Make it Yours—Daily Gut Health Routine to Fit Your Lifestyle - Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC

Does your gut need a reset?

Yes, I'm Ready

Do you want to start feeling better?

Yes, Where Do I Start?

Do you want to start feeling better?

Yes, Where Do I Start?

Make it Yours—Daily Gut Health Routine to Fit Your Lifestyle

Using a Holistic Approach to Gut Health to Create a Routine that Works for You

Key Takeaways:

  • Your daily gut health routine will be highly personalized, but should include whole foods, fermented foods and probiotics, exercise, good sleep, and restorative activities.
  • If you’re experiencing gut challenges, start with a gut reset.
  • A simple gut reset can take 24 to 48 hours, but a more involved protocol like Great-in-8 can take a couple of months. 
  • Staying hydrated is an important component of any daily gut health routine.
  • Behavior change can be hard, so taking the time to plan out weekly strategies as well as mapping out daily routines can help establish good habits.
  • Habit stacking is also a helpful tool for establishing a new routine.

Back in college, I had an intestinal parasitic infection that left me with all kinds of really frustrating symptoms. I had brain fog, fatigue, insomnia, bloating, and constipation, and I was constantly feeling cold and uncomfortable. Once we finally figured out what it was, I treated it with a combination of antibiotics and antimicrobials, which got me to a point of stasis, but not really to a point where I felt great. I also continued to have trouble digesting certain foods, like eggs, raw veggies (especially spinach), beef, alcohol, and even caffeine.

A few years later, I learned about the three categories of probiotics, and I finally really started to feel closer to my regular self. From there, I started researching gut-healing nutrients (glutamine, aloe, zinc, licorice, and slippery elm), added those in, and that’s when I started feeling my best.

I share this personal story because, while you may not be experiencing a parasitic infection, if you’ve landed here today, it’s likely you’re not feeling your best, and you suspect that your gut has something to do with it.

Gut health is at the center of our overall health and well-being. Everything you consume moves through your digestive tract, and as your body converts your diet into sustenance, it affects your energy levels, your mental performance, your emotional state, and how you move through the world. Inputs beget outputs—surely you feel differently after fast food versus a green smoothie. But if the system is damaged, inflamed, or under too much stress, that’s when we get into trouble, even if we have a “perfect” diet.

Gut repair is one thing, but a holistic approach to daily maintenance is something else. It’s all about finding what works for you, both at a granular and a global level, knowing your body and your mind, and creating a routine you can stick to. I’ve created some suggestions for how to customize a daily gut routine that will help you maintain your gut health and get you feeling your best. It includes a lot more than dietary changes. 

Through these recommendations, I’m suggesting that your gut health amounts to a lot more than your dietary inputs: exercise, sleep, stress management, and finding meaning and enjoyment in life are all factors in how your gut functions. 

You can experiment with my recommendations, work your own preferences into the plan, and create something that fits the demands of your life.

Foundation for a Healthy Gut

First things first, you can’t build a house on a broken foundation. A simple first step is a gut reset. A typical gut reset using a liquid elemental diet will take 24 to 48 hours, and then you can get started with a maintenance plan from there.

However, if you’ve been dealing with more disruptive symptoms of dysbiosis or suspect that you have a parasite or gut infection or an overgrowth like SIBO, it’s really important to start with a gut-healing protocol like the Great-in-8 Action Plan from my book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You. This type of plan is a more involved gut reset, which allows you to begin rebuilding from a starting point of health and proper function. Without this first phase of healing, “maintenance” with a daily gut health routine doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. After all, what would you be maintaining?

Not every step in this protocol is necessary for every person, but the basics are there. It’s important that you pay attention to how your body responds to each step. Assessment is a huge component of this plan (and a huge component of observing the effects of any big change, really), so don’t just go through the motions here.

I recommend starting a food journal as you begin this program. In the journal, note when and what you eat, and then also note how your body responds to it over the next day or so. Consider the frequency and quality of bowel movements, cramping and pain levels, and transit time (how quickly things are moving through). You may also note your state of mind. Do you feel clear or foggy? Do you wake up feeling rested or like you could keep sleeping for hours? Are you irritable or even-keeled?

I’ll also note that good hydration is essential at every step (and in general). We know that our bodies are made up of 55–60% water, and water is a key component in moving things through the digestive tract. So drinking water is an unspoken instruction in every step of this protocol. 

