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If you're struggling to lose weight, the first place to start is your gut. Why do you need to improve gut health to lose weight? Research is showing gut health being linked to the development of disease, inflammation and food cravings which impact your weight or ability to lose weight.
There's no shortage of weight loss programs these days. In fact, most of them are ineffective and are not realistic for our busy lifestyles. People who need to lose weight, often have intense food cravings that sabotage their efforts. And, sometimes those cravings are caused by the gut, so no matter how many calories you eat unless your gut is balanced you won't lose weight.
Factors That Influence The Gut
- Eating processed foods (i.e. processed carbs & sugar)
- Excessive sugar consumption
- Birth control pills
- Too much high-intensity exercise or lack of exercise
- High stress
- Antibiotic use
- Eating gluten foods
Why You Need To Improve Gut Health To Lose Weight
Unfortunately, traditional doctors only treat the symptoms of these things. They don't address why the bacteria in your gut is imbalanced.
Research is showing more and more that gut health is linked to your weight. This is due to your blood sugar response. In general, foods that cause your blood sugar to rise rapidly cause you to store excess fat. These foods are called high glycemic index (GI) foods.
One study tested this on 800 people with a mix of those who were fit and overweight. (1) Those who were overweight eating low-GI snacks exhibited very large blood sugar spikes. The opposite of what you would expect! It was concluded that gut bacteria was exerting a significant impact on blood-sugar response from person to person.
In summary, gut bacteria plays a major role in your blood-sugar response to food (regardless of whether or not it’s a “healthy” choice). Blood sugar and insulin dysfunction is a major, underlying cause of thyroid dysfunction, so restoring a healthy balance of gut bacteria is crucial for stabilizing blood sugars and losing weight!
How The Gut Controls Food Cravings
When we are born, there is no bacteria in the intestinal tract. Colonization begins during birth, and rapidly multiplies throughout the first two and a half years of life. By age three, a child’s intestinal flora and microbiome will look identical to an adult’s. The biggest factors that influence gut bacteria from ages three and up are diet, lifestyle, and exposures to antibiotics and the factors I listed above.
Within the gut there is an entire world of bacteria. Certain types of bacteria thrive better on different nutrients than other bacteria so there's always an ongoing power struggle as to which bacteria will be dominant. Bacteria that are dominant actually produce food cravings for things that will help them thrive and continue to reproduce.
Your food cravings, in many cases, might literally be the product of the bacterial war happening within your gut. (2) Certain types of bacteria thrive well on carbohydrates, while others require dietary fiber or specific types of fat. When any one kind of bacteria begins to dwindle, they will send out cravings for their preferred nutrient, so that they can maintain their foothold.
While good bacteria, as well as the bad, will send out cravings, it’s the strong desire to eat junk food that seems hardest for most to resist. It’s also these cravings for fast food, sugar, and other highly processed ingredients, that tend to sabotage your weight loss efforts.
There’s a reason why, when starting a sugar-free plan like the Whole30 , most people do really well for the first three days before they get the sugar withdrawal headache or start feeling fatigued. That’s a sign of the sugar-loving bacteria being defeated, but they won’t go quietly. So, in a last desperate attempt, they send out intense cravings which can sometimes feel like withdrawal flu. (3)
If you’re changing dietary habits to achieve specific health goals, and your dwindling “bad” gut bacteria are sending out cravings, there are certain healthy foods you can eat to stop these cravings.
In our next SF subscriber post, I'll talk about what foods can stop cravings, what foods are worse for gut bacteria and how certain foods change your gut.