I woke up in screaming pain.
There were faint little drops of blood on my pillow.
I texted the only 24-hour, English-speaking taxi driver I knew in my little Caribbean beach town, asking if the hospital was open (?!) I’m living in a remote tropical village, after all.
It was my second month living in a cozy casita two minutes from the beach, and I was experiencing my first-ever ear infection.
After much Googling and no response from the friendly taxi driver who had dropped me off for pad thai a few days prior, I discovered there WAS a hospital open.
The pain was so intense that I debated biking there at 2am on the creaky little cruiser I bought for $100 from the friendly Italian guy who prances around wearing only shorts and rain boots.
But the recent stories of women getting ripped off their bikes and attacked was enough to keep me in my bed, waking up every hour in screaming pain.
I went to the doctor the next day and he said my ear infection was so severe I needed to take four different pills: One oral antibiotic, another antibiotic that the technician would inject into my butt cheek for three days in a row, and two lighter pills for the pain and swelling.
I avoid antibiotics at all costs, but I totally surrendered and did everything he said. The pain (and the blood, jeez) were too much. I would’ve done nearly anything to get rid of it ASAP.
You might be wondering why I avoid antibiotics.
Answer: They wipe out all the good bacteria in your gut. You basically have to rebuild your microbiome from scratch after antis.
A healthy balance of gut bacteria is crucial for mood, skin, digestion, energy, focus, weight loss and maintenance, and pretty much everything else having to do with physical and mental health.
The average adult has been on 30 rounds of antibiotics by the time they’re 30, so suffice it to say that most people have gut issues.
If any, all, or some combination of the following symptoms have become your new normal (or just pop up a little too frequently), your gut might be out of balance…
– digestive issues
– chronic fatigue
– cystic breakouts
– yeast infections
– hormonal imbalances
– annoying bloating
– low mood
Crazy fact: 90% of the body’s serotonin (feel-good neurotransmitter) is made in the gut, and it’s gotta be in tip-top condition to do that. Gut health is about SO much more than just pooping regularly. It deeply affects your mood and outlook on life.
So how can you improve your gut health and reap the incredible benefits a balanced microbiome brings? Mastering your gut basically makes you a superhero.
I’ve just finished my round of antibiotics, and I came out relatively unscathed. My digestion was actually amazing while I was on them, which is a great sign that I have a very stable baseline.
It makes sense, since my parents avoided putting me on antibiotics from birth, and I continue to avoid them as an adult. I also incorporate probiotic and prebiotic foods every day, and do a zillion other practices that support my gut.
One of the most important good gut principles is that your digestive system is like a FIRE, and it needs to stay WARM to keep burning.
Translation? You should be eating mostly warm foods.
Lots of smoothies and salads aren’t doing you any favors – they’re putting out your digestive fire, slowing down your metabolism, and leaving you feeling bloated, tired, and sluggish.
If you live in a warmer climate your body will naturally run warmer so you’ll be able to get away with more cold foods.
The colder your climate, the more you need to stick to foods that are both warm in temperature and have warming ingredients like cinnamon and ginger.
At the time of publication I’m living in the tropical Caribbean, so I can get away with smoothies for the first time in a LONG time, having lived in New York my entire life.
Now let’s get into the specific probiotics and prebiotics you should be including in your diet if your gut is off, and especially if you’ve been on antibiotics recently or you take them frequently.
These elements will help you rebuild and rebalance your gut so you feel energized + light…
Probiotics are the good bacteria in your gut. They’re the little workers that make everything down there run smoothly, so you can have everything from regular digestion and clear skin to a positive, stable mood and unshakeable confidence.
There are lots of different ways you can get probiotics in through food. If your symptoms are more extreme, you’ve just been on antibiotics, or you’ve taken many rounds of antibiotics in your life, it’s important to also add in a high-quality probiotic supplement. You can take it daily based on your doctor’s instructions if you fall into this category.