Here are the basics to Great-in-8:

Step 1a: A short-term elemental diet to reset your system (3–14 days, depending on the severity of your symptoms).

Step 1b: A gentle elimination diet (2–3 weeks. Start with the least restrictive Paleo diet, and pull back from there to either a low FODMAP or AIP diet, depending on how your body adjusts).

Step 2: Probiotics, adrenal supports, and other gut-supportive supplements like digestive enzymes to help replenish the gut lining and support a healthy microbiota.

Step 3: Antimicrobials like oil of oregano, only if you’re still experiencing issues after the above actions.

Step 4: Rebalance after the antimicrobials with a prokinetic to aid in motility and promote a gentle rebalancing of the gut. You only need this step if you’ve used an antimicrobial/antibiotic because it will have killed off some of the beneficial bacteria as well as the harmful ones. One study actually found that walking for 15 minutes after a meal reduced bloating as well as or better than prokinetics, so that’s a point in favor of exercise [1].

Step 5: A slow reintroduction of foods back into your diet, one food at a time, over 2–5 days each. This is where a food journal really comes in handy, so you can track how your body responds to each new food you bring back in.

Step 6: Feed the good bacteria with prebiotic foods (fiber-rich) to begin maintaining your better gut health with food rather than supplements

Step 7: Begin cutting back on supplements in a systematic way, one at a time. If you have noticed that one in particular doesn’t seem to be doing much, start with that one. Give yourself enough time between each one to assess how you feel without it. You might find that you’ll want to stay on certain ones long-term, like probiotics (which we’ll get into more in the next section).

Step 8: Maintenance phase, in which you have reached your goals and start to have fun with your new-found health. This is where the maintenance of a daily routine comes in, and it’s also when assessment should start to feel like a habit.

Keep in mind that there’s more to a healthy digestive system than the foods you eat. Lifestyle factors like how you experience and deal with stress, mental health in general, physical activity, sleep quality, your social network, and creative expression all impact your digestive health (and vice versa) [2, 3, 4, 5]. The mind-body connection is real and has real health implications.

That’s why daily routines and awareness are important across your whole lifestyle, not just in the kitchen. The suggestions below not only encompass dietary changes, but also address some of those other lifestyle factors that can have a surprisingly huge impact on your gut health.

Creating Your Own Daily Gut Health Routine

Now that you’re at a healthy baseline, it’s time to thrive from here. The “have fun” step doesn’t mean going wild with all the foods that were making you feel like garbage in the first place. But it does mean that it’s time to enjoy life and feel like your best self! This means incorporating the things you discovered about yourself and your gut during the reset process in a long-term, sustainable way.

It’s never my goal to tell you to stay away from any particular food or food group forever (unless you’re severely allergic to it, obviously), but it is my goal to minimize damage for you and also to help improve your relationship with food.

The best way to do that is to know your body and yourself and to be prepared if you know you’ll be heading to a party or social gathering in which triggering foods will be inevitable. No one is asking you to skip the ice cream or cake at a birthday party or to completely abstain from Halloween candy. However, if you’re like most people, too much sugar, dairy, and processed carbs will set you back with digestive issues, so let’s combat that with daily prevention and a couple of extra precautions for the big party coming up.

A Holistic Approach to a Successful Routine

The main components of a daily gut health routine are holistic in nature. As I said above, we’re not just focusing on food. We’re looking at the whole picture. What does your morning routine look like? Evening routine before bed? How do you plan out your weekly meals? Do you find that caffeine helps or hurts your health goals? What about alcohol? Is there a time and place for both or should they be taken out? When do you fit in exercise? What kind? How long? Do you poop every day? What gut-friendly foods help make that happen? How much and how well are you sleeping? Do you make time for your friends and family? What about restorative or creative activities (time for yourself)?

I ask all of these questions not to overwhelm you but to highlight that, while creating a plan like this is highly individual, the basics are somewhat universal.

As you map out a plan, it’s a good idea to habit stack in order to help solidify new habits, so the examples below will incorporate that behavior change technique.

