Ali Walsh finds out what it’s like to do a 7-day gut reset…
A gut reset? Really? Does it sound like a new fad? Why would a coeliac say yes to a diet that requires cutting out even more food? The answer is simple: despite rigidly following a gluten-free diet, I get regular tummy pains and can’t wear a pair of jeans for more than an hour without feeling like someone’s twisting my insides.
That said, I feel so bombarded by media experts I don’t where to begin. What’s causing the pain? Could it be fruit? Is it onions? Perhaps I need colonic irrigation?
So I was curious to try a new 7-day gut reset, courtesy of nutritional therapist Anna Mapson of Goodness Me Nutrition. It promises ‘a new way of eating which will reduce inflammation and lessen irritation to the gut’.
And it doesn’t seem to involve anything too hard. I mean, it’s only a week, right?
Without dairy, I wonder where I’ll get much-needed calcium from. Anna reassures me the food has it in abundance, as well as other important nutrients for coeliacs (like zinc and iron).
There’s a quick questionnaire to fill out before I begin the plan. ‘Why am I doing the plan?’ it asks. ‘Do I crave sugary food?” I peruse the shopping requirements. The details are VAST and I’ve never tried half the stuff. Mustard seeds? Wouldn’t know where to find them. Gram flour? Is that in the Asian food aisle? And where on earth will I find buckwheat groats? I become overly joyous when I realise I already have a few things. Cinnamon? Yes! Fresh basil? Yes! Turmeric? Ye… Oh, it’s out of date by 12 months. I add it to the list.
But then comes an unexpected stumbling block. Despite all the foods listed being naturally gluten- free, a few of them have the dreaded disclaimer: ‘may contain gluten’.
I look at four different packets of lentils and become incredibly disheartened. I’m used to avoiding cereal allergens, but I don’t expect it to be on naturally gluten-free food. There’s even a warning on a packet of ground almonds. I mean, come on!
I decide I’ll adapt the recipes by using something different. Thankfully, Anna has a Facebook group devoted to such questions and is on hand for personal e-mails should the need arise. I hurriedly send her a question about alternatives and it turns out health food shops have the answer.
Before we start…
What to expect: plenty of green leafy veg, seeds, eggs, fish & plant-based protein (like quinoa and lentils)
What you’ll avoid: alcohol, sugar, dairy, gluten & processed food. (Note: vegan options are provided.)
Anna’s philosophy: “The gut reset is a simple guide to eating well. By substituting added sugars, processed foods, dairy and wheat for plant-based protein, vegetables and fruit, your body will have the right nutritional input to feel energetic and well.”
The first morning is a cooked breakfast involving oats (which I can’t tolerate so I’ve substituted rice flakes), seeds, berries and eggs. I’m dubious. I’ve never liked rice flakes. But half an hour later, breakfast is looking promising. Sure enough, it tastes good, and it’s a surprisingly generous portion.
But by 11am I am starving. I’m not used to going hungry. Anna says you have to have time for the body to rest. She says the ‘gut microbes clean the intestines’. I try not to think about food (DON’T THINK ABOUT FOOD!). I go to a meeting for work (not thinking about food).
Lunch can’t come soon enough and is delicious (a chunky vegan soup, since you ask). I’m allowed three rice cakes with it and my friend laughs when I scoop up the crumbs. I’m still hungry afterwards. This does not feel good; I’m used to eating whatever I want. The hours crawl past to dinner time. To put it bluntly, I could eat the north end of a south bound bear. I am eternally grateful for the baked salmon with roasted veg.
I have to remind myself of Anna’s advice to ‘chew and eat slowly to allow the body to digest food properly’. Apparently it reduces bloating.
I keep this in mind as I fight the urge to stuff it all down in three mouthfuls. I obey instructions to have a 14-hour fast and forego the usual evening chocolate I’d have in front of a Poirot.
Instead, I preoccupy myself with making my breakfast for the following morning, which involves putting a lot of unusual ingredients in a jam jar, shaking them up and leaving them in the fridge. Seriously, who mixes sesame seeds with turmeric and cinnamon? Overnight it turns yellow. It’s also tiny. How on earth will I feel full?
