5 Simple Habits that Boost Gut Health with Phoebe Lapine
In this episode of the Feel Good Effect, we’re getting into all things gut health! Phoebe Lapine, food & health writer, is joining us for this conversation to help cut through the clutter.
Listen in to the episode or read the article for all of her science-backed habits that you can use for better gut health.
5 simple habits that boost gut health with phoebe lapine
meet guest & health author: phoebe lapine
Phoebe wrote a book called The Wellness Project based on a real-life experiment of sorts that she did over the course of a year. She distilled all of her wellness problem areas into a single do-to list. Then she experimented to figure out what was worth her time, money, and energy by making one lifestyle change, one month at a time. One of the big items on that to-do list was healing gut health.
Phoebe has an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s. For most with autoimmune diseases, one of the problem areas is the gut. She researched a ton, did some experiments, and felt like she knew everything there was to know about gut health. The experiment worked great and she felt like she was on a much better playing field when it came to her thyroid health and general wellbeing.
But about seven months after The Wellness Project came out, she started to experience some strange IBS-like symptoms, some of which were familiar (like the diarrhea and constipation rollercoaster). And some that were strange, like suddenly starting to burp during meals. She went back to her doctor who sent her to get a SIBO breath test
what is SIBO?
SIBO stands for small intestine bacterial overgrowth. It had come up in her research, but not a lot. It wasn’t something she knew a lot about, but was what she ended up being diagnosed with. What Phoebe found reading about SIBO online was so confusing, conflicting, and did not have a lot of answers.
She put together a few posts on her site and received tons of responses about it from her audience, which kicked off her new ‘journey’, starting a podcast called SIBO Made Simple where she interviewed a lot of the practitioners who were on the cutting edge of SIBO. She learned not only about her own gut health and how to optimize her digestive system but also about all sorts of overlapping conditions.
In her newest book, SIBO Made Simple, Phoebe really provides a practical step-by-step for getting to the root of SIBO and undoing the damage. She also has a valuable overall approach to gut health, beneficial for those with or without SIBO.
“you do what you can. it’s aspirational. and then when life gets in the way. try not to stress about it”Phoebe Lapine
5 tactical habits we can use to boost gut health
There’s so much we can do every day for prevention, and ultimately all of these things are part of healing and treatment as well.
1 | Meal spacing
There’s a lot going on in the wellness space about intermittent fasting and different schools of thought about eating for different metabolisms. From everything she has learned about SIBO research, Phoebe is firmly in the meal spacing camp. Which she stresses does not have to be as rigid as intermittent fasting. Unlike intermittent fasting, meal spacing is a little more flexible, aiming for 4-5 hours between each meal and also aiming to curb snacking.
Phoebe shares that if you look at the actual mechanics of our digestive system, it makes sense. There’s a mechanism called the migrating motor complex, which functions as a street sweeper of your small intestines, which is where you absorb nutrients. The stomach delivers churned-up food, enzymes come in to play and break it down into essential nutrients, which are absorbed through the small intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. This is where a lot of the dysfunction happens, whether it’s SIBO, enzyme deficiency, leaky gut syndrome, or intestinal permeability.
The small intestine is actually larger than the large intestine. Surface area-wise it’s the size of a football field and you can compare it to a narrow, winding road. There’s a lot that could go wrong and impede the progress. The migrating motor complex is like the dishwasher function after you eat a meal. There’s peristalsis that moves food through the intestines and then the migrating motor complex street sweeps the lining after a meal. This process is very important in our digestive system in preventing SIBO, IBS, and stagnation. This migrating motor complex only kicks in after a fasting period of 90+ minutes. So if you think about it, frequent snacking, even if you tend to snack healthily, may not be giving this essential mechanism any time to do its chores. Also, eating too close to bedtime means you might have undigested food sitting in your gut and your migrating motor complex won’t be able to do its most complete street sweeping.
See how meal spacing works for you. If you’re still hungry, consider eating larger meals or checking how those meals are nourishing you (is there enough fiber, protein, or healthy fats?).
This is really based on the science of how your body is working. It’s not about fasting to lose weight, it’s truly about letting your body do the job it needs to do. We don’t all live within the perfect circumstances every day, you do what you can and when life gets in the way try not to stress about it.
“Sometimes the solution is so simple that we just overlook it”Phoebe Lapine
2 | chew your food thoroughly
Chewing your food is the first step of the digestive process. You were given these chompers for a reason, to help break down your food because your stomach cannot do this same function and because you have saliva, which has enzymes in it. This process sets the tone for everything that comes later. It signals to your brain to get your stomach churning and sets the scene for the digestive process. If we skip chewing, we skip an essential step of the food labyrinth. If you focus a little more on the chewing aspect, slow down, tell yourself you won’t put food on your fork until you’ve actually chewed and swallowed what’s in your mouth.
If you grew up with food scarcity, you probably developed the habit of eating really quickly. If you are a parent, you may have learned to eat quickly between periods of care. If you have someone to set the pace for it, like a partner who is really good at chewing their food rather than inhaling it, try mimicking their pace for a meal. Having distractions, like watching TV while eating, can make it easier to swallow food quickly; try mindful eating. The purpose behind it is important, and maybe a baby step is trying mindful eating for the first couple of bites. Sit still, breathe, smell (which also kickstarts the digestive process), and start the meal in a grounded way. In fact, the act of saying grace is a very smart digestive strategy. Even if you are not religious, try starting with a reflection of points of gratitude from the day before dinner
“The how you’re eating is actually so much more important than the what”Phoebe Lapine
3 | stick with cooked or pureed foods
If you have a weaker digestive system or are someone prone to IBS, try sticking with cooked or pureed foods. So many of us get bogged down by what’s on our plate, what we are sensitive to, but the reality is the how you’re eating is actually so much more important than the what, which drills down to how you prepare your food.
