How to Fine-Tune Your Healthy Habits for Lasting Gut Health

Make sure you're meeting your daily water and sleep needs to continue supporting a healthy gut in Week 5 of our 30-Day Gut-Health Reset — and beyond.
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com Creative

Over the last few weeks of our 30-Day Gut-Health Reset, you've made a number of changes, all in the name of restoring your gut health. You've tracked your eating habits, eliminated certain foods and activities and added others.

Maybe this month has served as a reminder of healthy habits that have fallen by the wayside. Or maybe it felt like the first phase of a new gut-friendly lifestyle. Either way, we hope you've noticed a positive effect. Maybe you feel less bloated, more energized or finally have relief from an achy stomach.

No matter what brought you here, improving your digestion is a smart challenge to accept, because your gut health affects your overall health, says Vincent Pedre, MD, author of Happy Gut and creator of the 28-Day Happy Gut Cleanse and Happy Gut app. To look and feel healthy on the outside, you need to tend to your insides, he says.

During this final week of the reset, you'll focus on fine-tuning the healthy habits you've adopted and making sure you can keep them up.

Your Goals for Week 5

  • Drink more water
  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep
  • Read through your gut-health tracker (and/or the MyPlate app) to identify trends in symptoms and signs of potential food intolerances

New to the challenge? Click here to get all the details on the 30-day program.

Goal 1: Up Your Water Intake

In case you were wondering if hydration is really that crucial, think about this: Every cell in the body has water in it.

"Water is really important for the movement of substances through the body [especially in your gut], which is why it's critical to get the right amount of water," Dr. Pedre says. Dehydration can lead to constipation and dry, hard and uncomfortable bowel movements.

If you've been tracking your water intake with your gut-health tracker or the MyPlate app, take a look to see if you've been drinking the recommended amount each day. As a reminder, you should aim for 2.7 liters (about 11 cups) to 3.7 liters (around 15 cups) a day from liquids and food, according to the National Academies of Sciences.

Try these tips to increase your total water intake if you're not hitting that target:

  • Drink between meals: Avoid excessive fluids at mealtime, Dr. Pedre says. Drinking "when eating can dilute your digestive enzymes, making it more difficult to digest food, which will result in bloating," he says. Your best bet: Drink most of your fluids between meals, not during them.
  • Make it a ritual: It's often easier to drink more water when it becomes a habit, notes the Mayo Clinic. Combine your water habit with other daily activities: Maybe you drink a glass during a daily meeting or have hot water and lemon every morning before you head into the shower.
  • Bring it with you: Always have a glass of water or water bottle by your side — in the car, while you're watching TV and definitely during your workouts. Keeping it in sight will help remind you to take a gulp. "Placing your water bottle in your work space is a great way to remind you that hydration is essential to gut health," Dr. Pedre says.
  • Add some flavor: Soda is not the answer, but your liquids don't have to be flavorless. Spruce up your water by adding cucumber slices or cut-up fruit.
  • Go beyond water: There are other hydrating fluids you can drink as well as water, Dr. Pedre says, including herbal teas, green juice, smoothies and nut milks.
  • Eat high-fluid foods: You can also turn to fruits and vegetables to up your fluid intake. Fruits that are high in water include watermelon, strawberries and grapefruit, per the USDA. Veggie options include lettuce, celery and bok choy.

Goal 2: Get More Sleep

Thirty-five percent of Americans sleep less than the recommended seven to nine hours a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can seem like no big deal to watch just one more episode or set your alarm earlier so you can get in a sweat session before work, but getting too little sleep may be tough on your gut (not to mention your energy, decision-making and immune system).

Sleeping longer — and sleeping well — was correlated with a more diverse gut microbiome, per a small October 2017 PLOS One study in men.

Plus, lack of sleep throws the hormones in your brain off balance, Dr. Pedre says. "This, in turn, can trigger sugar and carb cravings, making you more likely to choose foods that create gut imbalances [and] further upset gut health."

Follow these five steps to a better night's rest:

  • Have a set schedule: Aim to fall asleep — and wake up — at the same time, per the Mayo Clinic. Even on the weekends, don't drift too far from your usual bedtime and wake-up time.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene: You'll fall asleep more easily, stay asleep and sleep more soundly if your bedroom is dark and cool, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit is the sweet spot.
  • Keep distractions out: Your bedroom should be for sleeping and sex only. Using your phone around bedtime hurts your rest, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Not only does scrolling on your phone put your brain in an active (not sleepy) state, but phones emit a blue light that interferes with melatonin, a hormone responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycle.
  • Follow a few rituals: Some people can fall asleep at the snap of their fingers, but most need to ease into the process. Do a calm, screen-free activity before bed (like reading a book), per the National Sleep Foundation. Try meditation, which can help curb food cravings and ease you into a more relaxing mindset before going to bed, Dr. Pedre says.
  • Don't eat too late: Avoid eating dinner and then going straight to bed, Dr. Pedre says. Instead, finish your meal three hours prior to bedtime. "A full stomach will most certainly disturb your sleep."

Goal 3: Keep an Eye Out for Potential Intolerances

Food intolerances are quite common. They occur when you're missing a digestive enzyme necessary to break down a food, have a sensitivity to something in a particular food or for other digestive reasons, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Tip

A food intolerance is different from a food allergy, Dr. Pedre stresses. An intolerance happens in the digestive system, and symptoms may not occur for several hours (or even days) after eating.

An allergy is an immune response that causes immediate symptoms, including hives, itching, shortness of breath and anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening, notes the Cleveland Clinic.

"Because the causes can be so diverse, it's important to see the patterns in what was ingested and what the body experiences," Dr. Pedre says. That's where the gut-health tracker you've been using comes in handy.

During the 30-Day Gut-Health Reset, you've eliminated foods and beverages — such as added sugar and alcohol — that could be causing GI symptoms. Keep up with your tracker and continue to note any trends; doing so will make it easier to talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

Look for patterns in the types of food you ate and the reactions you noted, Dr. Pedre says. Bring your tracker along to an upcoming doctor's appointment so you can discuss trends in symptoms like gas, bloating, indigestion, abdominal pain or diarrhea — which may signal you have a food intolerance or sensitivity, he says.

Your Takeaways From Week 5

You’ve transformed your gut health. Now comes the hardest step: maintaining your progress. “There are so many temptations that can knock you off track,” Dr. Pedre says. “You have to hold the vision of what you want your life and health to be like.”

Getting plenty of water and enough sleep can help you stick with the other gut-friendly habits you've adopted, like curtailing stress, staying active and being thoughtful about your diet. Look for patterns in your tracker and discuss concerning symptoms with a medical professional.

Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com Creative

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references

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker before leaving the house.