1. Rest & digest – sitting down and taking time to eat our meals has myriad benefits. Firstly, it allows us to better tune into satiety cues so we know when we are full or if we need something extra. It also gives our gut adequate time to work on the process of digestion, keeping it nicely regulated. Think also about using mealtimes as pockets of recovery throughout the day, creating moments to be present rather than eating furiously on the go and/or whilst checking multiple devices.
2. Embrace ALL foods – avoid vilifying or putting halos around certain foods. Every food has a place in our diet and it is important to enjoy the foods we love to eat and create a balanced view on eating well. When we overly restrict any foods/food groups we tend to want them even more. Call it the inner rebel. Chances are when we do adopt more of an all-inclusive approach to our eating habits we won’t crave or really want some of the foods that we once deemed ‘contraband’. Moreover, getting too restrictive in our diet can also negatively shift our microbiome, so adopting a less-restrictive approach leads to a happier equilibrium for both us and our trillions of microbes.
3. Know when to switch off – creating some boundaries with your phone and other devices is vital for us to cultivate a happy and positive relationship with the omnipresent digital world. Simple strategies such as switching off your phone for at least an hour a day, avoiding having it on and around when you are eating, putting it away when you are in engaging in real human company and conversation, and not having it in the bedroom are key. Frequent, heavy social media use and suchlike can be incredibly overwhelming and create a lot of negative emotions with little in way of balance. Learn to rely on devices less and instead connect with real people and real life.
4. Prioritise sleep – sleep is one of the fundamental pillars of overall health and one that too many of us have gravitated away from both in terms of quantity and quality. In fact, poor sleep is linked to a myriad of chronic diseases including those related to the gut. Creating a pre-bedtime ritual can help you get back into a rhythm with your sleep. Start with switching off stimulating devices a least an hour before you intend to go to sleep and instead use this time to read, listen to an audiobook or similar, have a bath or a cup of soothing chamomile tea. These can all work to help the natural circadian sleep-wake cycle. Our microbiome also works on a circadian rhythm so it needs some decent shut-eye too.
5. Practise some kind of daily mindfulness – mindfulness has been used as a bit of a buzz word lately but it is vitally important for us all. It can create levelheadedness and support overall balance, including that of the gut since the gut-brain connection is one that is incredibly powerful. The meaning of mindfulness is literally ‘to be present’ so for each of us that might require something different. Meditation has been reported for its benefits so you might want to try using one of the excellent apps available to help guide you. Otherwise gentle yoga can bring similar benefits. Also practising some simple breathing exercises such as deep belly breathing helps to soothe the Vagus nerve which joins the gut and brain. These can all bring some stillness and enable us to be present in the moment.
6. Aim for diversity and variety – eating the rainbow sounds like a cliché, but when it comes to our gut microbiome having plenty of colour in your diet encourages a more heterogenous mix of bacteria species. This will support a healthier and stronger gut. Try to aim for different sources of fibre that feed the microbiome which includes a veritable mix of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and nuts & seeds. Practically that could mean putting in a different veg or fruit into your weekly shop, mixing up your morning oats with other grains such as buckwheat or quinoa flakes, and creating your own nut & seed mixes to sprinkle on salads, soups, vegetables, yogurt, porridges, or as a snack. Adding in a supplement like SYMPROVE can also help with increasing your natural microbial diversity, as not only does it deliver plenty of good bacteria, it also feeds your existing microbiome.
7. Move every day – some movement in the form of gentle exercise can help with supporting physical and mental health, including the health of the microbiome. Walking may also alleviate anxiety and create some precious headspace when we might feel overwhelmed. Best of all this exercise doesn’t cost you anything. Booking in classes like yoga or pilates as ‘not to be missed’ appointments can bring mindfulness as well as movement.
8. Learn when to say no – which could be directed towards people, social or work commitments, or even what you choose to see on your social media feed. Busyness has become a badge for success but with a life that is simply overflowing and overwhelming it’s hard to achieve any kind of balance. Juggling plates is invariably going to end up with one or more ceremoniously crashing on the floor. Rather than multi-tasking think more about mono-tasking, and work out what and/or who are your priorities in your life. Saying no can bring a huge amount of empowerment, and consequently enhance the enjoyment of the people and things you REALLY love.
9. A little bit of planning – whether that’s food shopping, financial in-goings and out-goings or ensuring that you see certain friends and family. These can all help bring some equilibrium into your life. When we leave too much to last minute and quick decisions it can make things a bit too haphazard. It’s not to say that you need to be militant about it but having a regular online food delivery order, some rough meal planning, making dates with mates and having some way of organising and monitoring your finances can all help with this.
10. Positive focus – this could mean avoiding toxic people and situations, but also the way that we talk to ourselves. Make your self-chat positive and do something at least once per day that makes you happy. And also remember to laugh. It is entirely therapeutic and brings instant gratification and balance when we have a good belly laugh and I’d like to say the gut probably enjoys a good chuckle too!