It’s safe to say that many of us entered the new year feeling a little worn down from all the holiday excitement, and not to mention bloated from all the big meals and seasonal treats. Despite our best intentions, it can be difficult to feel refreshed and ready to go right at the start of January. If you were (understandably) indulging throughout December, it makes sense that you might be feeling sluggish or even sick now. This is because gut health is a foundational aspect of wellness that impacts essentially your entire body and your mind.

Your gut contains an estimated 100 million neurons and is where a huge number of your neurotransmitters are produced, including 90% of your serotonin. This means it not only plays a huge role in your digestion, but also your mood. Alongside mental health, your gut impacts your cognition, energy levels, immune system, joints, thyroid, skin, and your overall well-being.

If you’ve already been struggling with the big, possibly overwhelming, health resolutions that you wanted to work on this year, your initial efforts may be better spent on repairing your gut. Below are some suggestions for manageable habits you can incorporate into your existing routines that will help you work toward optimal gut health. It is not advisable to try all of them at once, as you may just find yourself burned out again. Start by picking some that you realistically think you can be consistent with, and then go from there!

Eat Mindfully

This is the most obvious category of things you can do to improve your gut health. Of course, what you put into your body has a direct impact on how it functions. You’ve probably heard some of these tips before, but instead of implementing them to lose weight fast, do so to make noticeable improvements to the way you feel.

  • Avoid processed foods, especially those that most would label as “junk.”
  • Reduce inflammation further and reset your taste buds by removing added refined sugar and artificial sweeteners from your diet for 30 days – or more if you find you don’t miss it!
  • Give up alcohol for a month – you may find you don’t miss drinking either!
  • Consume less caffeine, as it is also toxic for your gut and may be contributing to anxiety or insomnia.
  • Take a break from gluten, dairy, and soy for a month, too, since these are other common sources for inflammation.
  • Add new, fun, nutrient-dense foods to your diet – such as produce you’ve never tried from your local farmers’ market – so you don’t feel like all you’re doing is restricting and removing.
  • Taste the rainbow every day – colorful fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants!
  • Aim to eat at least one vegetable and one fruit at every meal.
  • Eat your vegetables first at mealtime to get plenty of fiber and vitamins in before filling up on other dishes.
  • Sneak vegetables into foods you already love, like pasta dishes, which can easily be made with spiralized veggies instead of noodles and chunky, produce-heavy sauces.
  • Cook your vegetables more often than eating them raw while you’re actively working on repairing your gut so that they will be easier to digest.
  • Incorporate green bananas, asparagus, cooked and cooled rice or potatoes, garlic, onions, flaxseeds, chia seeds, oats, tigernuts, or chicory root into your diet as these are fiber resistant starches that feed the good bacteria in your gut.
  • Pause from the usual multitasking while eating so you can focus on chewing your food properly, which releases saliva and digestive enzymes to break everything down and help you absorb nutrients.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day for detoxification and bowel regularity – try adding lemon juice to warm water for both added benefits and flavor.

leaky gut warning signs

Try Supplements

If you’re still regularly consuming a lot of processed foods, supplements won’t be able to overcome that. However, if you’re cutting back on toxic ingredients like refined sugar, alcohol, and caffeine, there are some options that can add to and speed up gut repair. Below are three kinds of recommended supplements.

  • Take a probiotic, such as FloraMax, to help balance the good bacteria in your digestive system.
  • Take a postbiotic, such as PostBio Max, since new research suggests they’re responsible for many of the benefits previously attributed to probiotics.
  • Take a digestive enzyme, such as DigestXyme, which combats bloating, gas, and indigestion by helping to break down your food.

Exercise Regularly

This is another piece of advice you might be tired of hearing, but you may not know about this particular benefit of moving your body. Research shows that exercise increases good bacteria in your gut and overall bacterial diversity. Here are a few suggestions for adding some more movement into your life.

  • Go for a daily walk, maybe with your favorite person, pet, or podcast!
  • Schedule specific times for exercise so it can become routine, which usually helps with consistency.
  • Try a longer workout like a high intensity interval training session – researchers have found these are best for increasing bacterial diversity, plus they’re fun!

Stress Less

That’s certainly easier said than done, but it’s important to try because chronic stress decreases bacterial diversity, increases inflammation, and inhibits the digestive process. Many experts say there is a “gut-brain connection,” which means if your head’s a mess your stomach likely will be too. Thankfully, these activities can be easily added to your evening routine so that moments of peace are worked right into your schedule.

  • Follow the previous suggestion because another of the many benefits of exercise is that it’s stress relieving!
  • Enjoy an Epsom salt bath.
  • Listen to music that helps you relax.
  • Make deep breathing a regular practice in your life – it doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes!
  • Write down things you’re grateful for in a journal.
  • Meditate or pray in any way that suits you – they even make apps for this now, like Calm and Headspace.

Sleep More

When looking to repair any part of your body, including the gut, getting good sleep is extra important. Unfortunately, no one has invented a magic potion for guaranteed good sleep yet. Instead, try some of these options for improving your sleep schedule.

  • Get outside during the day as exposure to natural light can help you sleep at night.
  • Stop screen time an hour before bed.
  • Do some of the stress-relieving activities suggested above instead of scrolling on your phone or watching TV for that hour.
  • Make sure your room is dark, quiet, and cool for optimal sleeping conditions.
  • Go to bed and plan to wake up at the same time each day to support your natural circadian rhythm.

If you’re still stuck in the post-holiday slump, incorporating any of the habits above can help improve your gut, and overall, health. However, if you suspect an underlying issue like leaky gut, food sensitivities, or an infection (such as SIBO, Candida, or intestinal parasites), it’s time to get tested. No cleanse, supplement, or simple habit change can clear up these serious issues on their own.

I have personally struggled with digestive problems for a good portion of my life and I know how debilitating they can be. For example, avoiding social events not knowing what your gut is going to do and relying on Imodium or Miralax just so you can get though your day. When your digestive system is out of control it impacts every ounce of your body emotionally and physically. Despite what you have heard from your doctors in the past, there is almost always a solution, you just need to take a new approach.

A functional medicine provider can identify the right tests for you based on your history as well as your current symptoms. With the results, they can create a targeted protocol to restore your gut. If you would like such assistance, please review our Adaptation Program, then request a free discovery call to see if we’re the right fit to help you feel your best this year.

Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.