You need a healthy gut to achieve and maintain a slim gut. I bet the first thing that comes to mind is food, right? Eat healthily and – presto! – your gut is healthy. Regularly eating delicious “slim gut” foods will help you blast unwanted belly fat and achieve better health. But there’s more to it than that. There is one key component to good gut health that people aren’t talking about. And this drives me crazy because it’s the unique component. Do you know what it is?
It’s your mental health.
Yep. That’s right. More than ever, your spirituality and psychological well-being are key players in your gut health. The connection? Stress.
If this surprises you, you are not alone. It’s a weird connection to think about. But it makes a ton of sense. And this connection is so strong that the gut is now referred to as your second brain. And get this. These two “brains” talk to each other. They communicate using a precisely orchestrated symphony of neurotransmitters, electrical impulses, and hormones.
So, when you’re mentally stressed out, your gut knows it – and it suffers the consequences because the more stressed you are, the more intensely your body reacts to your stress. How? Primarily through an increased release of cortisol – better known as the stress hormone – and heightened inflammatory response.
Cortisol + Inflammation = Bad News For Your Gut
It’s more important than ever to prioritize your mental health and stress management. But how do you even begin in today’s hectic and fast-paced world? Your attention is constantly pulled in a dozen different directions—despite our many time-saving technologies. How do you improve and maintain optimal mental wellness in a society plagued with social isolation, addiction, and growing suicide rates?
You do this by becoming a Health Hero and deciding that you want to live a long, healthy, and fun life. It will help you calm down your mind, improve your spirituality, and reduce your mental “noise” and stress. When you make good on this commitment every day, you will improve your mental and gut health and be on your way to healthier (and slimmer) living.
Incorporate any or all of these strategies into your daily routine and build a stronger, healthier gut-brain connection:
Yoga & Mindfulness Meditation
Think of yoga and mindfulness practices as spiritual workouts for your soul. When you condition your soul, like a muscle, it develops and grows stronger. Yoga and meditation clear your mind of distractions and create a calm space where stress isn’t allowed. Even more impressive? They can change how your DNA responds to stress. Considering that stress is a silent killer and wreaks havoc in your gut, this is especially exciting.
Believing in something bigger than yourself improves your mental and physical health, no matter your beliefs. You don’t even have to believe in God or organized religion. It’s simply the practice of reflecting on anything more significant than your being. Prayer will help you reduce stress, strengthen your connectedness to the world around you and live a healthier, more fulfilling life.
Oh, I love recommending one of my favorite self-care practices – heartfulness meditation. It’s another workout for your soul. Before you tune out thinking it’s not for you, consider this:
- You don’t need fancy equipment.
- You don’t have to be religious.
- You can enjoy the practice and reap the benefits no matter your background.
It’s a great way to reduce stress and overwhelm, “quiet” your mind, and live in the moment. It’s a simple way to connect with your heart and what matters most. I’m talking total life-changer. Here’s a 5-step run-down to get you started:
- Make time for your heart. Even 15 minutes each day is enough to make a difference. Meditation helps get you into a routine, but any time is good.
- Get comfortable. Find a spot where you can sit comfortably. Your body should be supported and relaxed.
- Turn your focus inward. Clear your mind of any “noise” and tune into your heart. Breathe slowly and deeply.
- Let go. Release your worries, stresses, and thoughts of daily life. With each breath in, take in calm, peace, and lightness. Let go of worldly things that distract your focus with each breath out. Begin to notice the energy and vibration expanding within you. Continue to tune into your heart and let whatever naturally comes from within you rise to the surface. If your mind wanders, return to your heart.
- Take time to reflect. When you’ve completed your meditation, think about your experience. How do you feel? What thoughts came to the surface? What did you learn about yourself? You’ll likely come back to the expertise repeatedly throughout your day.
You know that your mental health is the most unique and essential component of a happy and healthy gut. You also have three sustainable strategies to incorporate into your daily routine to effectively manage stress – the critical connection between your brain and gut.
Healthy Calorie Deficit
A calorie deficit is when you consume fewer calories than you burn in a day. When this happens, your body needs to find another energy source– usually fat.
A healthy calorie deficit is essential when trying to lose weight. But it’s not as simple as just “eating less.” You must ensure you’re still getting the nutrients your body needs to function correctly.
That’s where a healthy diet comes in.
A healthy diet will help you lose weight by providing your body with the nutrients it needs while keeping your calorie intake in check. Plenty of healthy foods are low in calories but high in nutrients, so you can still enjoy a variety of healthy meals and snacks while losing weight.