Many people choose to take daily probiotic capsules for mere maintenance, but I usually don’t. I will be starting a supplement shortly since I was just on antibiotics, but for me, probiotic-rich foods are adequate most of the time.
I chose the Enzymedica probiotics.
Everyone is different. If you’re eating lots of probiotic foods and still experiencing funky symptoms, try a supplement.
Remember: I am not a doctor and you should always check with your MD before taking any new supplements or making diet changes. See my full disclaimer here.
The best part about probiotic-rich food is that it’s often the most delicious and super flavorful.
These are my favorite food sources of probiotics…
- Greek yogurt
- Any naturally-fermented veggies
- Apple cider vinegar
Always check labels to make sure these foods say something like “naturally fermented” or “probiotic-rich.”
IMPORTANT: For example, not ALL sauerkraut and pickles are naturally fermented, but many are.
A good rule of thumb to remember is that any probiotic-rich food should be in the refrigerator section. So those big bags of sauerkraut on the shelf are not naturally fermented, but the cute little jars in the cooler usually are.
Emphasize these foods to rebuild your gut, but don’t overdo it. Listen to your body. Check out the meal plan lower down to get an idea of what a day might look like, and play with quantity to see what your unique body likes best. Always consult your integrative MD, of course.
Next we have prebiotics. Prebiotics are resistant starches that feed the good bacteria in your gut, allowing your ecosystem to stay balanced and healthy.
A lot of people go crazy over probiotics and forget to include prebiotic-rich foods in their diet.
Prebiotics are crucial as they’re literally the food for all those little good guys that keep your gut working well.
Probiotics gotta eat too!
These are my favorite prebiotic-rich foods…
- White rice
- Dandelion greens
It’s so funny, years ago I used to always crave white rice when my ex-boyfriend and I would go to our favorite Japanese restaurant near my apartment in the East Village. But I would always order half our sushi rolls with brown rice because that was the virtuous thing to do at the time.
Now there’s so much popular science that proves white rice is essential for a healthy microbiome because of its prebiotic qualities.
Lesson? The body always knows.
It’s really important to listen to your gut at meals. We’re animals at the end of the day, and we don’t crave things for no reason. Every craving is a clue.
When your body is asking for something, instead of judging it based on the latest nutrition article you read, let go of all that noise and listen to your intuition above all else.
We want to educate ourselves on food science, but your instincts always win in the end.
It comes back to this simple truth: No two bodies are the same, and we all have incredibly unique needs.
There’s no one diet that works for everyone, and the only way to discover your ideal food plan is to listen to your body without judgment, and feed her what she needs.
1-DAY MEAL PLAN
Two sunny side eggs, steamed sweet potatoes, sautéed greens, and 3 tablespoons of raw fermented caraway sauerkraut
Your favorite coffee or tea (drink this AFTER food)
Cup of bone broth
Seaweed wrap with white rice, smoked salmon, avocado, raw fermented garlic-beet sauerkraut, a swipe of miso, and a sprinkle of gluten-free organic tamari soy sauce
Smoothie with 1 banana, ¼ cup Greek yogurt, ¼ cup unsweetened coconut milk, 1 teaspoon unsweetened cacao nibs, a few dashes of cinnamon, 3 ice cubes, splash water if needed to thin it out (omit the ice if it’s super cold where you live or your gut has been extra sluggish lately)
Seared lemon-butter cod with caramelized leeks, grilled asparagus, and spicy sautéed plantains
For some this is a very FULL day of food. You might not need this much, and of course, you can adjust meals to your taste.
My goal here is to give you a bunch of different practical ways to integrate probiotics and prebiotics to rebuild your gut after being on antibiotics.
This is not a COMPLETE guide to gut health, but it covers A LOT and will get you feeling better fast. I’ll be doing an ultimate guide or e-book soon.
How is your gut feeling these days?
Do you have any of the symptoms I talk about in this article?
Are you including probiotics and prebiotics on a daily basis?
Post your questions and reflections below – I’d love to hear from you on this super important topic.