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Gut Feelings

Navigating Digestive Health with Wellness Expert Alyssa Lavy

Article by Samantha Schoengold Beranbom

Photography by Kaitlyn Casso Creations

Originally published in Fairfield Lifestyle

Digestive disorders are pervasive. They include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), functional dyspepsia and gastroparesis, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and excess gas are among the most common symptoms and can impact work, relationships, and quality of life. Managing these issues can be overwhelming on one's own. Finding a specialist can be just as overwhelming.

Alyssa Lavy, a Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer, is not only a wellness and nutrition expert - she specializes in gut health. After years of working as a corporate nutritionist and in large gastroenterology groups, Alyssa decided to narrow her focus and open her own private practice. "I was able to take all of my previous experience and work with the populations I loved working with most, those with digestive health disorders and those looking to improve their relationship with food," Alyssa explains. She has cultivated a space where she can thoughtfully help patients on their health journey. "I describe myself as a non-scale focused, HAES (Health at Every Size) aligned, weight inclusive dietitian. I practice with an all-foods-fit-as-tolerated philosophy. I work with clients to embrace a positive relationship with food and their body, whether we are working together to improve general health-related habits, manage their IBS symptoms or any other reason." Since no two patients are alike, results come from her customized personal approach. "I aim to provide clients with the least restrictive diet for their personal symptom management and ultimately liberalize their diet as best as possible while we work on diet and non-diet behavior changes to improve gut health. For some people, this may mean pursuing an elimination diet with strategic reintroduction of foods so we can identify dietary triggers. For others, an elimination-style diet may not be appropriate at all, in which case we could potentially pursue a highly modified version or focus solely on non-diet strategies for symptom management. No matter what, I always focus on adding nutrition in rather than taking it out and restricting the diet. We need to nourish ourselves and our gut bugs!"

While running an already busy practice with a growing waitlist, Alyssa is also always innovating. In order to reduce those wait times to start working within her practice and to have a greater impact on the IBS community, Alyssa has launched an online group course called Trust Your Gut. This virtual course is a deep dive into Alyssa's five pillars of IBS management: meal hygiene/meal spacing and the components of a balanced plate, stress management, sleep hygiene, movement, and diet. With a mix of live office hours for personalized support and video lessons, individuals will ultimately develop their own long-term toolkit to manage their IBS. For Alyssa, the best part has been building a robust online community of fellow IBS-ers who just get it. It's a private community where members can share their support and experiences. "I am excited to see this community continue to grow, and I am constantly blown away by the positive feedback from course participants. It truly feels like I have found my calling, and I love facilitating this community while helping people to feel better and more confident in their bodies."

Rooted in the basic foundations of health, Alyssa shares her top 10 tips to jumpstart your own wellness journey for overall gut health in the new year:

1. Swap the word exercise for movement. Engage in mindful movement daily for any amount of time that works for you, even if it’s just 5-10 minutes some days. Find movement that you genuinely enjoy and look forward to doing and incorporate it regularly. The ultimate goal is to reduce sedentary time and form a healthy, positive relationship with movement.

2. Shifting your mindset. If your goal each January has been weight loss - focus less on the number on the scale, which tells us nothing about your health, and more on improving health-related habits that can have an impact on things like your lab values, your energy levels and how you feel. Shifting your mindset around health and wellness is one of the best things you can do to begin to improve your relationship with food, movement and your body.

3. Take time to chew your food thoroughly and eat slowly. Many people forget that digestion actually begins in the mouth. Chewing your food thoroughly allows you to break down the food into smaller pieces and mix it with enzymes found in your saliva, which begin the digestive process. Allow yourself to tune in and notice your hunger, fullness and satiety cues. Many of us shovel food into our mouths as we work or run from one activity to the next and simply changing this behavior can improve bloating, as well as many other GI symptoms, and allow us to eat more mindfully.

4. Make this the year that you curate a healthcare team that prioritizes you! If you suffer from GI symptoms, consider meeting with a registered dietitian before you start eliminating food groups from your diet. This tends to initiate a vicious cycle of dietary restrictions, anxiety surrounding food, worsened symptoms and worsened food relationships. I always say that your health is not the right project to DIY.

5. Get enough sleep – most of us should aim for 7-8 hours per night. I recommend cutting off screen time (TV, tablet, phone, computer) at least 1 hour before bed and creating a nighttime routine to help you to unwind.

6. Try to set a consistent bed time and wake time, especially if you have IBS. I always tell clients that IBS loves routine, so a simple change like focusing on sleep hygiene and improving circadian rhythm can be so helpful in managing symptoms – and may give you a better baseline so you can tolerate more foods.

7. Get some time outside each day, even if it is just for a few minutes. Being in nature can help to improve mental and physical health – and even improve our gut health.

8. Focus on adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Remember – it is not about what we take out, but rather, what we can add into our diet! Start with simple changes, like adding a handful of spinach to your sandwich or adding fruit to your breakfast. These seemingly small additions can mean big-time increases in fiber and nutrient intake each day.

9. Set boundaries! It is impossible to focus on your own health and wellness when you’re constantly overcommitted and feeling burnt out – and as well intentioned as you may be, you will likely not be able to be the best version of yourself (for you or anyone else) if you do not set clear boundaries. Prioritize your energy accordingly.

10. Don’t make too many changes at once! It can feel overwhelming to set a super lofty goal (like going from not cooking to cooking every night of the week or going from 5 hours of sleep each night to 8) or to set too many goals. Keep goals attainable, clear, and meet yourself where you are, prioritizing no more than one or a few changes at each time. Then, gradually build on these goals as they became habits that are part of your regular routine.

Visit alyssalavy.com to learn more and follow @alyssalavyrd on Instagram

All tips are provided for general information only and do not constitute individual health advice or recommendations. As always, please discuss with your personal healthcare team before making any changes

I love facilitating this community while helping people to feel better and more confident in their bodies.

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