We have put together A College Girl’s Master Guide to Gut Health as a resource for college women worldwide.
I want to start by setting the stage from a snippet you’ll find in my own, personal story.
Freshman Year of College
I was such a homebody that I wasn’t even able to spend the night anywhere. Literally. In the 6th grade I even went to counseling to understand what made me so ill thinking about staying anywhere but with my mom and dad. It took a very long time, but eventually towards the end of high school, I overcame it.
Just in time to go away to college. But fact remained, I left home – pretty much the only place I’d ever been to in my life – for the first time. That was coupled with a breakup that left me completely heartbroken beyond anything I ever knew.
So once college came, things took a sharp turn and headed south.
Early in my freshman year, I got very ill. I got the flu and tonsillitis so badly that I was out for nearly two weeks, unable to get myself to the doctor, answer Mother’s calls or anything. I eventually found myself in urgent care, took a round of antibiotics and life continued on.
The Vicious Cycle Begins
At this point in my life, the vicious cycle really began. Not only was I always sick, but I ate anything and everything in sight (dorm room food for the win!), smoked a lot of cigarettes, and didn’t care about much of anything except family, friends, coffee shops, and late-night pancakes with butter and syrup galore.
One thing I didn’t do a lot of was drink. I tried. I really wanted to drink, but in college, you know the usual beverage of choice: beer; all-night “keggers.” Beer made me incredibly ill. I’d have one or two and feel as though I needed to throw up. Off of just a couple, I’d be hungover the next day.
That first year of college I lived alone in a dorm room. In hindsight, I am so thankful for that. I struggled for the first major time in my life with digestive issues. Most days, my dorm room would smell of rotten eggs so badly that even I became depressed living in it.
I would alternate between bloat/gas and everything running straight through me. I also gained 10-15 pounds that year, as I struggled with all things physical and emotional.
College Women with Gut Issues Everywhere
And that’s just my own story.
So many women have similar stories.
Including Trinity, who works with me on a daily basis. You can read her story HERE.
Anyways, it was Trinity’s idea to produce this resource for our community. As a Gutsy, college-aged woman herself, she knows exactly what it’s like to be in the thick of it right now.
So A College Girl’s Master Guide to Gut Health is from a dual perspective: current college female (Trinity) and past college female (me).
This is so that the guide can be helpful from different viewpoints, at different stages.
A College Girl’s Master Guide to Gut Health
Click HERE to save A College Girl’s Master Guide to Gut Health for later.
College Female Perspective – Gut Health
Entering my freshman year of college, I had a long list of things I was anxious about – living in a dorm, meeting my roommate, making friends, my classes etc.
Gut health was not one of those things.
If my 18 year-old self had known all the ways my overall health was affected by my gut, prioritizing gut health would have definitely made the list.
After being diagnosed with both leaky gut and SIBO during my first three years of college, I’ve made gut health high on my priority list.
Now, I want to share a list of all the gut health advice I’d give my younger self in college.
This list is NOT an end all be all, nor is it guaranteed to keep your gut in perfect health.
Gut health is a lifestyle, not a strict regimen. I would never want my fear of not meal-spacing enough to keep me from enjoying ice cream at 3am with my friends or my goal to always get 9 hours of sleep every night prevent me from watching my school’s basketball team play against our rival school. There’s a balance.
This list is not meant as a protocol to follow, but rather as inspiration for lifestyle changes to prioritize your own gut health.
Manage your stress.
This point is first on the list for a reason. Your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated when you’re stressed. The SNS creates your body’s “fight or flight” response.
During this response, digestion slows down and can even stop completely.
Being chronically stressed means your digestive system is constantly hindered by your SNS response which can cause nausea after eating, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion from increased stomach acid, and dysbiosis.
Learning stress management techniques and beginning a meditation practice are two important ways to calm your SNS and improve your digestion (along with your mental health as well!).
Prioritize sleep like you do studying or your social schedule.
Not only does sleep affect your gut health, but your gut health also affects your sleep quality.
Even just two nights of poor sleep can increase your ratio of bad gut bacteria to good gut bacteria.
In addition, research shows that sleep deprivation can cause the bacteria in your gut to produce toxins. Due to the gut-brain axis connecting your gut to your brain, your microbiome health also affects the quality of sleep you get each night. A less diverse microbiome is associated with lower quality of sleep.
Meal time is often spent multitasking with the actual eating being only a part of what you’re focused on.
Eating while watching a lecture, finishing up homework, or on the bus is not a relaxing time for your body to slow down and digest. To eat mindfully, it’s important to eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and focus your attention solely on your meal.
Eating mindfully instead of while multitasking creates a relaxed state in your body allowing for proper digestion, better intuition on when you’re full, and less bloating and discomfort.
Alcohol is a gut irritant.
Alcohol is a major irritant of the gut lining.
If your gut is healthy, this irritation (in moderation) can be handled by the body. Unfortunately, if you have leaky-gut or SIBO, your gut is more susceptible to damage from consuming alcohol. Frequent alcohol consumption can lead to dysbiosis by killing the good bacteria in your gut.
