Seven Common Gut Healing Mistakes I Want You To Avoid
Healing your damaged gut is a journey full of trial and error, and lots of HARD work. I know that right now you are probably experiencing countless overlapping symptoms, and there are countless healing modalities and approaches out there, all competing for your attention. And they all seem to work so differently for different people. Not to mention the complete minefield presented by forums, Facebook groups and random online success stories. I’ve been there. Having healed my own gut and those of countless others, I’ve made and seen almost every mistake under the sun. We’re all human, after all. But, if you are new to this journey, I want to help you learn from the experiences of those who’ve come before you and avoid some of the many pitfalls on the road ahead. So let’s get into it, here are the seven most common mistakes I’ve encountered that I want to help you avoid while trying to heal your gut.
Mistake #1. Expecting a full recovery in 30 days
I really, truly wish this was the case! While short-term symptom management is achievable and important so you can get on with life, actually healing the gut lining and/or digestive process can take many months, even years in some cases. Especially for those who have chronic digestive issues involving leaky gut and autoimmune conditions that have likely existed for 5 to 10 or more years. Let me chime in here and admit to this mistake. When I started on this journey in 2010 as a chronically constipated and bloated IBS sufferer, who had been struggling all of her life, I figured that once the poop started to move then I was done! I couldn’t have been more wrong and I am so thankful that the first practitioner I ever saw for help was gentle in breaking this news to me.
A rule of thumb I like to use, to set expectations for my clients, is one month of healing for every year of being unwell. It’s not perfect and everyone’s healing journey is different, but it’s a good place to start. As a society, we have been conditioned to expect quick fixes for health problems, usually in the form of a little white pill. But, as chronic disease becomes more prevalent and beyond the capability of conventional treatment options, most people are starting to realise true healing actually takes time.
This is particularly true of the digestive system, because unlike a broken arm, you can’t just put it in a sling or a cast and not use it while it heals. It is in use almost all day, every day, so giving it the space to heal can be a difficult and delicate process. There’s no reason not to be optimistic, just be realistic about how long that might take… and no, sadly 30 days probably isn’t going to cut it.
Mistake #2. Using a one-size-fits-all protocol
If there’s one thing we know for sure about gut healing it’s that no two clients are ever the same. There are just too many variables; from the specific underlying root cause, to medical history, sensitivities, environment and lifestyle factors, to name just a few. For this reason, reading about someone else’s success on a blog or forum and trying to replicate their protocol probably won’t work for you. Again, I wish it were that simple because my job would be a whole lot easier!
I spent a lot of time and money trying this approach. I signed up for countless cleanses, 30-day gut repair online courses and even 3-month digestive healing programmes. They all taught me a lot, but never enough to overcome the chronic complexity of crap (literally!) that I had going on inside.
So, rotating through evidence-based herbal blends and following a diet protocol like SCD, AIP or FODMAPs as a template is a great place to start. But, matching the right one to your underlying condition and symptoms, adding additional therapies, removing certain food triggers and updating it regularly in response to progress, is critical to designing and implementing an effective gut healing protocol.
Mistake #3. Failing to uncover the underlying root cause
One of my core beliefs is that there is ALWAYS a cause for your symptoms. It’s very simple science: cause and effect. Yes, I know we don’t know everything, but the research community is working on that for us. So, if a practitioner ever tells you there is no identifiable reason for your digestive issues, I’d be seeking a second opinion, pronto. IBS is a great example of a failure to understand the underlying root cause. I know there are many out there who were told the same thing that I heard, “We have investigated everything, nothing has come up. So, it’s all in your head”. Nope, it is not! Please find a new practitioner and be relentless in your pursuit for health.
Similarly, using symptoms alone to guess the underlying root causes of your digestive problems can be another recipe for disaster. There is way too much overlap in the symptoms resulting from parasites, bacteria, yeast, SIBO, dysbiosis, leaky gut, Coeliac, IBD, etc. but all will need vastly different treatment protocols. Again, if you diagnose without testing and your treatment isn’t working, it’s most likely because you haven’t identified the true root cause of your issues. My motto: test, don’t guess! These are my go-to functional lab tests for IBS.
