imbalanced? Why does this happen for so many people?

Samantha McKinney
I’m going to attack the hardest one for people to address first, and that’s stress. Chronic stress will completely almost destroy your GI tract. So, I think we’ve all probably experienced this to some degree. Let’s say you have a speaking engagement or you have a big test coming up or something like and you either get . . . you might feel butterflies in your stomach, so you can start to see the nerve connection between your gut and your nervous system. Or maybe you have to run to the bathroom, right, because you get upset or you get an upset stomach. It’s just funny to me that we use the word “upset,” which is like an emotion, for stomach, right? I mean, that just kind of tells you that connection there.

But stress is a huge one, and I would say with working with clients, everybody wants to know what supplements to take, what to eat, and all of that’s important, but if their stress isn’t managed, it’s like a lost cause, right, for trying to really get their gut health in line.

The next one is just changes in our food environment. So, if you think of what we’re consuming now compared to maybe what our great-grandparents consumed — completely different, right? We have food packaging and you know, food liners that have, you know, BPA and different chemicals and plastics in them. We have things that are being sprayed on our crops that are, you know, maybe in isolation OK and shown to be safe, but do we really understand the impact of how they all work together? We are consuming more sugar as a society than we ever have before. And then, you combine that with artificial colorings and flavorings and you know, people having, I don’t know, alcohol on a regular basis. And you start to look at this and for each person, it’s a little bit of a unique situation. I definitely don’t want anybody to feel fearful of any one type of food or one particular ingredient or anything, but if you kind of step back and think about it, our landscape of what we’re consuming is way different than it was before. And then you couple that with a highly stressed lifestyle that’s more sedentary, and imbalances start to happen and that digestive lining starts to change a little bit.

Jamie Martin
What about the role of antibiotics or medications? I mean, do those contribute to that, as well?

Samantha McKinney
They can, yeah. So antibiotic usage . . . I mean, gosh, if you look at just gut issues and people’s medical history, there are more and more physicians now that even asking, like, hey, how many antibiotics were you on as a kid? Were you delivered vaginally or via C-section? All these types of things really matter for that microbiome, and every course of antibiotics you go on, depending on the antibiotic that you’re taking, a lot of them are nondiscriminatory, meaning that they’ll kill off all bacteria. So, the bacteria you’re trying to fight, which you need, right? There’s always a risk/benefit for every medication, but it’ll kill off the good guys, too, and as luck would have it . . . let’s say, you’re sick. You take an antibiotic. You clean out your, you know, bad bacteria and the good gut bacteria. Well, you’re not feeling well. You’re probably eating crackers or maybe some sugar or whatever, and then what grows back faster is the bad guys. And you might have an overgrowth of the wrong type of bacteria or an undergrowth of the good, healthy bacteria.

So, antibiotics can play a role, and then medications too. You know, medications are, they can be lifesaving and game-changing, and I’m so thankful that we have certain medications, but oftentimes people don’t think of the fact that those also need to be metabolized, right? And your body has to deal with them, right? It is a foreign chemical that needs to be utilized and then, you know, your body has to get rid of it. So, it’s just sort of another factor. It’s by no means me saying, hey, don’t take meds, but you got to look at the total compounding effects of all of these factors to realize, oh, jeez, you know. Most of us, if we’re being honest, could use a little bit of extra gut support for better health, right? Or being proactive there is important.

Jamie Martin
So, I want to get to that, the gut support and what we can do about it. There’s one thing I tag on. What’s really promising to me about gut health is that there’s a lot of things we can do to support our gut health and rebuild our gut health, right?

Samantha McKinney
Oh, yeah.

Jamie Martin
But there’s also . . . I just want to ask about genetics. Is there a genetic component to gut heath?

Samantha McKinney
Just like any other health condition, you know, you can always have an underlying predisposition because of your genetics, and depending on how strong that predisposition is, your lifestyle choices and your nutrition and your exercise, what you do with that can help either increase or mitigate the risk of it actually triggering, right.