Drinking moderately, and having high quality alcohol or red wine when possible are good ways to still enjoy alcohol, but also prioritize gut health.
Navigate the cafeteria wisely.
Feeding thousands of hungry college students with unprocessed, organic, and whole foods would be incredibly expensive. This is why most of the food offered in the cafeteria is highly processed and rarely organic.
Processed foods and pesticides are damaging to your gut microbiome. Choosing unprocessed carbohydrates like oats, rice, and quinoa instead of processed carbohydrates like breads, pastries, and fried foods is a good way to increase your fiber intake and avoid the gut-damaging emulsifiers found in processed foods.
To minimize exposure to pesticides, use the Dirty Dozen list to eat less of the top 12 foods unless you know your cafeteria offers organic!
Find an affordable way to practice self-care.
Self-care was not something I prioritized when I first started college for two main reasons: One, because I didn’t think I had time and two, because the image of self-care that I had in my head was the mainstream image of self-care as expensive massages, spa treatments, or facials.
For most students, this version of self-care isn’t financially possible.
Fortunately, expensive self-care is not the only way to practice self-care. Practicing the free version of self-care is much more sustainable.
Doing things like taking a long walk, setting aside time for meaningful conversations, journaling, painting, organizing your room, or spending time alone watching Netflix are all inexpensive ways to take care of yourself without spending a fortune.
Self-care is an important way to take a vacation from stress which allows your body to relax and properly digest your food.
Yo-Yo dieting does nothing for your gut health… or your mental health.
Last, but certainly not least is yo-yo dieting. Sadly, this is something almost every college girl experiences herself or watches her friends experience.
Yo-yo dieting is doing things like not eating all day, then bingeing at night or restricting the month before spring break then eating anything (and everything) you want during the week you’re on vacation.
Studies show that even with a period of weight loss, if your gut microbiome remains unhealthy, you’re more likely to regain the weight you lost.
Keeping your diet diverse, while also supporting your gut bacteria is proven to be a much better way to lose weight than caloric restriction.
Post-College Female Perspective – Gut Health
And here is my perspective, on the other side of college. (Like, waaaay on the other side!)
The first thing I want to do is give my take on the things Trinity mentioned, with some specific examples.
Because I’ve always been fairly high-strung, college only amplified this. If I knew then, what I know now (how stress is all-encompassing), I would have changed so many things about my day-to-day. If there is only one thing you can do on a daily basis, practice deep breathing. I swear by it, and it’s something you can do no matter where you’re at on campus.
While I’ve always been an early-in girl, that doesn’t mean the sleep I was getting qualified as quality. I stayed up studying for far too long, and I would get up far too early (to do, almost literally, nothing). One of the best pieces of advice I can give on this is to use your daytime hours more wisely. Don’t waste time. Get things done so that they are not looming in the background 24/7. Quality sleep is critical.
If you’re in a dorm, this can be difficult. For me personally, I knew there was breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At the time, I felt restricted by that so I would eat as much as I could at any sitting just so I wouldn’t get hungry. But because I was typically eating in between classes, not only would I eat a lot, but I’d also eat super fast. There was no thought into what I was eating.
Alcohol is a gut irritant
I rarely drank beer because it made me so sick. However, I did drink a ton of hard alcohol starting my Sophomore year of college. By the time I was 21, we drank most nights of the week. Because, obviously, I thought it was “fun.” And, it was fun.But any old nasty alcohol would do – I didn’t care. Knowing what I know now about alcohol (and also my tolerance for it), I could have gotten by with higher quality and a far less amount. But you know what? This one is very hard for many college-aged women. If you’re going to drink, be sure to drink far more water than I ever did.
Navigate the cafeteria wisely
Freshman year of college, I ate oatmeal like it was going out of style. Seriously! I thought I was making such great choices. There was this huge, heated pan filled with oatmeal every single morning. As part of my breakfast, I would have 1-2 huge bowls full of it. Because…..”health.” I added only a little brown sugar and milk, and could not understand why. The oatmeal was already so sweet and incredible.
Turns out, that oatmeal was pre-mixed with marshmallows. Yes, oatmeal and melted marshmallow makes an incredible combination. But that was just one small way to start nearly every day. Because food was endless (and time scarce), I would eat as much of that “healthy food” as possible. I’m not looking back, wishing I would have been obsessed. I am, however, looking back and wishing I would have navigated the cafeteria more wisely.
Find an affordable way to practice self-care
Gosh, knowing what I know now, this is a huge thing I would have changed. While money is oftentimes tight in college, it was also the time when if I had it, I spent it. And because I worked my way through college, I always had disposable income. Here are some things you can do (that I should have done):
- At Christmas, don’t ask for Bath ‘n Body Works lotion. You’re in college, so chances that you get these personal care items are high. Therefore, start your collection of high-quality personal care items.
- DIY. You’ll need very few things to DIY self-care. Even my DIY body scrub can be made right in your dorm room.
- Get a diffuser and some oils. Set it next to your bed, and diffuse calm into the air. If you’re looking for a great gut health essential oil, I have 7 HERE.
- Journal. See below. All you need for this is a pen and paper.