Mistake #4. Fixing the gut without healing the digestive process
Digestive issues are notorious for relapsing and turning into chronic conditions. Why? Because too often, we are focussed on spot fixing a problem in the small intestine (e.g. removing bad bacteria or healing the gut lining) without fixing the whole digestive process. There are so many components to the digestive process, all of which are critical to avoiding symptoms. Stomach acid production, the migrating motor complex (MMC), bile and enzyme secretion and the balance of gut flora are all areas of long-term sustainable gut health that are often overlooked.
I see this really frequently with SIBO sufferers and I’ve even made this mistake myself – removing the overgrowth (spot fixing the small intestine) without fixing the MMC (a key part in the digestive process). And for myself and many of my clients, until we fixed the digestive process, the SIBO kept coming back.
Mistake #5. Expecting diet to solve all your problems
This is a big one. And it’s a really sad day when you realise that your issues can’t be solved by eating an immaculate diet anymore. I remember it clearly… the epic bloating after a plain salad with boiled chicken and a side of water. The primary role of a gut healing diet is to reduce inflammation, cut the food supply for bad parasites/bacteria/yeast and support gut healing. The right gut healing diet will definitely help manage symptoms, but alone, will not heal or reverse the damage done in cases of long-term or serious digestive damage.
In addition to the right diet, most people need a comprehensive protocol that includes natural supplements to support the digestive process and addresses lifestyle factors as well as rest, exercise and stress reduction strategies to truly heal. Using SIBO clients as an example again, we can generally get their symptoms under control in around two weeks with the right diet, however over time the diet will lose it’s effectiveness as the digestive system further deteriorates from the damage caused by the overgrowth.
Mistake #6. Focusing on the minutia, without getting the basics sorted
I want to start by saying that I love forums and Facebook support groups and I am a member of quite a few. They give a sense of community and support like no other place for those who have a shared health challenge. However, head to any client-driven health forum and you’ll quickly find yourself fearing you have a whole range of extremely rare and complex issues and that even the smallest detail will make or break your healing.
I’m here to reassure you that before you get side-tracked down a very niche and complex pathway or before you begin to freak out about the smallest detail, you need to get the basics right. These basics lay the foundation for healing and get you 90% of the way there. You need to find out the major imbalances you have, spend 3-6 months reducing inflammation, re-balancing your microbiome, nourishing your body, supporting digestion and detoxification, and healing the gut lining. Only then, if you are still symptomatic, is it time to start digging deeper. And by this stage, you will understand your condition so much better for how it has responded to treatment, that you might know exactly where to look and/or test.
Mistake #7. Not realising the importance of psychology and stress
Your mindset, or mental attitude, is absolutely key to successful healing. Why else would we have to test everything in scientific research against a placebo? An effect attributed to nothing other than an individual’s mindset.
And while a positive mindset can help you heal, stress and low mood can do just the opposite. Stress in particular is bad news for gut healing. Amongst a whole host of other impacts, cortisol, our stress hormone, is released when you experience either physical, biochemical or mental/emotional stress. It impairs digestion and suppresses your immune system, neither of which are conducive to gut healing.
Just like our physical health, we need to work on our mental health and managing this type of stress. Whether that is through a practitioner, educating yourself online or with books, or trial and error, it’s worth investing time and effort. For me, I had to stop stressing about every tiny detail around food, practice radical self-care and just generally take a more relaxed approach to life (comes with age, maybe…). Even more than any other part, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach and it’s an ever evolving practice that can take you to some fun places. Think retreats.
Mistakes are how we learn, they are a completely normal and expected part of the healing journey. Sometimes they hurt, but these are the lessons we remember the most and they are what I have tried to focus on above. I truly hope you haven’t made as many as I did and that you’ve learnt a thing or two that might make your healing journey a little smoother, a littler shorter and little less stressful.
If you need help with your own gut healing, please head to the Work With Me page to learn more about how I work online with clients in many countries to test for and treat the various root causes of IBS symptoms and other GI conditions.
Keep searching, keep going with your healing journey and keep fighting for you health. I promise it will all be worth it.