Why Compassion Matters for Gut Health


From the Epicurators: 3 tasty bites, from our experts for your belly!


Practice Compassion

This tip is for both patients and practitioners and applies to practicing self-compassion and compassion for others. By definition, to be compassionate is to feel deeply for another individual as they experience the ups and downs of life and to not just tell someone, but show someone, that you care by anticipating their needs.

I have built my practice around the central foundation of compassion for good reason, as I find that my patients often arrive at my office with a sense of guilt, fear, and/or failure in believing that they have somehow wronged their own body or have created their digestive issues as a result of their lifestyle or eating habits. And that’s simply not true.

Since stress and anxiety may perpetuate GI symptoms via the gut-brain axis, we want to first ease any negative self-talk or feelings of failure by practicing self-compassion and relaxing any harmful thoughts or self-blame for our condition. As well-being providers, we dietitians (and other healthcare practitioners) have a responsibility to practice compassion for both ourselves and our patients as well as a first-line therapy for wellness in any capacity, but especially in GI health. And as the current civil unrest in the United States has reminded us, practicing cultural humility is integral to being compassionate.

Cultural humility includes self-reflection, critical self-thought, and lifelong learning (in the words of my friend and fellow dietitian, Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN). We may never fully understand the life happenings of our patients and individuals we serve, but as practitioners, part of our responsibility is to continuously work to consider the individual sufferings or misfortunes of our patients and colleagues. I believe compassion is the root of good patient care and the basis from which my patients begin a successful journey to betterment.


Eat More of a Variety of Plant-Based Foods

When it comes to digestive issues, the common misconception is to restrict the diet more than necessary, which oftentimes results in a drastic reduction in consumption of plant-based foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts & seeds. While all food groups and nutrients are equally important, research across all GI conditions shows that an increase in diversity of plant-based foods in the diet promotes a healthier gut microbiota, mostly by way of the fiber content of plant-based foods. For example, research shows that a moderate to high fiber diet reduces risk for flares in individuals with Crohn’s disease. So, it’s incredibly important to be mindful of your intake of plant-based foods to achieve a diverse diet full of different whole grains, fruits and veggies of various colors, and different kinds of plant-based foods. A more diverse, healthy gut microbiota promotes overall health for a number of reasons. An easy way to achieve this is by eating the rainbow and aiming to always have a colorful plate at meals or trying 1 new veggie, fruit, or whole grain each week, prepared a few different ways. Working with a dietitian can help you to choose plant-based food options that also shouldn’t trigger GI symptoms for you.


Seek Evidence-Based Treatment First

Evidence-based healthcare simply means that the practitioners administering care have an obligation within the scope of their credential to provide only recommendations that are founded in clinical research and have been proven to be effective. By seeking treatment from evidence-based providers (e.g., licensed physicians, registered dietitians, licensed psychotherapists, etc.), there is less of a likelihood that the patient will be sent on a wild goose chase, wasting money and time (and developing treatment fatigue!) on treatment methods that are not proven to work. I think many people also have the misconception that evidence-based or medical treatment options discount a holistic approach, and that is not the case. Holistic by definition means “characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease”. This is also the responsibility of all evidence-based practitioners, so you can trust that when you seek treatment from a credentialed healthcare provider, you are receiving a standard of care that is vetted in science.