The new year has come and gone, and we’ve all made our usual resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier, get in shape, and work out more. The problem is, those resolutions are pretty darned hard to keep. If they were easy, we’d have already been doing them, and the fact that they’re so hard is the reason we usually end up quitting after a few weeks or months. The lack of visible results (in our waistline, on the scale, or muscle tone) is another factor that causes discouragement.
But did you know that the lack of results isn’t your fault? It’s not that you aren’t trying hard enough—your body is actually fighting the change. According to a new study, your gut microbes may actually work against your diet. A study out of the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at Washington University in St. Louis found that the diversity of the microbes living in your gut is changed thanks to the food you consume—the western diet. The western diet conditions the microbes to react a certain way, and they actually rebel when you try to switch to a plant-based, calorie-restricted, healthy diet.
Note: The western diet is rich in carbohydrates, processed foods, sugar, saturated fats, and red meat, and low in whole grains, poultry, fruits, veggies, and seafood.
The scientists conducting the study collected a range of fecal samples from people on both a western diet and those who adhered to a plant-based, calorie-restricted diet. They found that the microbes in the fecal matter of those who ate a healthy diet had a much greater diversity than those following the western diet.
When the researchers introduced microbes affected by each diet to mice that contain no microbes, they found that the mice with the western diet microbes responded weakly to the plant-based diet. Thankfully, over time, the microbes common with a plant-based diet crept into the mice’s digestive system as they continued to eat more healthy.
What does this mean? Two very important things. First, you need to start eating healthier, which means making the switch to plant-based foods (fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and whole grains) along with fish, poultry, and other seafood. Cutting processed, high-sugar, and other western foods from your diet will help to restore a healthy diversity of gut microbes that will encourage not just better digestion, but also promote weight loss. And second, if you’re not seeing weight loss right away, it’s because your body is just getting accustomed to the change in your diet. It will take time for your digestive tract to make the switch.
Your western diet has encouraged certain types of microbes to flourish (the ones that break down sugar and refined carbs in particular), but a plant-based diet with time will bring other microbes. Keep up with your diet efforts even if your gut microbes aren’t making it easy. Over time, they will change and adapt to your new, healthy eating habits.
1. Jeffrey Gordon et al., “Prior dietary practices and connections to a human gut microbial metacommunity alter responses to diet interventions,” Cell Host & Microbe, doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2016.12.006, published online 29 December 2016, abstract.