For example, if you have found that you are sensitive to zucchini, have you tried taking the skin off, deseeding it, cooking it, pureeing it? There are several steps you can take to make something more easily digestible than just ruling out the ingredients, period. Tomatoes are a great example of this – some people do much better with raw tomatoes, others with cooked. There are lots of things that could be going on with the tomatoes themselves, maybe it’s the lectins you are sensitive to, maybe it’s that they are nightshades, maybe it’s the histamine levels. Preparation hedges some of those bets and makes it a little easier.
A lot of people, especially in the SIBO community, get really afraid of food. Instead of avoiding them, try some of these vegetables in a more easily digestible form. Do the work for your mouth and gut before the food even reaches it.
There is a seasonal aspect to it, too. In a colder, damper time of year, most of us would benefit from cooking our meals, versus in the summer when we gravitate toward raw foods when our bodies are more capable of handling them. It’s not about cooked or raw veggies being healthier than the other, it’s what does your body needs and how you can introduce the food to your body. Yes, cooking veggies might reduce some of the nutrients, but if your digestive system cannot process the raw foods, you’ll be flushing the nutrients anyway.
These problems have been so shameful and secretive, but it’s happening to so many people.
“Become an expert in yourself”.Robyn Conley Downs
4 | support your stomach acid
Pay attention to your stomach acid and support it in any way possible. This one might involve supplementation, but there are ways to do it with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, or just by smelling your food. Listen to this episode from SIBO Made Simple for more on why stomach acid is key. Try diluting a tablespoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar in a glass of water 10-30 minutes before a meal. Before every meal is ideal.
The reality is that lots of people, women especially, are deficient in stomach acid. Hashimoto’s is one small example of a condition that makes you more prone to having low stomach acid. Stress also reduces stomach acid.
One of the common ways people get SIBO is a simple case of food poisoning or a stomach bug, which temporarily damages the migrating motor complex, which would be post-infectious IBS. Knowing how common these are, if we can do our best to support the natural substances in our bodies to prevent those occurrences from happening, let’s do it. Stomach acid is an unrecognized powerhouse of the digestive system.
5 | wear looser clothes
Anytime there is bearing down on our intestines, it is going to cause them to narrow. Combined with low stomach acid, slowed migrating motor complex, and whatnot, it can add up. There can be a difference in digestion when wearing Spanx or high-waisted skinny jeans compared to when you’re not. Pay attention and notice what happens when you wear tight clothing. It may not be an everyday long-term solution, but something we can be mindful of.
further reading: the SIBO Made Simple book
Phoebe’s most recent book, SIBO Made Simple is a hybrid cookbook and gut information guide, with about 150 pages of information upfront and over 90 recipes in the back. It’s totally possible to heal SIBO without making a single change to your diet, especially if you are making changes in how you’re eating. This book can help you get to the bottom of your symptoms as well as help anyone just feel a little better and recap some important habits.
The whole body is a constellation, one thing affects the rest of the body.
what does it really mean to be healthy?
“Healthy hedonism.. is a Venn diagram where the things that nourish your body meet the things that feed your spirit and I truly think that every day you have to find that balance. You can have all the tools in your kit for both sides, but unfortunately, there is no hard and fast equation. Every day brings new challenges and you have to be nimble and able to pull whatever tools for your kit are going to fit and hopefully by the end of the day you’ve been able to balance the scales in a way where those two things meet and you’re able to nourish your body and have a really nourished spirit”Phoebe Lapine
Phoebe Lapine is a food and health writer, gluten-free chef, speaker, and the voice behind the award-winning blog Feed Me Phoebe. Named by Women’s Health Magazine as the top nutrition read of 2017, Phoebe’s debut memoir, The Wellness Project, chronicles her journey with the autoimmune disease, Hashimotos Thyroiditis. She is the host of the SIBO Made Simple podcast and author of the book by the same name which helps those newly diagnosed or chronically fighting small intestine bacterial overgrowth. Phoebe’s work has appeared in Food & Wine, Marie Claire, SELF, Glamour, Cosmopolitan and Mind Body Green, who named her one of 100 Women to Watch in Wellness. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and beagle.
- The Wellness Project
- SIBO Made Simple, the book
- Free 5-day My Gut Heal Bootcamp
- SIBO Made Simple, the podcast
- Why More Stomach Acid is the Key to Overcoming SIBO, Reflux & GERD with Dr. Daniel Nuzum
- Connect with Phoebe on Instagram @phoebelapine
Does the meal spacing and limited snacking include limiting fluid intake between meals? I assume not, but wanted to make sure. Thanks!
Hi Ashleigh! Great question–I can’t say for certain, but my guess is that staying well hydrated is great for gut health, so fluids in-between makes a lot of sense. If you happen to be on IG you can message Phoebe and I bet she’d be able to give you a definitive answer on this as well. Cheers.