We know… another thing that depends on our gut?!

Yep, it’s true — a healthy, balanced gut acts as the solid foundation for successful weight loss. When your gut is imbalanced, you’ll have a hard time losing weight. Here are three reasons why.

Your Gut Affects How Your Food Is Digested

Your gut bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms reside throughout your digestive tract, so it should come as no surprise that those little guys influence your digestion. Your gut microbes can affect which nutrients you absorb from your food and how your body stores the energy from your food.

Research has examined gut bacteria in pairs of twins — where one twin was obese and the other was at a healthy weight — and found that those who were obese had different microbiome sequences than their healthy twins.

Of particular importance is the fact that obesity was associated with lower diversity (fewer strains of bacteria), and we know that a diverse gut (more strains of bacteria) usually means a healthier gut.

Other research has shown that when scientists place gut bacteria from obese people into mice, those mice gain weight without any other changes to their diet or lifestyle. This suggests that the gut bacteria affect the way the mice digest food, leading to weight gain.

Additionally, your gut microbes can digest certain things that you can’t digest on your own, including fiber and certain types of antioxidants, both of which can contribute to weight loss.

Finally, it’s thought that your gut bacteria can affect the way your intestines absorb the fats you eat, which may in turn affect the way your body stores fat.

Your Gut Affects Inflammation

Inflammation sometimes seems like a buzzword, but the truth is, inflammation is at the root of most diseases — and, you guessed it, weight gain.

Inflammation occurs when your immune system turns on to fight infections and appears in all sorts of ways you’re already familiar with, such as the tender redness you experience when you twist your ankle or scrape your knee.

But inflammation can also be the product of an unhealthy diet and an imbalanced gut microbiome. For instance, diets high in harmful fats and sugar can elevate inflammatory chemicals in your bloodstream and fat tissue, which can directly contribute to weight gain.

Beyond that, your gut microbes regulate inflammation in both good and bad ways.

For example, some bad bacteria produce inflammatory chemicals that have been linked to weight gain, and lower gut diversity (a big indicator of an imbalanced gut) has been associated with excess body weight and other inflammatory chemicals.

Other species of bacteria actually help to reduce inflammation, as can prebiotics.

The relationship between gut bacteria, inflammation, and weight is a relatively new area of research, so scientists are still working on figuring out the exact mechanisms. But for now, you should heed the large body of research proving both that an unhealthy diet leads to an imbalanced microbiome, and an unhealthy diet leads to inflammation.

Your Gut Produces Chemicals That Help You Feel Hungry or Full

Ever hear someone refer to the “hunger hormone”?

That’s ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry, and your gut produces that hormone. Your gut also produces leptin and peptide YY (PYY), two chemicals that makes you feel full or satisfied.

Some research suggests that different strains or species of gut bacteria can influence how much of each chemical your gut produces, affecting whether you feel hungry or full.

Obviously, when you feel hungry, you want to eat. So if the tiny organisms in your gut produce more ghrelin than leptin or PYY, it’s likely that you’ll eat more.

In addition to the physical feelings of hunger and fullness, it’s thought that your gut bacteria can contribute to — or reduce — cravings: Different microbiome sequences are linked to different dietary preferences, namely “chocolate desiring” and “chocolate indifferent.”

How to fix gut imbalances to lose weight

Having a healthy gut means more than getting rid of bloat or digestive cramps. Your gut is the foundation of your overall health: It’s central to the health of your heart, your brain, your skin, and more. It’s even central to a good night’s sleep.

If good gut health is critical to all those things, it should come as no surprise that it’s also critical to successful weight-loss efforts. Without a healthy foundation, you’ll find yourself spinning in circles, frustratedly wondering why in the world you can’t lose weight.

Of course, a healthy gut starts with a healthy diet. Here are seven ways to fix gut imbalances to lose weight:

  1. Eat unprocessed, unrefined foods. One of the best ways to maintain gut health involves cutting out the sugar and refined carbs and jacking up gut-supporting fiber.
  2. Make at least half of your plate plant-based. You do need protein, and most lean animal meats do good for your gut, but the friendly microbes in your belly really love vegetables and fiber-rich foods.
  3. Change your oil. No, not in your car (but maybe you needed that reminder, too). We’re talking about good oils and fats like the omega-3s you find in extra-virgin olive oil, which help to decrease inflammation in your gut.
  4. Seriously, change out that oil. Along with adding in good fats, you should cut out bad, inflammatory fats. Mixed vegetable oils, along with safflower, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed, and corn oils are highly inflammatory and can damage your gut.
  5. Supplement smartly. If you’re not getting everything you need in your diet, you should supplement to fill in the gaps. Confused about probiotics? Read these six questions you should ask your doctor when choosing a probiotic.
  6. Eat more fiber. Probiotics don’t work without prebiotics (yes, they’re different). Prebiotics come from fiber and feed the friendly microorganisms in your gut. Get plenty of fiber from nuts, seeds, vegetables, and whole grains.
  7. Add fermented foods. Just like probiotics don’t work without prebiotics, prebiotics don’t have anything to fuel if you don’t have any existing good microbes. Add fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha, and tempeh for an easy way to multiply your good bugs.

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