The following components should be a part of your daily gut health routine:

  1. Whole foods (3–4 meals daily) like vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat, seafood, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates (you can decide if you’d like those to be root veggies, whole grains, legumes, or a combination of these, based on how your body reacts). Different people need different things in this complex category. If you’re experiencing symptoms, you might start with a paleo diet (skip the grains and legumes from the foods above) as the first level of elimination [6, 7]. If you’re still experiencing symptoms, consider a low FODMAP diet for two weeks to a month, and then begin reintroducing foods [8]. 
  2. Fermented foods/probiotic foods (1–2 meals daily) like kimchi, kefir, kombucha, wild pickles, yogurt, or sauerkraut  [9].
  3. Water (70–110 oz daily, depending on age and weight) [1].
  4. Exercise (30 minutes to one hour daily). Moderate exercise includes walking, swimming, biking, hiking, and yoga. Resistance training two to three days a week. Intense training is up to you, just don’t overdo it. [1, 10, 11]. 
  5. Sleep (7–9 hours, depending on your needs) [12]. 
  6. Restorative activities like reading, stretching, meditating, sitting in nature, making art, talking to a friend or family member, journaling, taking a class for pleasure—this one is highly variable from person to person, and there’s no one prescription for everyone [13].
  7. (Possibly) Gut-supporting supplements like probiotic supplements and Gut Rebuild Nutrients [14, 15, 16, 17].

Starting Your Day

It might take some adjustment (as all new habits do), but if you can give yourself enough time in the morning to sit down and eat your breakfast, that will benefit your gut health. Slow, undistracted meals, in which you chew your food thoroughly, help your body utilize natural enzymes in the mouth and stomach to break down foods for proper absorption and prevent bloating and gas. Starting your day calmly and without rushing also helps set the tone for your mindset throughout the day.

Here’s a sample morning routine:

  • The alarm clock ringing is the trigger for a new habit of taking 5–10 deep breaths before getting out of bed or looking at your texts/emails/etc on your phone. Try to stave off the phone noise for as long as possible in this new routine. This is a great way to avoid being overwhelmed first thing in the morning. It takes virtually no time at all to center your mind with a few deliberate deep breaths before your feet hit the bedroom floor.
  • Start your morning with a full glass of water and a warm cup of bone broth before coffee. This way, even if you’re not a breakfast person, you’re getting gut-healing nutrients into your system before the sometimes harsh elements of coffee. Habit stack: it’s easy enough to warm six to eight ounces of bone broth in a coffee mug and drink it as you’re waiting for coffee to brew. Once your coffee is ready, take it outside for some morning sun exposure to help boost your vitamin D production.
  • If you’re a breakfast person, start your morning with protein, healthy fat, and veggies. This could look like scrambled eggs and spinach, cooked in avocado oil, or a green smoothie/protein shake.
  • If you take supplements, pair them with breakfast if you can, as it’s usually the time of day that most people are consistently at home. Habit stack: it’s sometimes hard to remember a probiotic is in the refrigerator, so put a note on your coffee maker or set an alarm on your phone each morning to remind you to take it with breakfast. Make sitting down for breakfast your trigger for grabbing your supplements.

Alternatively, if you’re the type of person who wants to exercise first thing, you can start with just the bone broth before a light workout and have a real breakfast afterwards. If you’re planning on a higher-intensity workout, you’ll need something more substantial, like the egg scramble or a smoothie, before hitting the gym hard.

In your own customized version of your morning routine, set some realistic goals for yourself, based on how much time you typically have in the morning before your first obligation of the day. For example, “I will not look at social media or email until after I’ve eaten breakfast or had my coffee.” Or, “I will spend the first 15 minutes of my morning doing a gentle yoga routine.” There are tons of incredible free yoga videos on YouTube that can help kickstart a habit like this one. 30 Yoga Challenge with Adriene is a great place to start.

If these goals and suggestions feel overwhelming already, it might make more sense to start with setting an evening routine, which might make mornings a little less overwhelming. But first, let’s look at the middle of the day.

Planning Your Work Day/Week

I’m going to call the time between breakfast and bedtime the “work day,” even if you don’t have a standard nine-to-five job. That’s because it’s likely the part of the day that’s most variable for you, whether you’re working or not, and therefore the hardest to create habits around. This is where weekly scheduling and planning can really help you get into a good routine.

Pick a day and time that works for your schedule to look at your week as a whole. I’d guess that for many folks with a desk job, that’s after lunch on a Friday, or possibly a Friday morning. Take 10 to 15 minutes to browse your schedule. Where are meetings booked, when will you have time for lunch? What’s the best day and time to go to the grocery store? Which evenings are booked with social plans that include dinner? Which evenings will you have time to cook?

