In the years before our big diet and lifestyle changes and moving from the world of diagnostic imaging into nutrition I carried an extra 30kg. I had tried so much and thought I was doing the right things - eating as I was told by diabetes clinic (yes I had T2 diabetes too...) and exercising madly to the point of heart palpitations and passing out. I remember days when it was really challenging and I was so disappointed that my weight wouldn't shift that I thought that if I could just gain another couple of kilos, I would qualify for bariatric surgery. It was easier to go up than down. it only took one pasta meal to grab me a couple of extra kilos!
Fast forward 5 years.... here is what back then I failed to realise about weight......
As a nutritionist I have never focused on weight loss. To me weight is another marker telling us that the body is in some way out of equilibrium whether from food sensitivities, inflammation from inflammatory foods, chemicals or stress, hormonal imbalance or suppression of optimal function. There are other just as important markers of health. These include our moods, energy, digestion, whether our immune system is helping us fight infection or if it is overstimulated by auto-immune illness and hormonal function (ranging from blood sugar, stress response, thyroid hormone through to reproductive health).
From personal experience, I found it demoralising being told that I needed to lose weight. I knew I was struggling with weight and lived with frustration, embarrassment and judgement of myself that I couldn’t lose it so to hear it from others affirmed that I wasn’t good enough in my mind. But what if the weight was an extra symptom to add to the list of others (hormonal fluctuations, depression, fatigue) rather than being the cause? Finding health today is focused on losing weight when this is really a side benefit of gaining health! But our modern approach to losing weight has the capability to create deep scars and internal emotional abuse in the way we speak to ourselves.
How many of us gauge our self-worth by a number? Our day can be directed (a great day or a bad day) by the number displayed representing our gravitational pull when we jump on those scales at the same time every morning. That number triggers a barrage of emotion; shame, guilt, un-worthiness, embarrassment, comparison, judgement and fear if it is not what we wanted to see. Anyone who has stood in line anticipating that moment when secretly (yet not so secretly as there are 15 people standing in line behind you) a number is whispered to you or written down for you to process privately will have heard the self talk. “I should have, I could have, why didn’t I do better.” “If only I didn’t go out, if only I was stronger.” This special number is more than a measure of weight, it is tool you can take home and beat yourself up with for not being good enough. Or if you have “been good”, you can praise yourself just for one week on a job well done but in the back of your mind reminding yourself this is not forever…. It is only one week and you must try your hardest not to fall off the wagon….
You are not a number. Your happiness is not derived from a number. Your self worth is not based on a number. You are beautiful and so much more than your gravitational pull. So get the scales out of the house! Let’s stop this nonsense before it is passed down to our kids. Gauge your health by inflammation, bloating, energy, moods, hormonal presentations, digestion, stress and know that weight is just another one of these health markers. When you identify the other health issues they can be addressed and weight loss is a side benefit. Ditch the scales!
By now I'm pretty sure you have heard of the importance of gut health for optimal overall health. Hippocrates really was onto something over 2000 years ago after all!!!
Rather than talking specifically about gut bugs and the gut lining which there is so much focus on currently (and rightly so), I want to focus on an aspect of digestion that is not spoken about as frequently yet it is affecting most of us today. This is the production of stomach acid.
The production of stomach acid is possibly one of the most important aspects of our overall digestive function.
Stomach acid is normally made on demand in response to the food stimuli by the cells in the lining of the stomach. Just thinking about what we are about to eat, preparing food, the smells of cooking, chewing (along with saliva production) signals the stomach telling it to wake up, it's time to get ready for food! So if you think about our food culture today and compare it to the past, we can already see lost opportunities to signal stomach acid production. In the past there weren't instant pre-prepared meals available, we grew our food and often there were broths, soups or long cook dishes on the stove wafting through the beautiful smells of food to help instigate digestion.
Have a think back to high school science and the pH scale! Stomach acid has a low pH (pH scale runs from 0-14; zero (low) is highly acidic and 14 (high) is highly basic – water sits around the 6/7 mark). Stomach acid normally should sit between 1.3 and 3.5. It is so acidic that outside the gut it would burn us to touch our skin. The stomach is a controlled environment that actually protects the rest of our cells from being burned by this concentrated acid. Ideally we want this low pH so that we can start breaking down macro-nutrients from our food (fats, carbs, protein). From there the pancreas is signaled to produce bicarbonate. This bicarb buffers the food that is about to enter our small intestine so we don’t burn holes in our duodenum after it leaves the stomach. From there pancreatic enzymes are released (in accordance with the signalling thanks to stomach acid) which break down our food and help the release of nutrients..... can you now see how important this acid is?!!! Then from there we produce bile which is our master transporter of fats, toxins and excess hormones but with impaired signalling this is also not optimal.
So from this point we can present with any of the following:
How do we support stomach acid production?
Who needs to consider their stomach acid production?
In one word: everyone!
Interestingly stress is a major contributor to a decrease in stomach acid production and alterations in pH. Just living in our modern world with our modern diet is having an impact on stomach acid levels. If you are stressed, have hormonal or digestive disturbances, this is a very support to be considered.
Studies have shown a change in stomach acid production and pH changes in children with autism (Clin Infect Dis. (2002) 35(Supplement 1): S6-S16.doi: 10.1086/341914).
It is a worthwhile habit to bring into daily life which can have significant health benefits!