When you are working on your gut, sometimes it can be tough to determine if strategies are producing a measurable result. It can be easy to ditch the RIGHT strategies before you see results and stick with the WRONG (often popular) strategies for too long waiting for results that never materialize.
I know from personal experience that I abandoned valuable strategies when I didn’t get quicker results. My first trial of building vagal tone with gargling I abandoned after 2 weeks, because I didn’t see significant results.
But, then I also stuck with my restrictive SIBO diet for too long even when it was not providing relief (and even making me sicker). The “do not feed the SIBO” ideology drowned out my bodies messages to get off of the SIBO diet. I wasted lots of time, energy and money on this diet that provided no relief.
I also tried many different rounds of herbal and antibiotic clearing methods without long standing symptom relief. I spent too long trying to clear out an overgrowth, when I really should have shifted my approach to rebuild and repair my gut.
Sticking with restrictive diets and clearing approaches dug me into a deeper hole. It set me back months and potentially years in my healing journey. HOW FRUSTRATING!
So, how do you know when to stick with a strategy and when to abandon a strategy to find something new? I hope to shed light on this topic in this post. Let’s dive in!
Have realistic expectations about how long gut healing takes
With so many quick fixes and magic bullets in the gut health space, it can be easy to think your gut healing can be achieved quickly. But, gut healing is a process and it takes time.
It usually takes years for gut issues to develop. You may have even had gut issues since childhood. You usually are not going to be able to unwind long standing gut dysfunction in a week on a supplement or a diet. It takes time!
A popular rule of thumb in the functional medicine space is that for every year that you have had health issues it takes a month of treatment. Therefore, if you have had IBS symptoms for 5 years it may take 5 months to heal. I don’t think this is true in every case, but it does highlight that healing takes time!
Most of my clients typically work with me for 3-9 months to correct gut breakdowns and to have symptoms resolve. Typically, progress is being made through the process and the bigger progress is delayed. I coach my clients to focus on progress and not perfection!
It is very easy to focus too much on what is still going wrong with your gut that you can fail to see positive progress. When the focus is on the dysfunction versus the progress, the gut healing process can be FRUSTRATING.
I know it is so hard to be patient when you feel crappy and feel like your health is holding you back from your true potential! I know because I have been there!!
It can be easy when we are tired and unwell to gravitate towards supplements and other quick fixes. But try your best to stay patient and don’t forget about the long game. Success with gut healing lies in playing the long game with the right lifestyle, diet and supplement strategies.
Consistency is key!
Lifestyle, diet and supplement interventions take time to have an effect. As I mentioned above, lots of big gains are delayed. Positive momentum builds as you stay consistent with the gut repair strategies.
In our modern world, we have been trained to receive instant gratification. It can be easy to have expectations that are unrealistic. Results are not usually linear.
I love this graph that I recreated from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. It clearly highlights how you can be put tons of effort in without seeing significant change—this time is shown as the “Valley of Disappointment”. Sticking it out through that valley of disappointment is hard, but SO IMPORTANT. Look at the sharp upswing in results once you work through that valley!
I would say the biggest predictor of positive outcomes with my clients is their ability to stick it out through that valley of disappointment.
In the book, James (yes we are on a first name basis) describes a great example of how results are delayed and consistent action is key. He describes a quote from social reformer James Riis who said, “When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a cracking showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it—but all that had gone before.”
Another great example of consistency and better results is building muscle. You can not expect to go to the gym four times and see visible changes in your muscle tone. You might have to go 15 or 20 times or more to see changes in your muscle tone. It takes time to get SWOLL!
I find that many of my new clients have been consistent with supplement and diet changes, but often have not yet implemented consistent other crucial lifestyle changes. Usually, there is too much focus on the diet and supplements with less focus on other lifestyle approaches.
Things like vagus nerve exercises, stress management, circadian rhythm repair, movement, sleep, meal structure and timing are all areas that I work on with my clients. Consistent lifestyle changes can yield major momentum in your gut healing!
But, you can’t expect to gargle for 2 weeks and see major changes like I did. I eventually got back on the gargling horse and noticed some positive shifts at the 4 week point and even bigger shifts at the 6-8 week mark. It took consistency to build up my vagal tone and to see results.
The Aggregation of Marginal Gains:
It is also important to recognize that focusing on combination of lifestyle and diet habits will produce bigger gains than if each strategy was done on its own. For instance, going gluten free may produce a decrease in symptoms. But, going GF in combination with daily movement, daily stress management and 8 hours of sleep will produce a bigger result.
The Aggregation of Marginal Gains is essentially the philosophy of searching for tiny marginal improvements in everything that you do. Look at your sleep, cognition, stress management, connection/relationships, movement, circadian rhythms and diet. What are some short term and long term goals that you could lay out to help improve these areas?
For instance, for stress management, you could set an initial goal of 5 minutes of breathing exercises daily. Then, you could slowly build up to a long term goal of 3 sessions of 5 minutes or a 15 minute meditation daily. Go through each area and start to aim for improvements.
Those improvements will have a much bigger cumulative effect on your gut health than the hyper restrictive diet approach that I typically see in the SIBO space. When my focus was solely on restricting food, I couldn’t focus on other areas that were important to my gut healing. It took loosening the reigns on my diet and working on other areas to see the big gains!
How to know if an approach is not working?
While you can easily ditch an approach before you see it’s benefit, you can also stick with an approach or strategy for too long. With my clients, I tend to see them sticking with restrictive diet and certain supplements for too long.
Many of my new clients are on tons of supplements with no clue about what is working, what is necessary and what they should stay on. For my new clients, most have been stuck consistently added in supplements without subtracting any. This supplement build up can be expensive and not effective.
You may be wondering…how am I supposed to know whether to stick with something or to stop? That is a bit tricky. Working with a SIBO knowledgeable practitioner should help take the guess work out of this process. But, you can also use some general rules of thumb.
I would definitely first understand the timeline that certain strategies should yield results. For instance, with supplements, there are definitely supplements that should produce quicker effects and then there are other supplements that may take longer to see effects. Having this understanding can help you make better decisions.
I would say that if you have been on a diet or supplement for >3 months and you are unsure if it is necessary or helpful, you can always experiment going off of it. Do you notice any effect going off the supplement or diet?? If not, the strategy may not be needed or helpful. Definitely discuss with your practitioner if you want to jump off of a supplement or diet.
Best way to track progress
Some of my clients really want to track their progress. Lately, I have been loving having my clients track their good days. It might not mean that their gut was totally perfect, but it is a better than average day.
I have found that tracking bad days or reactions can often lead to hyper focusing on symptoms. When you are tracking symptoms, you can often create more symptoms.
You can learn a lot from good gut days. Try to track your sleep, your movement, your stress management, your meal timing, your meal composition, any newer strategies you have added in and any other relevant information that may be at play in your good day. Have a dedicated journal for your good gut day tracking.
At the end of each month you can tally up all of your good days. As the months go by, you should see an increase in good days. If you don’t see any momentum building in your number of good days, I would go back to the drawing board. Asking your practitioner to help you adjust is important if progress is not being made.
Healing your gut will take time. Be realistic with your timelines and stay consistent even when you don’t see immediate results.