Dietary extremes used to be necessary.
Poor Gut Health
My digestion used to be terrible.
At my lowest point, my diet was so restricted that I could only tolerate raw vegetable juice.
Common online advice insisted this was a “sign of healing.”
Removing the “bad” foods was “revealing” how my body was transforming into a better version of itself. Poor tolerance of food (and my environment) was a sign of health. If that were true — I was a superhero of health, who also felt terrible 24/7.
They were wrong.
I now have zero dietary restrictions.
Now, there are some general rules I follow, but I don’t have to overthink my diet anymore. Simple rules:
Restaurant meals used to waste me. After eating out, I was inoperable and non-functional. Even home-cooked meals at a friend’s house were prone to disaster.
The challenge when ordering food was to choose foods that made me feel “less bad” rather than enjoying the time with friends.
This is no longer true. A wide range of foods is now tolerable. Gut health — and overall health — can improve. Dramatically.
High Carbs, For Years
Throughout the healing process, my diet was high carb, low protein, and high fat.
Fiber was low-to-moderate due to low tolerance of most fiber.
During this time, I often ate five times more carbs than protein (a 5:1 ratio), to keep my blood sugar up. This is not the case anymore.
When I was high carb, low protein, and high fat, the macro ratio was something around 5:1:4 (C:P:F). This ratio is not perfect for everyone.
A 2:1:1 macro ratio (carbs : protein : fat), by calories, is a good, middle ground.
Carbs are a main source of fuel.
- Starches (wheat, rice, potatoes, oatmeal).
- Sugar (milk, honey, some fruit, some maple syrup).
- Some whole grains, periodically. Whole grains are not a focus due to high insoluble fiber and antinutrients.
Starch makes up about 60% of my carbohydrate intake — with the rest from sugar sources like honey, fruit, milk, and some sweets.
Nearly all gluten intake is organic. This reduces exposure to glyphosate (RoundUp) — which interferes with the role of glycine in the body, impairs liver detoxification, kidney function, and manganese absorption.
Fiber shouldn’t count toward carbs because fiber does not provide metabolic energy in the form of sugar (although via fermentation in the gut, it does provide chemicals that are necessary for metabolism, like butyric acid and B vitamins.
Not Much Fruit
Ever since a fruitarian phase that lasted several months, fruit has not been high priority (although I did try loads of orange juice on the Ray Peat diet for some time, and it did not yield results). The fruitarian diet is known to cause serious gut issues that can be difficult to overcome. Folks on the Ray Peat diet can have this happen as well from high fruit juice and high white sugar intake.
Roughly 1/4 of daily protein comes from muscle meat, 1/4 from Greek yogurt, 1/4 from cheese, and 1/4 from eggs, milk, or Naked Whey protein.
Some bone broth and gelatin is helpful in most cases, but there’s no reason to go insane with it. A little here and there is enough. More than 5g per day of gelatin or collagen powder can cause gut problems in some people, as well as glutamate issues and sleep problems.
A Variety Of Protein Sources
Mix up protein sources so that you’re not eating the same amino acid profile day after day. Doing so could lead to slight imbalances in your amino acid profile over time. I rotate through the week with muscle meats, dairy protein, eggs, and a small amount of gelatin.
6+ Years Of High Fat
After being raised on a low-fat diet (it was the ’90s in America), for the past 6-7 years I’ve eaten much more fat in the diet.
Every few months, I’ll lower my fat intake to see how it affects me. Every time I do this, I’m able to go longer and longer feeling okay.
Fat has helped my tummy feel full and more comfortable. It’s also long helped me fall and stay asleep — with its long-lasting energy and calming effect on the gut.
When I eat fat, most of my fat intake comes from:
- Olive oil
- Cocoa butter (some)
- Beef fat
These days, olive oil has become more prevalent in the diet. It’s often a staple at dinnertime.
I strictly avoided PUFA for many years, but now I don’t fear from quality sources like fish and high-grade olive oil. While I believe PUFA intake should be kept lower, I also believe the omega-3 to -6 ratio does matter, even though I don’t eat a ton of PUFA. When I go too low in PUFA, I feel better incorporating some back into the diet — from quality sources, of course.
Formerly, Low Fiber
It’s common for folks with poor digestive health to struggle eating much fiber.
This was true for me — for years fiber came from a few bites of raw carrots at each meal. This small amount of good, quality carrot fiber kept my tummy happy and kept me regular.
Fiber is super important to soak up toxins in the gut from liver detoxification and metabolic waste.
Another way to get more fiber in is to eat your fiber in-between meals.