So, you can have . . . let’s say there’s a long line of gut issues in my family. I’m probably going to develop those too, but I might be able to delay them, right, in terms of when I really start to struggle. And then, let’s say, Jamie, in your family, if nobody really has gut issues, nobody has autoimmunity, there aren’t really any issues, you might have a built-in tolerance that’s a little bit higher, where you might be able to throw some more assaults at your gut before something triggers.

And this is where I really almost want to get into a word of caution. When it comes to health, and when it comes to gut health, you cannot compare yourself to other people. Well, that person’s doing X, Y, and Z and not struggling. Why can’t I do it? I know sometimes it isn’t fair and it doesn’t feel that way, but you’ve really got to look at your health as an individual because it’s really different for everybody. But yeah, you know, genetics play a role, for sure.

David Freeman
Well, I got a gut check question coming at you right now, alright? And that gut check is, you already kind of touched on the intestines and small, large, and the roles that they play. We obviously are talking about the digestive system as a whole. You just touched on a little bit about the nervous system, how that reacts. So, you said earlier, 70 to 90 percent of our gut determines how our immune system follows up. So, when you speak to that, why is it so important, especially now, that we need to really be focusing on how we can build our immune system and what are some tips you can kind of give us around that?

Samantha McKinney
For sure. So, you know, because your immune system and your digestive tract are so interrelated, your gut has a lot to do with how resilient we are to different things or, you know, viruses, bacteria, sicknesses, etc., that we’re exposed to. So, we talk a lot aboutmaking sure that we’re really responsible with managing our exposure to various illnesses and sickness, etc., and that is important, but realize that we can’t live in a sterile environment, right? I mean, it’s inevitable that we’ll come across something, right? We get . . . there’s a flu season every year. There’re summer colds that can happen. There’s kind of winter sniffles, all of that.

So, if you really take care of your digestive tract in terms of eating a solid — and I’m sure we’ll get into more details here soon — but eating a solid nutrient-dense diet, really focusing on fiber, trying to stay away from additives and sugars and excess alcohol, periodically, at least, taking some gut supportive supplements, managing your stress. If your immune system is a little bit more balanced, you’ll be able . . . it’s very likely that you’ll have more resilience to those things and maybe you won’t experience as strong symptoms or maybe you won’t get sick as often.

We’ve all probably seen like, hey, when you get stressed out, as luck would have it, it feels like, oh, that’s life, I’m super stressed and now I’m sick. Right? Well, it has a lot to do with your adrenal glands, your body’s stress response. It has a lot to do with your gut as well. Whenever you’re stressed, your gut gets unbalanced, and you develop some more, you know, sensitivity with your immune system and it starts to overreact a bit.

So, I think that’s a really good point, David. I mean, if you take care of you gut, your immune system is going to react, I almost want to say a little bit more responsibly, right, in terms of managing some of these things that you’ll inevitably come across in the environment.

David Freeman
I know this next piece is going to be a passion point just being that we were just speaking immunity, but you actually created a program called GUT.FIX. Can you dive a little bit into that and how that can probably be some type of proactive measure for people to help build their immune system?

Samantha McKinney
Sure. The GUT.FIX program, it’s available through Life Time. It’s a food protocol that’s paired with some optional gut-supportive supplements that you can take. And the way that program is designed, as you guys can see, there’s definitely a challenge to developing . . . there’s no one size fits all gut health program. Let me just say that. That program was designed as if somebody were to just to it on their own, never work with a coach, never seek help from their doctor, what would be safe and likely, no guarantees, to get them to feel better. Right?

And that program, what it does is, for 30 days, it’s short term, it’s not, you’re not doing this for a year or anything. It really eliminates the most common food sensitivities to start. So, it eliminates gluten, dairy, soy, peanut, egg, and then obvious gut irritants like excess caffeine and alcohol. Right? So, those are taken out. But then, it gets a little bit more restrictive for people that are really struggling. I mean that program is designed to do kind of full bore for somebody that doesn’t feel good, right, and feels like they’re at the end of their rope and they haven’t really seen traction or progress, maybe with work with their medical team or whoever they might be working with. And their medically air quote “fine,” but they don’t feel well, right, and so they’re just trying to use some sort of self-experimentation and see what helps.

