And for me personally, this is where I felt the biggest difference after my week on the Level II program. My diet was 95 percent veggies, and that fuel felt good. I was rocking Barry’s Bootcamp almost nightly and springing out of bed well before my alarm. (Both are something of a major feat for me.)
A Better Immune System
So getting sick sucks, obviously. Often, it’s totally unavoidable. But have you noticed that people who tend to eat better—the Gwyneth Paltrows of the world—are like always glowing rays of sunshine that don’t ever sneeze or blow their nose? Same! It’s super annoying.
“The gut is essentially an external organ, constantly being exposed to your environment—not just by what you ingest, but by what you inhale, too,” says Pasricha. “So these things are knocking on the gate to your body, represented by the gut, at all times.”
And if you’re able to keep the lining of the gut strong, you’ll be better equipped to keep all the bad stuff out.
While there’s more research that needs to be done on the gut-brain connection, there seems to be a link between diet and cognitive function. Sometimes you might hear people refer to this as “brain fog,” or that hazy, can’t-really-concentrate-feeling you may sometimes get.
“Fun fact: the second largest collection of nerves—after the brain—is in the stomach.”
“The nervous system is directly connected to the gut, so it is possible that it can alter our mental function,” says Pasricha. “The gut is not just an abstract organ.” (Also, #FunFact I learned from Pasricha: the second largest collection of nerves—after the brain—is in the stomach!)
Like a lot of people, I tend to lose concentration midday. As I was getting later into the week, I was seeing a slight improvement, or at least no sugar crash after meals, but I defiantly didn’t have the superpower levels of productivity I was hoping for. (Maybe I shouldn’t have set my expectations too high; superpowers are a lot to ask for.) Regardless, if you are someone who wants to avoid the post-lunch slump, it is worth reevaluating what you are eating. Avoid high-glycemic foods and stick to greens, good fats, and proteins.
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Happiness Levels Soar
This one I find the most fascinating. Can I eat my way to a happier lifestyle? I certainly know I’m in a better mood after clean eating—but is that just a placebo affect or is something bigger at play?
“For a long time the thought was that the gut is a pathway to whatever happens in the brain,” says Pasricha. Two examples: You get nervous, so you get butterflies in your stomach or chronic anxiety can trigger nausea.”Now we’re finding it goes both ways.”
Even if you’re talking short-term, this makes sense. Think about your mood after you eat poorly. Perhaps you feel irritable, cranky, or withdrawn. (*Raises hand*) But what we’re finding is that poor gut health for an extended period might be able to rewire the brain.
“There’s an initial study on rodents that shows if you irritate the lining if the stomach even mildly, they will show signs of anxiety and depression even as they age,” says Pasricha. “Basically, your gut can heal itself quickly, but if you are consistently bothering it, you will see the brain actually change its organization.”
If there’s nothing else that will convince you to try clean eating, here’s a very superficial one: My. Skin. Was. Glowing. Like, I’m about to take all the selfies because it never looks this good glowing. The glow was so strong, I strutted around town sans makeup because it was on point all on its own.
“If you follow the line of reasoning that the gut affects every organ in the body, it does make sense that it would affect the largest one,” says Pasricha.
“If you follow the line of reasoning that the gut affects every organ in the body, it does make sense that it would affect the largest one—skin.”
So what can you do?
“This is the million-dollar question,” says Pasricha. The research as of now cannot definitively identify what an ideal diet would look like. Instead, Pasricha suggests just focusing on what you know works for you: “If you have an obvious problem with a type of food, you find that it gives you GI issues, that’s a good place to start. Then if you find that you feel ill in a more systemic way from certain foods, you might want to evaluate those too.”
Look at what you’re eating day-to-day, and be mindful about how it makes you feel after. If it helps, start a journal so you can keep track of your dietary concerns (but please note: this isn’t a calorie counting thing; you just need to pay attention to what you’re eating and how your body feels). Or if you’re like me and need a bit of guidance, you can turn to programs, like Sakara Life that already outline potential triggers, so you can more readily identify causes.
TL/DR: Listen to your body. It knows what’s good for it.