The answers to these questions will help you determine what your goals for the week should be around food, exercise, and personal time. If you know you’re eating out with friends three nights that week, then you know your cooking schedule will be lighter, but possibly a little bit more deliberate and gut-health-oriented, in the event that the restaurants you go to don’t have the best options. Does that make sense?

Here’s an example of how you might tackle a week:

  • Grocery shopping Saturday morning for the next week. Plan for the following, based on the family schedule:
    • 6 breakfasts at home
      • Eggs, box of spinach, avocadoes
      • Greek yogurt and berries
      • Pea protein powder for smoothies
    • 6 lunches at work (include something fermented)
      • Canned salmon
      • Salad ingredients
      • Side of sauerkraut
      • Kombucha
      • Dinner leftovers
    • 3 dinners at home (include something fermented)
      • Green curry veggies with shrimp and rice (make enough for leftovers)
      • Gluten-free pizza topped with eggplant, zucchini, and chicken
      • Lettuce-wrapped veggie burger with air-fried sweet potato fries and a side of wild pickles
    • Snacks for the week (include something high in fiber)
      • More wild pickles and sauerkraut
      • Hummus and carrots
      • Nuts/seeds
      • Paté with gluten-free crackers
  • Exercise:
    • Lunchtime walk on Monday because we have dinner plans that night
    • Long bike ride after work Tuesday with Susan
    • Short session of resistance training at the gym on Wednesday before dinner plans with family
    • Long bike ride alone after work on Thursday
    • Quick 20-minute morning walk on Friday
    • Hike with partner Saturday mid-day
  • Goals:
    • Be in bed by 10:30pm every night
    • Meditate before work for 20 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday
    • Bring my adult coloring book to work so I can color for a few minutes after I eat lunch
    • Write out my feelings about the conflict I had with my sister so that I can talk to her about it rationally and stop stressing about it
    • Spend at least 2 hours working in the garden on Sunday

A plan like this can be tailored to an individual, a couple, or a family, and the goals will be different for everyone, and likely shift from week to week. You might find that a winter goal is to go to bed earlier so that you can wake up earlier and write in your journal every morning, but in the summertime, you want to use that time to exercise before it gets too hot out, for example.

Ending Your Day

We know that both exercise and quality sleep are just as critical for a healthy gut microbiome as the foods and supplements you put in, so creating an evening ritual that gets you into bed consistently each night and waking at the same time is more important than you might realize [10, 11, 12]. Sleep hygiene is all about consistency and creating an environment that’s conducive to restful, restorative sleep.

But an evening routine is more than just sleep hygiene. What time you eat dinner, whether you snack after and until what time, and how you entertain yourself between dinner and bedtime all factor into an evening routine.

Here’s a sample evening routine (post-work):

  • Have a small nutrient-dense pre-workout snack (nuts and berries, a hard-boiled egg, banana and almond butter, etc.)
  • Head straight to the park or the gym for exercise
  • Head home for a shower and to rest a bit before cooking dinner
  • Cook, eat, and clean up dinner
  • Relax with some personal time (a hobby, call a friend or family member, spending time with a partner, work on a puzzle, read a book, do some writing)
  • Start the bedtime routine at least one hour (ideally an hour and a half*) before you’d like your head to hit the pillow

*Pro tip: According to the Sleep Foundation, it takes the average person 15 to 20 minutes to fall asleep, so factor that in when you’re deciding when to start your bedtime routine [18]. This means turning the TV off, winding down from engaging in anything stressful, turning down the lights in your house, and then making your way toward the bathroom to brush your teeth, wash your face, and do whatever else you need to do before bed.

It’s Your Routine. Make it Yours

I know that I’ve thrown a lot at you, and that a lot of it feels secondary to the mechanistic approach to digestive health: boosting beneficial bacteria for microbial diversity, healing the gut lining, eating well, etc. All of those things are important and foundational not only to healing your gut but to boosting your immune system, and ensuring that you’re getting the most out of every bite you eat. But the diet and the supplements aren’t the full picture.

Taking basic measures to reduce stress, optimize sleep, get daily exercise, and find joy and meaning in your life are all massive steps toward improving your overall health and wellness—and that both includes and hinges on gut health.

By creating a daily gut health routine that includes whole foods, fermented foods, daily exercise, quality sleep, fulfilling activities, and sometimes gut-supportive supplements like probiotics, you are setting yourself up for success. We’d love to help. Reach out to our clinic to book an appointment or pick up a copy of Healthy Gut, Healthy You to start the Great-in-8 protocol yourself.

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

➕ References
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