And other things it eliminates are nuts and seeds, paradoxically, fermented foods, so I’ll touch on that in a minute because fermented food are full of probiotics and generally recommended for good gut health, but I’ll get to that in a second. Also, it eliminates FODMAPs, which stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols, which is a mouthful. Just let’s go with FODMAPs, right? FODMAPs are a type of carbohydrate that are found in otherwise healthy foods like garlic and onion and apples and celery that can cause some digestive distress and IBS-type symptoms. So, really, the food sensitivity part, that’s really trying to address sort of the systemic issues that people might be dealing with and then things like FODMAPs, you know, including eliminating things like lactose on the GUT.FIX program, those are designed to try to help somebody who’s having those overt gut issues. Maybe they’re running to the bathroom all the time or super bloated and uncomfortable, to try to get them to feel better, you know, quickly.

While you’re doing the food protocol, though, this is where . . . and I don’t know, Jamie, David, tell me if I’m kind of going off on too much of a tangent here. This is where I want to really emphasize any elimination needs to be short term. Your solution to gut health is not, let me eat a very narrow list of foods in a bubble forever. That’s a giant, giant, misstep, and that’s no way to live either, right? I mean, gosh, food brings so much joy and it has a lot to do with relationship and nostalgia and tradition. The purpose of an elimination diet is always to identify what are your specific food triggers so that we can get to the point where you have as inclusive of a diet as physically possible that you can tolerate.

So, one of the biggest mistakes I see, people might do a food sensitivity test, for example, and they see some things come back, and they just get rid of those foods, and they think  that’s a solution. And I’m like, oh, no, no, no, no. What we need to do is do a short-term elimination diet while we give your gut some TLC, then reintroduce those foods and hope you don’t have a reaction. Right? That’s really what the goal is, is to get your body to tolerate foods.

And so that’s really what GUT.FIX is about because it talks about this food elimination, and the elimination is only so that you can identify what you’re tolerating or not when you reintroduce it. But while they’re eliminated, you actually have a lot of work to do. Stress management, right? How fast are you eating? What supplements are you taking? And the general kind of gut health supplements that come with that GUT.FIX food protocol are digestive enzymes to take when you eat to help you break foods down. There’s an amino acid called L-glutamine that helps support your small intestine function, and it can actually help feed those small intestine cells, and then you take a probiotic. You do those three, you do the elimination diet, and hopefully, you’re slowing down when you eat, you’re managing your stress, you’re sleeping, and that way, whenever you reintroduce things at the end of the 30 days, you’re in a better spot.

Jamie Martin
I think you brought up the food sensitivity or elimination test that you can do to identify what might be your sensitivities. And having done that, it was one of those really eye-opening . . . and it was surprising to me what I was supposedly sensitive to, but for that period of time that I did follow it and nurture my gut and do those other steps, it was really helpful, and I can say, I know I can reintroduce many of those foods, but I know when I’m kind of getting an overload again, and I can go back to that and try it again and test it. So, now that I have the information, it’s really helpful, but for me to eliminate those things permanently would be really taking away a lot of my food pleasure, and I’m just really glad to hear to hear you emphasize that. I think that’s such an important thing for people to know, that this can be short term. You don’t have to say goodbye to a food forever.

Samantha McKinney
Yeah, and really the whole purpose of elimination and reintroduction is that if you give your gut that TLC and you reintroduce it and nope, it’s a no-go, all those old symptoms come back, you don’t miss the food as much. But yeah, with those sensitivity tests, they’re helpful. I’ve absolutely used them as a guideline, but sometimes people are a little misguided as to what it means and what it doesn’t. They sort of think it’s a permanent thing. It’s all inclusive. No, it’s just a guideline to help you do an elimination diet because ultimately an elimination diet is the gold standard to figure out what you tolerate and what you don’t.

Jamie Martin
So, we talked about that. What about those fermented foods and anything else? David, what were you thinking?

David Freeman
Yeah. So, I want to know, then, when we are going through the gut fix phase and the feeling that we’re getting as far as I’m now lethargic or I’m now anxious and things of that nature. Is our immune system compromised during that time when it’s repairing, or what’s going on during that time? I want to know if that is being compromised during that time.