Currently? Lots Of Fiber
As gut health has improved, tolerance for fiber has really risen. I now feel best when I eat a very normal, high amount of vegetables. Cooking vegetables makes them slightly more tolerable in the gut for many people.
Excellent, digestible sources of fiber include raw carrots and celery, any cooked vegetable, and fiber supplements such as apple pectin and FOS.
Variation & Improvement
Progress = Less Restriction, More Variety
As we get healthier, we begin to feel our best eating healthier food.
This means that as we heal, we’ll actually feel better eating a more varied diet — rather than the restrictive diets we were forced to rely on in the past.
This has absolutely been true for me. As my health has improved, so has my inclination & desire for more varied foods — as well as my results after eating said diversity.
Simply put, I would now feel much worse eating my old restricted diets. My new, more balanced diet produces better results than the old restricted diets ever did. Of course, the limited diets had a place. When my digestion was poor restriction was the best I could do.
Ultimately, however, fixing my gut allowed me to move beyond my restricted diet — and with better results, more freedom and less stress in my daily life, and better health overall.
Tracking Foods vs Intuition?
After years of tracking, I don’t track macros or calories anymore.
I do recommend people track as an educational tool, though. If we’re clueless about “macros”, it’s a no-brainer to learn what food is made of, and how it makes us feel.
After some time balancing macros, it’s easy to transition to a more intuitive style of eating. That said, it’s always a good idea to have an understanding of your macro ratios, whether you’re tracking or using intuition.
The Cronometer app makes it super easy to learn the nutrient quality of food.
No Appetite? No Health.
Appetite can be a great signal of gut health.
A higher appetite is a good thing. Ideally, we eat to satiety and then we digest the meal and find ourselves hungry again in time for the next meal. That’s a sign of a functioning metabolism and digestive system.
I actually wasn’t hungry for many years.
It wasn’t until I fixed my circadian rhythm and ate on a schedule that real, raw animal hunger seemed to kick back in. Even these days, a late breakfast can disrupt hunger all day.
The Circadian Rhythm And Meal Timing
Your circadian rhythm is of utmost importance to your appetite — and gut health in general.
Eat early in the morning — within 30 minutes of waking up. Eat lunch early instead of late (say: 11:30am). Dinner? Make it a nice, comfortable time — not too late.
When daily activities — especially sleep times and meal times — are aligned for your circadian rhythm, appetite can really pick up.
This is, in part, because the metabolism is being seriously boosted — but also because the gut is working on the schedule it is designed to work on, with appropriate ON/OFF periods of eating and digesting food.
A strong appetite is a sign of a healthy metabolism and digestive system. Having a weak appetite is not a recipe for long-term health. We’ve got to stimulate the digestive fire.
A Typical Meal
Always have staples handy. Quick sources of carbohydrate, protein, and fiber that can get you through in a pinch.
Worse comes to worse, I know I have standbys that I can depend on to build out a balanced meal.
A typical meal looks like this:
This is the main staple of my meals.
- SOURCES: Sourdough toast, rice, potatoes, pasta, or oatmeal.
- Around 75-100g of starch.
About half as much sugar as starch.
- SOURCES: Milk, jam, honey, maple syrup.
For most meals, I’ll get 25-40g protein per meal, either from Greek yogurt, meat, eggs, cheese — or a combination of the above. A glass or two of whole milk with most meals adds a bit of protein.
- SOURCES: Meat, Greek yogurt, milk, some cheese
- 25-40g protein per meal (I’m 6’4, you may need more or less protein than me).
- SOURCES: Butter, dairy, olive oil
- For some, less fat earlier in the day gives more energy. More fat at night then helps sleep.
- 1 carrot or 2-3 celery stalks (both raw)
- 4-7g fiber per meal
- A glass or two of whole milk is typical with meals.
The Big Picture
Healing the gut is not a 2-week process.
It’s a many months-long and certainly a “rest-of-your-life” endeavor.
This isn’t unique to the chronically ill, though. Losing gut health is a natural part of aging. But it doesn’t have to be. Especially if we can become masters of our gut health after we’ve been challenged.
The first step is always paying attention, exploring how foods make you feel. Find the foods that provide more benefit than discomfort.
It’s good to try various combinations and macro ratios — ever experimenting as gut health changes and improves.
Find a strong gut health regimen that can, over time, greatly influence how well the gut performs and tolerates foods. Combine excellent supplements to synergistically support your gut microbiome.
It’s also important to focus on things that seemingly aren’t related to gut health: the circadian rhythm, light cycles, nutrient balance, movement, and air quality all greatly impact the health of the gut.
Over time, we can find ways to improve gut health and, before long, the best, most helpful tactics will become second nature.