Is your digestion “socially normal” or actually normal?
Bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and other digestive issues are all things we humans have to contend with at some point or another. But, at what frequency are these things *actually* normal?
Socially Accepted “Normal” Digestion
We use the word normal to designate a standard, usual, typical, or expected condition. Because most people in our society eat the Standard American diet – low in fiber and high in foods that promote inflammation and impair the microbiome and gut – chronic digestive issues are common and therefore sometimes considered “normal”.
But, they are only “normal” according to society’s standards, they are not actually normal for a healthy, optimally functioning human body. So that’s why I like to designate between “society’s normal” digestion and actual normal digestion.
Here are some examples of “society’s normal” digestion:
- going #2 once, twice, or anything less than 7 days a week
- having diarrhea most or every time you go to the loo
- getting so bloated you look preggars after most or every meal
- newspapers and reading materials in the loo. A healthy poo happens in seconds, not minutes.
- pepto-bismol in the purse
- gas-x in every jacket pocket
- relying on metamucil or fiber supplements daily to get the pipes moving
If you experience any of the above, it’s time to focus on repairing and improving your digestion.
Truly normal digestion is so painless and effortless, you rarely even think about it:
- You eliminate daily, sometimes even 2 or 3 times a day. When you consume an adequate amount of fiber and water, you’ll naturally eliminate at this frequency. When you’re in the loo, it happens easily, painlessly, and quickly. Stool is well-formed – not too soft or too hard – and looks like a number 3 or 4 on the Bristol Stool Chart.
- Bloating and gas occur infrequently, and when it does, it’s barely noticeable. Passing gas is generally silent and odorless.
- Your diet provides all the fiber and water you need to eliminate regularly – no need for fiber supplements.
- You rarely (if ever) get any pain, indigestion, heartburn, or upset stomach, so don’t need to keep things like pepto-bismol or gas-x in your purse.
What to do if your Digestion is Off
There are many possible reasons and underlying root causes for a digestive system that is working sub-optimally, and so it’s best to work with a team of holistic practitioners who can help bring it back into balance.
A holistic nutritionist or health coach can help you track and understand your symptoms better and recommend dietary and lifestyle changes that can make a difference.
For more serious digestive issues- chronic loose stool or severe chronic bloating, for example – a GI doctor will be able to do testing which can help you get to the root cause of the issue. When choosing a doctor, I recommend looking for an MD that is certified in Functional Medicine or Integrative Medicine, as they’ll be more knowledgeable about dietary and lifestyle choices. They will often recommend you work in tandem with a nutritionist or health coach who can help you implement the dietary and lifestyle changes needed to remedy the issues.
You’ll get the most out of your sessions with these practitioners by doing a little detective work yourself, first. Keep a food and symptom journal to help you draw the connection between what you eat and how you feel. I love the MySymptoms app, which makes it easy to track and identify possible triggers. Ideally, if possible, keep a log for a week or so before visiting a GI doc or holistic nutritionist, so they can offer some insight.
General Tips for Improving Your Digestive Health
- Identify possible digestive-issue triggers and eliminate them. Keep a food and symptom log to help bring to light any possible food sensitivities. For many people, gluten and dairy are the top culprits, but you could have a sensitivity to just about anything. If you notice you get bloated every time you eat cheese or have to go running to the loo with loose stool after your favorite wheat cereal, experiment with eliminating the possible offending food for at least 2 weeks to see if the symptoms disappear. You can then experiment with adding the food back and noting if the symptoms reappear. While you can do this yourself, a holistic nutritionist or health coach can better guide you through this process, provide alternatives, and help you interpret the results. Sometimes you’ll want to avoid or limit the food long term, while other times, simply healing the gut and repairing digestion will allow you to eat the food again without a problem. (I walk participants through this process in my Nutrition Course). Note that sensitivities don’t only appear in the digestive system. For example, if you experience sneezing, a runny nose, acne, rashes, hives, a headache, or brain fog while eating something or soon after, that can also be a sign of an issue.
- Take a high quality probiotic. Our gut microbiome takes a beating from modern life – refined foods, tap water, antibiotic usage (both medically and in our meat/dairy), stress, lack of nature – all contribute to dysbiosis. When our microbiome is not balanced, it makes digestive issues like gas and bloating more likely. These are the most effective probiotics I’ve found, which offer fast relief. I use them personally and have been recommending them to clients for years.
- Try Digestive Bitters or Enzymes. If you’re chronically bloated after meals and having trouble digesting foods, you may want to experiment with digestive bitters or enzymes. They help you breakdown and digest your foods to reduce or eliminate bloating.
- Pay attention to stress. It can indeed have a significant impact on your gut health, so don’t overlook it as an area to work on in order to find relief.
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotic consumption. Antibiotic use affects our gut microbiome for months, and even years after they are taken. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that it took 6 months for a healthy person’s gut bacteria to rebound after a round of antibiotics, although, 9 beneficial strains of bacteria were completely wiped out and did not return, while some new non-desirable bacteria had colonized the gut.(1) This is why it’s important to limit antibiotic use to only when necessary and avoid conventional meat, as these animals are subject to higher antibiotic use. Both the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization (WHO) have called for an end of the routine use of antibiotics in animals raised for meat (2, 3).
If you’d like to understand your body better, eliminate chronic bloating, and get your digestive system back on track, join my science-backed, doctor-approved online 8-week Nutrition Course.