Some healthy foods that are great for weight loss include:
- Fruits and vegetables are low in calories but high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They’re also filling, so you’ll be less likely to overeat.
- Whole grains: These are also low in calories but high in fiber and nutrients. They can help you feel full and satisfied after meals.
- Lean proteins: Protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass as you lose weight. Choose lean protein sources such as chicken, fish, tofu, and beans.
- Healthy fats: healthy fats are an essential part of a healthy diet. They help you feel full and satisfied, and they provide essential nutrients. Choose healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
In addition to eating a healthy diet, you also need to get enough exercise. Exercise not only helps you burn calories but also helps you build and maintain muscle mass and reduce body fat.
When you’re trying to lose weight, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. It can include things like walking, biking, swimming, or running. You can also do higher-intensity activities like HIIT or weightlifting for even more health benefits.
Safe Way to Lose Belly Fat
Losing belly fat can be challenging. Not only do you have to watch your calorie intake, but you also need to focus on eating the right foods that will help you lose weight and keep it off.
To help you out, we’ve put together a list of 5 safe and effective ways to lose belly fat.
1. Cut Back on Refined Carbs
Refined carbs are low in fiber and nutrients. They’re also high in calories, which can contribute to weight gain.
To lose belly fat, cut back on refined carbs such as white bread, pastries, and cookies. Replace them with whole-grain alternatives such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and quinoa.
2. Eat More Protein
Protein is an essential nutrient for weight loss. It helps you feel full and satisfied after meals and helps preserve muscle mass as you lose weight.
Aim to include protein-rich foods such as lean meats, fish, eggs, tofu, beans, and nuts at every meal.
3. Include Healthy Fats in Your Diet
Healthy fats are an essential part of a healthy diet. They help you feel full and satisfied after meals and provide essential nutrients.
Choose healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Avoid unhealthy fats such as trans fats and saturated fats.
4. Avoid Sugary Drinks
Sugary drinks are high in calories and can contribute to weight gain. They’re also low in nutrients.
If you want to lose belly fat, avoid sugary drinks such as soda, juice, and sports drinks. Stick to water or unsweetened tea instead.
5. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is essential for overall health and can help with weight loss.
Getting enough sleep helps regulate hunger hormones, making you less likely to feel hungry and overeat. It also helps reduce stress, which can lead to unhealthy eating habits.
Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
These five safe and practical tips can help you reach your goals if you’re looking to lose belly fat. Cut back on refined carbs, eat more protein, include healthy fats in your diet, avoid sugary drinks, and get enough sleep. Making these small changes can help you see significant results.
I will tell you about 3 potential obstacles to good gut health and the lifestyle practices you can adopt to make them work to your advantage.
Sitting Too Much
Why It’s Terrible for Your Gut
How’s this for bad? Every hour you spend sitting around (after the age of 25) reduces your life expectancy by 22 minutes. Let that sink in. It’s unbelievable. Here is some added perspective. Smoking one cigarette (which I hope you’re not doing!) reduces your life expectancy by approximately 11 minutes. In terms of life expectancy, one hour of sitting is more detrimental than smoking a cigarette. It’s mind-blowing.
Now consider this. American adults spend close to 5 hours a day sitting down. Whether working at your desk, commuting, or watching TV, sitting around too much directly correlates to your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease. Not surprisingly, researchers have dubbed this the couch potato effect.
A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), and digestive issues and is a leading cause of constipation. Some studies suggest that too much sitting can negatively impact your gut microbiome. These essential bacteria populate your gut.
It’s time to get moving.
What to Do About It
Reducing the average time you spend sitting to less than 3 hours a day can increase your life expectancy by 2 years. If you have to spend a lot of time sitting during the day, here’s what you can do to help limit the adverse side effects:
- Sit upright on your sit bones (a.k.a. – your behind) near the front edge of your chair.
- Keep your chest in front of your chin when you’re sitting down. If you’re in front of a computer, you’re likely to move your chin forward without realizing it.
- Stand up tall and straight every 20-30 minutes for at least 1-2 minutes. While standing, take deep, slow breaths that expand your torso.
Not Sleeping Enough
Why It’s Terrible for Your Gut
Getting enough sleep (7-9 hours per night for adults) is crucial to maintaining good health. Heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, ulcers in the stomach, and stomach cancer can happen if you don’t get enough sleep. Cortisol, which makes you stressed, makes your brain function less well and causes weight gain and constipation. Most importantly, you increase your risk of dying from any cause – that’s right – ANY cause!
I’m sure you’ve experienced feeling physically sick after a sleepless night. That wasn’t in your head! A lack of sleep has the same effect on your immune system as physical and mental stress. And you know the critical role mental well-being plays in your gut health.