Don’t yo-yo diet
My nickname in high school, college, and for many years beyond could have easily been, “Yo-Yo.” If I could do it all again, I’d NEVER, ever, ever start a diet. In Tips for Starting Your Healing Journey, I stated, “Don’t even start that diet. I cannot state this enough. Start no diet in any way, shape, or form. And by this, I mean an unwarranted diet. Every diet I ever entertained (in the beginning) was purely out of choice (and vanity)? For many of you, it’s too late. If it’s not too late, then don’t start. Please.”
And here are more things I must add to this guide to help you navigate college and your gut health:
Click HERE to save these things for later.
Gut health vs. Gut healing
The reason why A College Girl’s Master Guide to Gut Health is so critical can be found in the difference of gut health and gut healing. Trinity stated, “If my 18 year-old self had known all the ways my overall health was affected by my gut, prioritizing gut health would have definitely made the list.” This is spot on.
The things on this list are for gut health. They are not for gut healing. If you do not already know the difference between the two, check them out HERE. The college years typically prove to be fairly critical for what happens next on your health journey. This isn’t just about Trinity and me. I can’t tell you how many women I hear from who had their healthy problems “mysteriously” pop up during the college years. If you’re not careful now, you’ll likely pay for it later. And once you are in that stage, healing the gut is far more difficult than maintaining its health.
Ladies – I nailed this one in college. Seriously. If there was one incredible thing I did during college for my health it was to journal. To be fair, I was a part English major so my love for words and writing was already strong. But there would be nights when I would grab my journal and a pen, head to the local coffee shop and write all night long. It was not typical, but it was my outlet.
I owe staying semi-sane to journaling. In fact, I still have these journals, and it’s therapeutic even reading back through them. Just write!
Take a probiotic
While researching “The Best Probiotic for Leaky Gut,” I stumbled upon research conducted at a college. The study was conducted out of the University of North Texas. The sample participants were college students who ate mostly college cafeteria food and other fast food, snacks, pizza, beer, and other non-gut health foods. Check out the results HERE.
Take advantage of on-campus amenities
I had access to an incredible Recreational Center, but rarely used it. And when I did use it, it was all wrong. Instead of churning out miles on the treadmill, I should have taken advantage of the massive weight room, functional training areas, swimming pools, and more.
I think there were even saunas and other relaxation amenities that most definitely would have helped my health all around. If your college has anything like this, take advantage of it. And skip the treadmill!
But it’s not just about the gym. When I was in college, I had unlimited access to information and knowledge. You do, too. I spent my time researching things that were of little-to-no interest to me. Why? Well, because I had to. The first couple years of University were spent on Liberal Arts information. Like, take for instance the Anthropology class I had to take. Honestly, I could not think of anything more irrelevant to me and my future wishes, desires, and goals.
While I maybe couldn’t have avoided that, I could have taken the initiative to research in depth all the things which did interest me. At the time, it was Marketing, Journalism, and Poetry. If it were now, I would have been researching every last thing gut health and gut healing related. If you’re reading this post, you have access to all of it now. Don’t take that for granted!
Focus on YOU!
While I get and fully understand that college is a stressful time, there is something which I cannot emphasize enough. That something is that this is your time to focus on you and only you. Your “hard” is not to be compared with anyone else’s. This I am certain of.
But I am here to tell you that it’s not really going to get any easier. After college, the real world begins. You’ll be working and many of you will get married, have kids, etc. The responsibilities will quadruple, and no longer will it be all about you. While you can, take advantage of every last moment for your 100%, undivided attention to and for you alone.
……But actually, I Need Gut Healing at this point
Since you are Gutsy and reading along with me daily, you just might be passed the point of pure gut health.
And for that, I feel for you.
Knowing there is something wrong with your gut while in college would be no easy feat.
There WAS something wrong with me while I was in college, I just didn’t know it.
Therefore, this post is also to help you become more self-aware, in case you think that stinky gas, funky female cycle, bloat, and more is “normal.” I can promise you, it’s not.
If you find yourself in this camp today, here are my 3 best pieces of advice:
Get on board with my three pillars to ultimate gut healing: diagnosis, diet, and lifestyle. Read about them all HERE.
Grab Healing Blooms from Within
Seriously. Yes, it’s a shameless plug that you should purchase this journal. But let me just tell you that I actually, truly think that by using this 90-day gut healing journal, your healing trajectory could massively change. You could save yourself years of heartache and gut ache. The journal is beautiful, and no one will even know what you’re writing in it. Simultaneously, you’ll start getting the answers you need in order to move forward with your healing. You can have the physical journal HERE and/or print off the pages yourself for an e-journal HERE.
Honestly. The perfect time to start is today. You are still so young with so much ahead of you.
Turning this over to you. What else do you need to see on A College Girl’s Master Guide to Gut Health? Happy to add anything to help!
If you liked A College Girl’s Master Guide to Gut Health, you might also enjoy:
- A Gutsy Girl’s Master Resource Spreadsheet – links, discounts, and information for your journey
- Ingredient s vs Ingredients
- 12 Science-Backed Ways to Boost Your Immune System
You will heal. I will help.