The Truth About Digestion and Gut Health

This past weekend I went on a long road trip to visit my in-laws in Virginia. Normally the drive should only have taken 6 hours or so, but with the holiday traffic we spent more than 10 hours in the car each way.

That meant lots of stopping for meals and snacks.

Yesterday for lunch on the drive back home to Brooklyn, I spotted a sign for a fast-food place that shall remain McNameless, and suggested we stop there. My husband said that sounded good to him, too, so we pulled off at the next exit, sat and enjoyed our food, and then went on with our epic day of driving, feeling satisfied and happy.

It was a perfectly mundane, uneventful lunch—something that millions of people do every day—and yet to me, it was incredibly meaningful.

Because as we sat eating our burgers and fries, I thought back to a Thanksgiving road trip I’d taken to Boston with an ex more than a decade earlier that was an entirely different experience.

There was no relaxed, spontaneous decision-making about where to eat on that trip, because I was cutting out gluten and a couple of other foods at the time—a decision primarily motivated by my disordered eating, and seemingly justified by the constant digestive problems it was causing.

I didn’t (and still don’t) have celiac disease, a genuine medical condition that truly requires a gluten-free menu; instead, I was blaming gluten for my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a nebulous constellation of digestive symptoms that only began when I started restricting my eating and overexercising in my early 20s.

I didn’t realize that my disordered eating was actually causing my digestive problems.

Instead, I got caught up in the ideas—novel at the time—that gluten and dairy and a whole host of other foods might be responsible for the discomfort I was experiencing.

I fell down a rabbit hole of cutting out different foods to see if it would help, becoming so obsessed with what I thought I “should” and “shouldn’t” eat that I couldn’t go anywhere without scouring menus or traveling with Tupperwares full of my own food.

I’d done the latter on that fateful Boston road trip—although of course I hadn’t packed enough food to truly satisfy my hunger, because again, disordered eating—and I became increasingly irritable and upset when the holiday traffic added hours to that trip, too.

Instead of being able to meet my needs to the best of my ability in that situation, I was so locked into my disordered beliefs about food that I refused to deviate from my woefully inadequate menu—and ended up a miserable, hangry mess in the process.

The trend of cutting out foods in the name of digestive health has only become more and more mainstream in the decade-plus since that uncomfortable road trip, and as a result there are millions of people out there struggling with the same things that I did.

Diet culture’s latest incarnation, The Wellness Diet, would have us believe that ANY ailment is directly caused by the food we eat—and that’s especially true when we’re experiencing digestive discomfort.

As a result, often our first reaction (and sometimes that of health professionals) is to reflexively blame what we’re eating and start cutting out different foods in an attempt to find relief.

That’s completely understandable—nobody wants to experience pain, and we’re all constantly told that food is the culprit.

What diet culture doesn’t tell us, though, is that our gut actually communicates closely with our brain, and there’s a strong link between mental-health challenges and digestive issues.

So when you're worrying about food, obsessing over what you can and can’t eat, and stressing out about your health in general, that may actually be making your gut symptoms worse.

That’s what this week’s episode of Food Psych is all about.

My guest, friend and fellow anti-diet dietitian Marci Evans, joins me to discuss the intersection of digestive disorders and eating disorders, why disordered eating causes gastrointestinal problems, and the dangers of doing elimination diets.

We also delve into the role of the gut microbiome in digestion and health, and how to care for our GI tracts in truly holistic ways. Plus, I share how I’ve learned to manage my own IBS without cutting out foods—or making myself miserable on road trips.

This episode is already becoming a fan favorite—check it out right here to hear this great conversation!

Here’s to dropping the disordered eating and finding relief,


P.S. If you’re ready to stop stressing about food, come join my intuitive eating online course. It’s designed to help you break free from The Wellness Diet's rules, so that you can feel relaxed and joyful in your relationship with food—and in your life as a whole.

If you’re not quite ready to dive into the full course yet, I also have a 5-day intuitive eating mini course to give you a taste of freedom from diet culture, so that you can start building a foundation for deeper healing.

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