If you’re looking to lose weight and get rid of belly fat, you need to prioritize sleep! Not doing so can wreak havoc on your weight loss efforts.
What to Do About It
If you’re getting less than 7 sleep hours a night and wondering what you should do, the answer is simple. Put sleep at the top of your priority list! Here are steps you can take to get into a healthy sleep groove:
- Walk away from your TV or phone 60 minutes before bed. Light stimulation affects melatonin, a hormone that controls your sleep cycle.
- Eat a little protein about 1 hour before you go to bed. It decreases the overnight rise in cortisol – that harmful stress hormone. A small piece of leftover chicken or fish from dinner or a small handful of nuts are great options.
- Don’t exercise within a 3-hour window before bedtime. Exercise wakes you up, and this impact lasts for about 3 hours after completing your workout. Opt for light stretching instead if you feel the urge to exercise at night.
- Consistency is vital, so commit to at least 7 hours of sleep every night.
- Settle short-term sleep debt with an extra 1-2 hours of sleep per night. If you lost 10 hours of sleep in a week, pay that debt back in 1-2 hour installments.
- To pay off a long-term sleep debt, take a sleep vacation! Pick 2 weeks when you have a more flexible schedule. During those 2 weeks, go to bed simultaneously every night and allow yourself to sleep until you wake up naturally – no alarms clocks! You’ll be able to dig your way out of debt and get back to your ideal sleep schedule.
- Keep a sleep diary. Record when you go to bed, when you get up, how long you slept, and how you FEEL during the day! You’ll discover your natural sleep patterns and can then make adjustments as needed.
Why It’s Terrible for Your Gut
I’ve got one word for you: stress.
We live in a society that encourages multitasking. The more we do, the more productive we feel. So we load up our schedules and try to cross as many things off our to-do lists as quickly as possible. We brag about how much we’re getting done as we’re running around stressed, frazzled, and completely distracted.
We don’t think about how much stress we’re bringing into our lives when we do too much.
The human brain can only handle so many tasks at a time (research suggests 2 complicated tasks). Adding anything more to your plate overloads your brain and triggers a stress response (hello, cortisol!). It immediately puts your gut health at risk and increases your chances of gut-related issues, including:
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- IBD (inflammatory bowel disease)
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
If you’re trying to lose weight, you have even more reason to slow down and focus on one thing at a time. Being distracted during mealtime (eating while watching TV or working) can prevent your brain from fully registering what you’ve eaten. You won’t feel as complete, so you’ll wind up eating and snacking even more to satisfy your appetite.
And here’s the kicker. Multitasking does not save you time – it costs you time! You spend more time going back and forth between multiple projects than when you complete one project at a time. Many experts will tell you that you lose 40% of your productivity when multitasking!
Forget what society is telling you to do. It’s time to slow down, live in the moment, regain your focus and prioritize your health.
What to Do About It
If you’re addicted to multitasking, commit to narrowing your focus and be present in what you’re doing. You’ll notice a big-time reduction in stress and overwhelm. You’ll reduce your health risks. You’ll have an easier time achieving your weight loss/maintenance goals. You’ll eliminate distractions that can have you missing out on life. Here’s what you can do:
- Complete tasks in batches. It requires a specific mindset, but you’ll save time and reduce your stress once you get into a groove.
- Remain calm and step away from your cell phone. Cell phone distractions can lead to relationship problems, trust issues, and communication breakdowns, leading to more stress.
- Be present in each moment. Enjoy LIFE! Your mind and body will reap the benefits.
Want to learn more?
About Dr. Partha Nandi
Dr. Partha Nandi, M.D., FACP, is a practicing gastroenterologist, holistic health practitioner, author, speaker, passionate patient advocate, and creator and host of the medical lifestyle show, The Dr. Nandi Show.
Born in Calcutta, India, Dr. Nandi survived rheumatic heart disease as a child and made an everlasting commitment to patient care. Through his health challenges grew the compassion, intrigue, and drive to become one of the leading patient advocates in the United States. He has never forgotten his beginnings and continues to teach and inspire millions to adopt healthy lifestyle habits to live more joyful and fulfilling lives.
Dr. Nandi wants to help the sick and healthy find the most effective solutions to solve and avoid various disorders and diseases by combining Eastern and Western therapeutic practices.
- 18 best tips to get a flat stomach (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Stop counting calories – Harvard Health
- Healthy Weight, Nutrition, and Physical Activity | Healthy Weight, Nutrition, and Physical Activity | CDC
- 18 best tips to get a flat stomach (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Constipation: Causes and Prevention Tips | Johns Hopkins Medicine