Sorry, Mom. I know it’s not proper to confess an embarrassing problem to millions of readers. But a few years ago, I began to notice that my digestion was becoming less regular. I had almost constant pain and bloating and had gained nearly ten pounds. A physical revealed nothing amiss, and technically, I was at a healthy weight. But my clothes didn’t fit, and the discomfort was constant and distracting.
As I started talking about my digestive challenges, other people confided their own struggles. Then I read the stats: From burps and groans to discomfort and moans, millions of Americans have tummy issues. So I did what any health journalist would: I researched the issue, and I asked my staff of editors at Reader’s Digest to help.
We made a discovery that would change my body and my life. The foods that make your belly feel better are the same ones that make it flatter. It is a diet dream: an eating regimen that trims my tummy and solves GI problems like heartburn and reflux, gas and bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
While dietitians, doctors, and GI sufferers have long suspected a connection between your gut and the rest of your body, science is only now beginning to catch up. We uncovered reams of pioneering studies, many of which upended my notions of what’s good for weight loss and health.
The Weight-Gut Connection
There are two factors that deliver a one-two punch when it comes to weight gain and digestive woes—an imbalance of gut flora (the bacteria in our GI tract) and inflammation.
1) An unhealthy mix of gut bacteria can lead to constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and IBS. Scientists have also identified strong links between an imbalance of digestive tract bacteria and weight gain. The bacteria in the guts of overweight people are different from the bacteria in the guts of thin people, and those differences may determine one’s weight. Gut bacteria can also contribute to inflammation, the other big player here.
2) Inflammation—the immune system’s normal response to injury—can upset your stomach and pack on pounds if it becomes chronic. Seventy percent of our immune function takes place in the gut, which explains why your stomach churns when your immune system reacts to stress. Inflammation can also lead to weight gain. Your body naturally produces chemicals to stop inflammation, but these substances interfere with leptin, a hormone that tells your brain to stop eating because the belly is full. When inflammation becomes chronic (often due to stress), your brain no longer gets the message. Though you’ve consumed enough to fuel your body, you still feel hungry, so you overeat and gain weight.
To convert this science into an eating plan, I teamed up with Kate Scarlata, a registered dietitian who specializes in digestive disorders. Kate created an eating plan that works to balance gut bacteria and cool inflammation at the same time. The 21-Day Tummy diet loads up on foods that soothe your stomach (I call them Belly Buddies) and eliminates those that aggravate it (I call them Belly Bullies). The diet relieves the most common digestive complaints while also trimming your tummy.
Next: How 21-Day Tummy works »