Samantha McKinney
Good question. Yeah, so, with clients that I’ve worked with, I would say when they kick off an elimination diet, generally speaking, they feel better relatively quickly. For those that feel really tired or really off, which can happen, and I’ve seen that happen, sometimes, I just find . . . you know I always start with what’s the most likely and I’ll look at what they’re eating, and I’m like, OK, you did a great job eliminating. What are you eating now? You’re not eating enough food, right? So, let’s actually build up those meals that you’re eating with the approved foods.

But what can happen sometimes is because there’s this complex interplay of food with your immune system, there’s even like psychosomatic connections with food, you know that deal more with psychology and everything, too, or even if you have some sort of gut pathogen or infection that might be dying off, you could have die-off symptoms where you initially feel worse and then you get better. Those happen, they’re a little bit more rare. I’d say more often than not, the person’s not eating enough on their elimination diet and we got to really kind of boost up their calories, but I have absolutely seen it where maybe they’re doing an elimination diet and also working with a functional medicine doctor and they’re on something like berberine or oil of oregano or something that’s an antimicrobial, and it’s killing stuff off, and they initially feel terrible. And then, they start to feel better once their body starts to rebuild a little bit.

So, yeah, that can happen, but more often than not, if you’re not feeling good doing an elimination diet please work with, you know, a well-trained medical professional and a registered dietitian and you know, somebody that can really kind of help you through that. Because, yes, the GUT.FIX is there to be a safe way to try to get people to feel better, but ultimately, I believe most people need to be working with a coach to work through this. And that applies to trainers and dietitians, as well. I always say the best ones always hire their own coaches.

Jamie Martin
You mentioned L-glutamine. Are there any other gut supportive, I mean, foods, number one . . . we should talk about fermented, but other supplements or supportive things that we can do to nurture our gut even on a daily basis, even if you’re not going to do an elimination diet. What can we do every day to be supportive of that system?

Samantha McKinney
Sure. Well, let me go back to the fermented foods piece because I know that probably throws everybody for a loop. Like, wait, I’m supposed to eating those? Yes, you should be eating fermented foods. Those are awesome for your gut, huge source of good probiotics and gut bacteria. The reason they are, and I’ll emphasize and overemphasize, temporarily eliminated on something like the GUT.FIX is, for a small portion of people, they might have an overgrowth of certain yeasts, like candida, in their Gi tract, and for the people that are struggling with that, fermented foods can temporarily, until that’s addressed, make them feel worse. So, Kombucha or sauerkraut, etc., which is why we eliminate everything for just a couple of weeks, like I said, it’s under 30 days for the whole thing, and then you reintroduce it. If you reintroduce it and you feel fine, by all means, eat all the fermented food. That would be awesome, right? And if you reintroduce it and you don’t feel fine, then you’re going to need to seek additional medical support there. Right?

In terms of, OK, what to do daily, we’ve talked about the importance of fiber. I would fiber is critical, but it’s tricky. You’ve got to increase your fiber intake slowly. If you ramp it too quickly, you’re going to be like, bloat city, right. I mean, you’re going to experience some gas. You’re going to experience some discomfort, so just make sure that if you’re increasing fiber from non-starchy vegetables, berries, nuts, seed, even like, I love Life Time’s prebiotic fiber powder. It’s awesome. It’s generally well tolerated. You sometimes need to ease into it, though, and that’s totally normal. And sometimes, people are like, oh, I can’t do fiber because it makes me bloated. I’m like, no, no. Fiber is a food for your probiotics, so if you feed those good gut bacteria too quickly, they’re going to produce more gas. So, you basically just have to slowly increase fiber so that bacterial colony has time to adjust. So, just because you experience some bloating doesn’t mean fiber’s not for you. It means you just need to take it more slowly and get yourself up to a high-fiber diet.

The other things to start really paying attention to are added sugars. So, sugar does not feed a healthy digestive tract and yes, we know obvious things like dessert and pop and juice, but really starting to look at labels for added sugars is a great thing to focus on, so this could be your raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing or that daily flavored yogurt, you know. It could even be some of those juice blends that as sold as a healthy green juice, but they’re actually full of a ton of sugar. So, it’s trying to look for, where am I getting a lot of sugar in my diet and starting to eliminate that a bit.

