Q&A Recap: Digestion and Gut Health

Here’s a brief recap of what we discussed at our group Q&A last week. Have a question, problem or tip to share with the group, or just need some support from your community? Join us Mondays at 6:30pmin the coaches’ lounge, every week during the June BCCC (signup on Mindbody). Meg and Greg will be talking briefly about some more in-depth nutrition topics that pertain to athletic success at CFCC, and then we’ll take any questions you have about your own BCCC journey!


Digestion (ideally) in a very shallow and quickly explained nutshell:

The Brain

  1. Sets the stage, tells your body it’s time to eat and digest
  2.  In a perfect world, you take a few minutes (IE cooking time!) of relaxation before sitting down to eat

The Mouth

  1. Enzymes are released while chewing that begin breaking down food and also sends signals to your brain to turn on the digestive process farther down the line

The Stomach

  1. HIGHLY ACIDIC ENVIRONMENT: First line of defense against pathogens
  2.  Enzymes in your body begin to secrete based on what’s arrived in your stomach
  3. “Churning and Burning” the literally processing of food and mixing it with enzyme secretions

The Liver & Gallbladder

  1. The liver produces bile that breaks up dietary fats. Stores bile in the gallbladder, which releases it when signaled from the brain.
  2. Liver  – screens incoming toxins to determine immune response, processes fructose (which is sent directly to the liver rather than being assimilated into the bloodstream like glucose)

The Pancreas

  1.   Produces/secretes insulin in response to amount of glucose in the bloodstream – sends glucose to muscles/brain etc

The Small Intestine

  1. 7 foot tube surrounded by an immune layer and your bloodstream
  2. Where food is broken down into forms your body can use (amino acids/fatty acids/glucose)
  3. Where the body determines whether food is usable or an enemy

 The Large Intestine/Rectum

  1. Absorbs water and deals with remaining micronutrients – then makes poop out of what’s left over.
  2.  Home to “gut flora” – probiotics/good bugs
  3. Ideal is to poop once per day


Things That Can Go Wrong and What To Do About It:

  • Focus on your food — eat mindfully. This sounds simple, but is REALLY hard to do in our world of cell phones, TVs, laptops, eating while we drive, etc. — but digestion begins in the brain! Giving the brain time to fully recognize that you’re about to eat means that all the proper hormones, etc. get up-regulated in the optimal ways.
  • Chew slowly and completely; don’t eat too fast.

Q: what’s “really” fast?

A: varies per person — the object is to “give yourself time,” not to aim for a specific number of minutes or chews (ie: don’t be a CrossFitter about this, it’s not an AMRAP! Just don’t gulp it down).

  • EAT your food, don’t drink your calories (though smoothies have their place, especially if trying to gain mass or if the alternative food would be way less healthy).

Q: What about a smoothie as a complement to a meal?
A: Not the worst thing ever (although we definitely stay away from smoothies as meal REPLACEMENTS), just keep in mind that the amounts that go into a smoothie are often more than what you would eat if you were eating the whole ingredients. Easy to get lots of dense calories / sugar.

First rule: real food. Survive AND THRIVE (these are not the same thing!)

  • Stomach acid: when you hear about this in mainstream media, solution is usually presented as an acid blocker / antacid of some kind. What is actually happening is that your stomach is not able (for whatever reason) to break down your food effectively. So either you have too LITTLE stomach acid, or you’re not using what you have effectively.
  • (The level of societal acceptance around the heartburn concept is is infuriating when you really think about it… bottom line: FOOD SHOULD NOT HURT! It is NOT normal to be doubled over in pain after every meal. This is why we keep pushing to figure out WHAT your food is doing to you from the inside out). And Meghan hates Larry the Cable Guy (who shills for Prilosec)

One suggestion is to SUPPLEMENT digestive enzymes… Jarrow Brand is Meg and Erin’s favorite. A spoonful of lemon juice or cider vinegar a few minutes before a meal can also be an alternative.

  • Liver: processes toxins, acts as a filter. Fructose is one thing that can ONLY be processed by the liver… this does not mean it’s a bad thing, but just that if your diet includes a lot of other toxins, it can place a lot of stress on the liver.

Alcohol = toxin… when liver is busy dealing with this, it isn’t dealing with anything else.

Digression: skin is the biggest organ in the body — liver has to deal with whatever you put on it — consider natural products for skin care / makeup.



— If you have issues with poor digestion (feeling bloated or gassy or anything weird), do your best to stay away from water during meals as it dilutes stomach acid. Not a hard and fast rule, just something to think about.

— no need to drink until you float away, but maybe a glass or two between each meal (and DEFINITELY around workouts).

— remember that caffeine, alcohol, etc are diuretics and will make you lose water.



— happens when the food you’re eating isn’t assimilated properly into the body. Certain foods don’t break down as well and therefore can lead to an immune response in your body by moving through intestinal wall into the body (there is a strong immune layer all around the intestines). Then the body freaks out and starts attacking the “invaders”… AND, often, parts of the rest of your body as a result (reported links to everything from acne to autism to fibromyalgia!). The most problematic of these food groups are GLUTEN based foods as well as LEGUMES. SEEDS and NUTS can also cause problems.

Some people have severe reactions to certain things and just can’t eat them ever. Other people can handle the occasional indulgence once they have taken steps to identify the damaging foods and heal the gut from the damage that has been done. But while you’re trying to heal, it’s important to be extremely precise about staying away from these problematic foods for AT LEAST thirty days and do some proactive things to heal the gut lining as well. Cutting most of the problematic foods out but still eating them every so often during the gut healing period is like picking the scab off a sore every day – it means it’s never going to get better.