But whaddya know? Anna’s done it again: produced a surprisingly tasty breakfast, and the portion turns out to be just what I needed.
Sadly, the evening meal of Rainbow Rice isn’t one I enjoy. It involves brown rice and kale, and even the tasty lime, tamari & coconut oil sauce can’t lift it. That said, my husband thinks it’s wonderful and quizzes me about how it’s made. But I’m still hungry. I just want to relax with a snack and a can of coke.
Day 3’s chia seed pot is also disappointing: it tastes like a cross between rice pudding and frog spawn. Plus, I don’t seem to have mixed the cinnamon in properly and a big lump of it appears in one go.
Thankfully, the day improves. I don’t have to make lunch (because it’s leftover soup from before) and dinner is a vegan dal with real flavour to it. It’s served with quinoa, which I’ve never taken to, but mixed in with the dal it’s a bit more palatable.
By this point I realise I’m not bloated – the plan is clearly working. I find myself flicking through the recipes and eagerly awaiting the days ahead. There’s a chocolate brekkie and a fried savoury pancake called ‘socca’ that sounds really tempting.
As the week goes by, I begin to enjoy the food a lot more. Come day seven I’m feeling quite relaxed. Before, I’d cook the same old things and get bored. But this week has been really interesting and I’ve actually spent less time in the kitchen.
The family’s really embraced the food, including my toddler, and I’ve even got used to not snacking between meals. I no longer feel enormously hungry all the time and when it comes to the final meal (a cauliflower base pizza), I’m quite sad the diet’s over.
There were 2 meals I had to forego during the week: an unexpected late meeting meant I didn’t get to the shops, and I had to sub a meal on a lunch date to the closest thing they had (a vegan salad, which I wouldn’t normally have chosen but was surprisingly delicious).
I honestly thought this would be a hideously expensive week. How wrong I was! I actually spent less than my usual shop, despite having to stock up on things I viewed as costly (like pumpkin seeds). In the following month my average spend per week was £35 for everything, and that included lunch and dinner for 2 people, plus plenty of leftovers. Once you have a cupboard stocked with basics (like brown rice and buckwheat) the things you need are mainly low-cost like fruit, veg and eggs. (N.B. It also helps not to be buying multiple bags of chocolate and crisps.)
WHAT I’VE LEARNT
- Not to dismiss food because I tried it once and didn’t like it. In a proper recipe with other flavours, food like quinoa and brown rice can taste really good. (Top tip: try red quinoa – it has a lovely, crunchy texture.)
- Buying products with a long shelf life means fewer trips to the shops. I had heaps of stuff left over to use in future recipes.
- Go to a health food shop to get packets of rice flakes, lentils and buckwheat flour. It’s the best place to find certified gluten-free food.
- I had no idea how much sugar I was eating. From sweetened yoghurts to daily biscuits, it was no bad thing to cut down.
- Not to guess which foods were making me bloated. Proper guidance from a nutritionist is essential.
- To look forward to meals. Before, I simply wanted to avoid hunger. On this plan, I couldn’t wait to try recipes out and savour the new flavours
- Being pushed out of my comfort zone was good for me in many ways. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and feel mentally exhausted by food, cooking and planning ahead. Once I’d got my kitchen cupboard stocked, everything seemed so easy.
SINCE THE GUT RESET
I’ve been making Anna’s recipes over and over. I tried the chia seed pot for a second time and really enjoyed it. I also tried the Rainbow Rice again with a different kind of kale and it was delicious (note to self: never buy cheap, bagged up kale).
I also can’t believe how much sugar I used to consume! My bloating’s gone, as have most of my snacks, and I haven’t had any headaches. I’ve been making treats occasional (like whisky) and have even managed to wear a pair of skinny jeans all day long. All in all, the diet gave my tummy a much-needed holiday, and I’m truly grateful.
You can try Anna’s 7 Day Gut Reset at www.goodnessme-nutrition.com