Jamie Martin
It’s always shocking when you look at that. I feel like it’s amazing the things you wouldn’t expect. It’s there.

Samantha McKinney
Yeah. Right. It could be lunchmeat or soups or, you know, just things that aren’t typically sweet and we find those added sugars in there.

The other thing is obviously just eating a high-produce diet. It is really important. What you want to be careful, though, is that if you’re one of those people that are experiencing really overt gut issues, sometimes that produce, because of those FODMAPS I was talking about, can cause some issue. You can start to see the complexity here, but what I would say kind of generally, day to day . . . oh, actually, the other thing, too. Hydration is super important. You actually want to be really well hydrated before you ramp up your fiber intact. I’ll be super, I guess this is a little bit, it’s not graphic, but you don’t want to bulk up your stool with a  high-fiber diet in a dry colon. That’s not going feel very good, so you need to make sure that you have a lot of hydration going on first, but try to concentrate most of your water intake away from meals, not at meals, which is surprising because I know clients that have tried to chug water round mealtime to suppress their appetite or eat less. And I’m like listen, all you’re doing is diluting those enzymes that you need to break food down. So, you’re making the job of your digestive tract way harder. So, it’s not that you can’t have any water at meals, but don’t be using that time to chug 20 ounces of water whenever you’re eating your lunch because that’s a huge mistake, too.

Jamie Martin
So space it out throughout the day, you know, kind of have it just be a consistent thing. I mean, carry that jug of water if you have a jug or a water bottle with you.

Samantha McKinney
Yeah. And I would say, I just want to hit on two quick things because they, I think they’re trending and they’re popular topics. So, we don’t have to go too deep down this rabbit hole, but for example, you might be seeing a lot on Instagram or social media with the carnivore diet, where people are eating just like all meat and all animal products. A lot of times, people with autoimmunity or significant gut issues gravitate towards that because plants don’t make them feel so good. Right? And so, you know, there’s a lot of opinions on the carnivore diet and you know whether or not it’s a therapeutic diet or something strategic to do, but I would say if you’re experiencing digestive issues and you’re eating a high-produce diet, definitely seek out some medical help from a functional medicine doctor or a really skilled practitioner to figure out what’s going on there because meat can be a little bit easier to digest, right, than some of the plants because plants have these internal mechanisms to help protect themselves.

And then, the other thing I wanted to mention was, intermittent fasting, too. So, we hear a lot about that and time-restricted eating. Just anecdotally, clients that have gut issues tend to feel better when they shorten their eating window a little bit, and I don’t necessarily think it’s because their eating window is shortened, I think it’s because, if let’s say, you eat from, let’s even keep it conservative, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., right? You don’t eat before 8 a.m. and you don’t eat after 8 p.m. You’re giving your body an 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. break, right? You’re giving your digestive tract a little bit of a rest, and so sometimes utilizing time-restricted eating, I’ve seen good results with that just because your bowel and your GI tract can sort of bet a once-a-day break from constantly digesting snacks and food.

You hear about those things all the time, and I honestly haven’t heard a ton about the carnivore diet, so now, you know, I’m going to go look that up and learn more about it. It feels like we need to maybe cover that a little bit more and just better understand it. It’s similar to, I feel like ketogenic, and there’s so many trendy diets out there, like, we need to cover off on all these things, right?

Samantha McKinney
Yeah. It’s sort of, when I first came across it, I’m like, what? To me, I’m like, there’s so much debate over healthy eating that to me, the one thing we could always hang our hats on was, everybody needs to eat produce, and then here comes this carnivore diet trend, and I was like, oh my gosh, now these people are like, hey, no plant products ever, just animal products, and I’m like, what is it? And as I looked into it a little bit and read anecdotes, which we all know anecdotes are not the same as peer-reviewed research, so we can’t make claims based on the anecdotes, but I did notice that the anecdotes tend to be people with gut issues or autoimmune issues, and I think it’s because they’re getting a little bit of a break from that roughage and kind of plant-based foods. I’m sure we’ll learn more about it in the years to come. I’m definitely not saying there’s nothing to it, and I’m not saying go do it, right? I’m just kind of putting it out there because I think a lot of people have questions on that in particular.