Gluten is a problem because of the above, and also because of the severely genetically modified wheat crops we are currently eating (different from what our grandparents ate).

The best very structured program (where you don’t have to do a ton of thinking, just read, absorb and follow the rules!) is the Whole30. I (Meg) pretty much recommend that everyone try a Whole30 at least once in their lives. It’s a great way to do a controlled experiment, to test how foods truly cause issues within your body, and to see what can happen if you’re working under the strictest of circumstances for 30 days (and whether you think it’s worth it or not!)

Q: if you are 95% gluten-free, are you going to make yourself sick by eating gluten the other 5% of the time?
A: depends on the person. Generally, if you’re going to have a VIOLENT reaction to something, you know that by now. Our goal here is to pinpoint smaller things we might never have thought about before — chronic sinus congestion, acne, etc. — so we can then make informed decisions about when those trigger foods are “worth it” for us individually — if ever.

Gut flora: the mix of (hopefully mostly good) bacteria inside our intestines. (Fun fact: for every 1 human cell, you have 10 bacterial cells that are not human!) We evolved to have a healthy bacterial population inside us – mostly because there are bacteria EVERYWHERE. It’s not worth fighting it, because we can’t, and there are lots of reasons that trying to disinfect the world around us is actually hurting more than it’s helping.

((Lots of discussion about the Hygiene Hypothesis, what it is, how it relates to us…))

One bottom line: you cannot sterilize nature, and we evolved to be able to handle that.

Antibiotics: We definitely aren’t anti-antibiotic (?) Just like with everything we discussed – antibiotics are awesome, but just because they’re good for some things doesn’t mean they’re good for EVERYTHING. Keep in mind that antibiotics wipe out EVERYTHING in your intestinal tract, both the good and the bad, which means that you’re actually less able to fight off invaders since your “good guys” are all gone too.

Taking antibiotics aren’t bad if you have an infection or an acute injury or need surgery of course – just focus on reinoculating your gut with good bacteria too ONCE YOU”VE FINISHED YOUR COURSE OF ANTIBIOTICS. Can take probiotics: capsules are good (Jarrow is a good one); also can get this from food (fermented things). Bubbie’s sauerkraut, Sunja kimchee, GT’s kombucha are all good brands (at Whole Foods). And really think about the difference between an ACUTE need for antiobiotics and a CHRONIC need (ditto for disinfecting everything around you all the time. I’m not telling you to lick raw chicken juice off your kitchen counter, but you don’t need to break out the Lysol every time someone coughs).

Q: what is fermentation?
A: the way people preserved food before refrigerators were around. Put food in a jar with liquid, seal it tight, and it becomes a different, delicious form of itself (pickles, sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha).

Q: does fermentation outweigh soy if you are sensitive to soy?
A: depends on your degree of sensitivity, but fermentation will make soy easier for your body to handle. It’s one of the ways that traditional cultures made foods like soy that are difficult for your body to digest MORE easily digestible and safer. So – traditionally fermented miso is definitely an okay part of your diet if you don’t have a problem with soy.

Bone broth has a ton of properties that are extremely beneficial to your gut lining. (There’s a reason chicken soup is good when you’re sick!) Same with organ meats. (Great Lakes Gelatin is something you can buy on Amazon to make a non-hot version of this for summertime.)

Q: is yogurt a fermented food?
A: yes, but be careful, because most of the mainstream brands are more sugar / chemicals than probiotics. And make sure you can handle the dairy. Fair Food Farmstand has some good yogurt. Kefir is also good.


Disclaimer: you belong to a community now where it’s OK to talk about this stuff — Meg will not be grossed out by your questions :)

Q: is it normal to go through a period of constipation when you first make this transition?
A: YES. Anytime you change stuff up, your bowel habits can change.

Diarrhea is more of a symptom of food intolerance. Constipation is more a symptom of your body “getting used to things.”

Digestion is at the root of a lot of healthy AND unhealthy things. We want to take away the things that hurt you AND go back and heal the damage.

Q: magnesium oil vs pills/Natural Calm
A: the oil is topical… gets absorbed without going through the digestive process, and can be used as a topical/targeted muscle relaxant.


In the Crockpot: http://nomnompaleo.com/post/3615609338/slow-cooker-beef-bone-broth

On the stove: http://balancedbites.com/2011/04/easy-recipe-mineral-rich-bone-broth.html

My favorite way to make broth (and the easiest) is to buy a rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods (or roast your own), strip the meat off, throw the meaty carcass in the crock pot. Cover it with water, add a healthy splash of apple cider vinegar and 5-6 bay leaves and a healthy amount of sea salt. Cook it on low for at least 24 hours to maximize flavor. I sometimes add a piece of ginger root in the broth if I feel particularly sick.


In closing – we’ve been conditioned by our society today to think stuff like bones and offal and broth and fermented foods are gross. I (Meg) personally think most of this stuff tastes either delicious (broth and kombucha and kraut), doable (liver and heart), or just okay…but they are SO nutrient dense and healing that I absolutely make it a point to consume them regularly in my diet. If you go back a few generations in almost any of your families I can guarantee that these foods were a regular part of the family table…and it’s time we brought them back!

Meg’s closing remarks: “Make the broth, eat the guts, drink the sour things that you might think are gross. Sorry I’m NOT SORRY.” :)

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