Eating Better, Feeling Worse? Why It Happens & What to Do

New year, new diet. “I will eat more plants”, you tell yourself, or something similar. A while later you are eating healthier. Your clothes fit a bit better. You feel good about your actions.

However, on another level, you feel bad—maybe even worse. Digestive irregularity or discomfort and maybe headaches, mood swings, or fatigue. What gives?

What might be happening—and how to fix it

Eating better can confuse your body for a time. How much you change your nutritional status, biochemistry, lifestyle, and gut diversity and how gradually will affect how long it takes to adapt and how intense it feels.

Do any of these post-New Year’s resolution setbacks seem familiar?

  1. Lost weight but not feeling great
  2. Eating better but feelieng "off"
  3. Eating better, worse digestion
  4. New routine, worse digestion

Let’s look at these problems and what to do.

The problem: lost weight, not feeling great
Hidden reason: sudden weight loss ➡ toxin release

Do you associate cleansing with weight loss? Many people do. However, you may not know that it’s important to cleanse after you’ve reached a weight loss goal.

Why? Toxins dump into the bloodstream when you lose weight. When we lose fat, fat-soluble toxins are released. Studies show that the level of toxins circulating in the blood is higher after losing weight. (If you’ve ever heard that slow weight loss is better, this is one reason why. It is also the reason why “cleansing” is seen as being healthier than just calorie-restrictive “dieting”.

The increased oxidative stress from fast weight loss means more free radicals and peroxides in circulation. This increases the reactive oxygen species in the body. These molecules can damage cells and disrupt cellular signaling, and therefore can scramble messages.

Symptoms like fatigue, muscle or joint pain, headaches, or brain fog can be symptoms of this oxidative stress, and the body depends on antioxidants to neutralize the oxidative stress.

What to do:

  • To counterbalance the increased need for antioxidants, include a variety of OPCs (grapeseed), anthocyanins (elderberry), carotenes (spirulina), and curcuminoids (turmeric).
  • Take weight loss slow. Eating five small, protein-rich meals daily—with at least 20 g of protein each—can help the body deal with toxin release.
  • Gentle cleansing is recommended, using plenty of water and a product like Flor·Essence.

The problem: eating better but feeling "off"
The hidden reason: slow adaptation to your new nutritional status

Molecules like minerals, fatty acids, vitamins, and neurotransmitters interact in your blood with your cells. They act as ‘signaling molecules” to play a role in the balancing act we call homeostasis. The type and the quantity of molecules you ingest affects your health because they create important results.

Signals get transmitted from the outside to the inside of the cell, triggering an action—it might direct the cell to produce something (or not produce something).

Thus, when the balance of these molecules changes, it impacts how they interact with your cells, the behavior of your cells change, and you may feel very different. The body might take a while to adapt to the change.

What to do:

  • Eat nutrient-dense food with all the vitamins, minerals, and other vital nutrients that your body can use as signaling molecules to function optimally.
  • Give your body a chance to keep up. Until your body adapts, don’t keep making changes. Add or take away one thing, adapt, then continue.

The problem: eating better, worse digestion
The hidden problem: intolerance to a new food / insufficient enzymes

When people make a dietary change and then get indigestion, the first fear that often comes up is “I must not be able to digest this particular food”. Yes, it is possible if we do not make a certain enzyme, in which case we call it an intolerance.

Some people may be able to eat small amounts of the problem food. For example, if you do not create lactase to digest the lactose in milk—called lactose intolerance—the culprit really is that you cannot digest that food.

Food intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system, so symptoms usually stay isolated to digestive ones: gas, nausea, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or gut pain.

What to do:

  • One way to determine if you have an intolerance is to try a digestive enzyme and see if it helps since insufficient digestive enzyme production causes the body’s inability to digest the food.
  • You can avoid the food to which you are intolerant, or you can take a supplemental digestive enzyme to help you to digest that food if you feel you would like to continue to eat it.

The problem: new routine, worse digestion
The hidden problem: low enzyme production

Not digesting well is not the same as having an intolerance. It is a non-permanent state caused by changes in pH or sensory cues. Meaning, changes in routine can cause temporary digestion woes.

When going plant-based, it is possible to have a hard time adjusting to an increase in fermentable carbohydrates and fiber in the greater amount of plant matter you are eating.

Our bodies should make the most of the enzymes we need, but the process of enzyme secretion is controlled and affected by many factors, such as our hormones and even how stressed out we are! Some people do have a genetic leaning to low enzyme production, and they can use a mild digestive enzyme daily. But stress (aka doing too much) is by far the most common reason for not shifting into digestion mode and failing to produce enough enzymes.

What to do:

  • Taking supplemental enzymes is a good idea until such a time as you can find stride in your new routine or your lifestyle allows you more relaxation.
  • If you can stick with the increased plant matter, you will probably be glad you did. Meanwhile, enzymes with alpha-galactosidase can relieve the gas and discomfort.
  • If you are not digesting well, remember: you can’t stress and digest. Cut out habits such as eating while driving or while watching or playing anything scary, suspenseful, or violent; hitting the gym with headphones booming would be better before dinner rather than after eating.
Dana Green Remedios, RHN, RNCP, NNCP, is a Vancouver-based educator and coach. She is a regular contributor to the FloraHealthy blog and can answer your questions in English, French, and Spanish as a Product Information Specialist at Flora.