David Freeman
Yeah, I was going to say that that is probably the number one question that I usually get. I’ve been doing a little deal with Life Time and Alpha with Men’s Health, and when I do the Q&A, it’s like, everybody’s asking about intermittent fasting, like, does it benefit, this, that and there, and I always speak from a place of experience as far as my personal experience with it versus going off and like, what you just said, saying it’s a one size fits all. So, it doesn’t necessarily have to work for everybody, but after hearing you say it gives your gut some time to actually recover, that’s definitely something I will reference once I get that question again next week. So, I appreciate that. I’m learning from you as we go here. So, Jamie, if you don’t have anything else, you know what I’m about to do.

Jamie Martin
I do and I’m ready for it. I think Sam’s ready for it, too.

David Freeman
Here we go.

Samantha McKinney
I don’t know what’s coming but bring it.

David Freeman
It’s about to happen. It’s about to happen. We’re going to the power rinute, and within the power minute, what we usually do here is we just want to know if there was one key takeaway that you want our listeners, or you want to leave our listeners with, what would it be?

Samantha McKinney
David, you know me. It’s hard for me to boil it down to one thing. I’ll leave you with a couple of things because I’m a rule bender a little bit. So, I would say, there are a lot of opinions around nutrition and what to do for gut health. Start always with how you eat. and what I mean by that is, are you multitasking? Are you driving, yelling at the kids in the back seat, and you’ve got, you know, a sandwich in your hand? That’s probably not the ideal way to eat for good gut health. So, make sure you slow down, stop, chew, take your time. That will have one of the biggest impacts on your gut across the board.

Secondly, what I would say is if you can focus on food as close to its natural form as possible, you’re generally going to be on a good track regardless of what’s going on with your health.

And then, lastly, I would say, reject the idea that having gut issues or digestive upset is normal. It’s common, but if that’s going on, your body’s giving you a red flag, and you might need to do a little bit of a gut reset using an elimination diet, maybe some enzymes, glutamine, probiotics, just something temporarily as a self-discovery process to figure out what your long-term plan needs to be. And don’t be afraid to see out help.

So, I boiled it down to three and then I’ll try and stop there.

Jamie Martin
I think that’s three good ones, and I think, Sam, you have so many good resources. We’re going to link to them from the episode page for the podcast, but where can people learn more about you and your work and what you’re doing with Life Time.

Samantha McKinney
Sure. I would say the best two places to go would be online there are articles that I contribute to at The Source for Life Time, and then also you can join the Life Time Training Facebook Group as well, and that’s a community of both members and nonmembers and some of our fitness professionals, and we really like to interact and engage and ask questions on there too.

Jamie Martin
Thank you. This was super helpful, so many good tips. Thanks, Sam.

Samantha McKinney
You’re welcome. Thanks for having me, guys.

[Music]

David Freeman 
Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life. What works for you? Where do you run into challenges? Where do you need help?

Jamie Martin 
And if you have topics for future episodes, you can share those with us, too. Email us at lttalks@lt.life, or reach out to us on Instagram at @Life Time.life@jamiemartinel, or @freezy30 and use the hashtag #Life TimeTalks. You can also learn more about the podcast at thesource.lifetime.life/podcasts.

David Freeman 
And if you’re enjoying Life Time Talks, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Feel free to write a review and also let others know about it, too. Take a screenshot of the episode and share it on social, share it with your friends, family, work buddies, life coach. You get the gist.

Jamie Martin 
Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time on Life Time Talks.

[Music]

Jamie Martin

Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life. It is produced by Molly Schelper, with audio engineering by Peter Perkins and sound consulting by Coy Larson. A big thank you to the team who pulls each episode together and everyone who provided feedback.

We’d Love to Hear From You

Have thoughts you’d like to share or topic ideas for future episodes? Email us at lttalks@lt.life.

The information in this podcast is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of healthcare topics. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of advice from your physician or healthcare provider. We recommend you consult your physician or healthcare professional before beginning or altering your personal exercise, diet or supplementation program.

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