My gut always lets me know when it needs a reset — but I'm never sure what exactly it is I need. Do I need to cut out sweets or gluten for a while, or should I eat earlier in the evening?
"Your gut works hard to help keep you nourished — and when it's not working at its best, you feel it. Most often, digestive issues will show up as excess gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation," said Desiree Nielsen, RD, the author of Eat More Plants: Over 100 Anti-Inflammatory, Plant-Based Recipes For Vibrant Living.
If you're experiencing chronic gut symptoms, you should always check with your doctor first to make sure you're not dealing with underlying infections or conditions, the registered dietitian added.
Aside from the possibility of a preexisting condition, common causes of these digestive symptoms include stress, a lack of fiber in your diet, and an unbalanced microbiome, Nielsen said.
One possible solution to start feeling better (with your doctor's approval) is working up to a diet rich in whole plant foods and lots of water, she added — but that takes time.
"To help ease symptoms, there are some 'quick fixes' that can help give you a bit of relief as you are changing your diet."
Just know that these "quick fixes" aren't long-term solutions — yes, Nielsen said you'd feel better for a bit, but if you don't change your eating habits for good, your gut issues will come back.
"My favorite intention behind a reset is to inspire more long-term change," she said. "When you dive into really gut-friendly eating for a couple of weeks and see how good you can feel, it is easier to find the motivation to make real change!"
Everyone is different — so you might feel better after two days or a few weeks, Nielsen explained.
"The gut microbiota (bacteria) start to shift in as little as 24 hours with dietary change, but maintaining that change means creating new habits that stick," she said.
On top of making doctor-approved dietary changes, Nielsen suggested choosing two or three of the habits below that you think you could do forever. These will help soothe uncomfortable side effects and support your overall gut health.
According to Nielsen, ginger is anti-inflammatory and prokinetic, which means it helps facilitate the gut's movement.
"Adding ginger to smoothies is great for helping encourage movement and relieving that overfull or nauseous feeling in the stomach."
"Fennel seeds are traditionally used to alleviate digestive discomfort and ease gas. Try making fennel tea, or even chewing on a few fennel seeds after a meal," Nielsen said.
Peppermint (which is an antispasmodic) can soothe the smooth muscle around the gut, Nielsen explained.
"That's not a good thing if you have reflux, but if you have gas and bloating or abdominal pain, brewing strong peppermint tea might help."
Consume Psyllium Husk
"If you really need to fix diarrhea or constipation, working up to one to two tablespoons of psyllium husk a day can be life-changing," Nielsen said.
Since psyllium husk is a double fiber, it can help form good bowel movements while not causing too much gas, she added.
Consume Whole Plants
"An eating plan filled with plants is the best way to give your gut what it needs while avoiding the things that can compromise its function, like too much saturated fat."
According to Nielsen, whole foods like broccoli, lentils, brown rice, and nuts offer a spectrum of plant fibers that can clear the gut while feeding it beneficial bacteria.
"I highly recommend starting the day with a smoothie because it's convenient, easy to digest, and you can get a lot of nourishing plants in there," she said. "Then opt for lunch and dinner plates that are half vegetables, a quarter intact whole grains (like brown rice or barley, not crackers or bread), and a quarter plant-based proteins, like legumes and tofu."
For those new to high-fiber diets, Nielsen suggested prioritizing cooked foods since they're often easier to digest, or making dips and soups in a blender.
"Also, add in some of my favorite gut boosters, such as fermented foods like sauerkraut, ginger, and turmeric, daily."
Keep a Routine
"Your gut is actually a creature of habit. It would love it if you ate at the same times each day, as well as sleeping at the same times each day."
And while that isn't always easy, Nielsen said to try waking up roughly at the same time every day and having a big glass of water as soon as you do to stimulate the gastrocolic reflex, which is strongest in the morning. This should help get your bowels moving, which can lessen gas and bloat and make you feel more energetic, she added.
Avoid a Few Things
While trying to reevaluate and prioritize your gut health, Nielsen said it's best to take a break from alcohol, coffee (unless you're constipated), added sugars, and red meat, if possible.
"Alcohol is a gut irritant and can increase the 'leakiness' of the gut barrier temporarily. Coffee can further stimulate the gut, which can be great if you're constipated but not so great if you've got loose BMs."
She added that sugar can encourage inflammation, and saturated fat and haem iron in red meat can irritate the gut and negatively impact the gut microbiota.