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Marie Claire
Marie Claire
Ally Head

"I never knew addressing my gut health issues could lead to weight loss - seven months later, I'm stronger than ever"

Gut health and weight loss: Annie Openshaw

You might not have read much about the link between gut health and weight loss. Gut health is synonymous with ten different types of fruit and veg, supplements, and sauerkraut, while weight loss is only achieved by a calorie deficit, right? 

Wrong. Weight loss is a complex and misunderstood area, with experts now confirming that it's not just a calorie deficit that'll help you lose weight - far from it. Things like genetics, underlying health conditions, and lifestyle factors all play a part, as does gut health, according to research that concluded your gut microbes might actually alter the way you store fat.

One 2021 Harvard study even concluded that some kinds of gut bacteria might make it more difficult for you to lose weight, which personal trainer Annie Openshaw discovered earlier this year. While weight loss has never been her goal - her fitness ethos is working out in a way that makes her feel good both mentally and physically - she had no idea that working on her unhealthy gut symptoms would leave her in her best shape yet.

Below, she shares her story - of falling in love with new foods and feeling her strongest ever. Don't miss our guides to gut health hacks and nutritionist-approved probiotics for women, as well as the MC UK Health Ed's review of Symprove, while you're here. 

Gut health and weight loss: "The changes I've made this year have changed my life."

"In February this year, I decided to embark on a new chapter. I was struggling with a three-year-long knee injury which was causing me a huge amount of stress, and my gut health, something that has never been great, was struggling even more as a result."

"I started experiencing gut health issues when I was about 15. My friends and I used to laugh at my bloated stomach, truly not knowing what it meant. Eventually - aged 18 and after a blood test - I was told I was intolerant to a whole host of foods that I was intolerant to. That said, after following a fairly restrictive (and miserable) diet, my symptoms never really got any better."

"At the start of 2023, I was dealing with bloating pretty much every day. I was at the point where legumes were a no-go, raw vegetables were a disaster and the only meal I could rely on for no reaction was salmon and white rice. As a fitness coach who is passionate about nutrition, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to help myself."

"Epidemiologist Tim Spector came on my radar one day when he was interviewed on a podcast that I listen to and before I knew it I was hooked on his research. He explained in detail that the closer a food is to its whole food state, the better it is for you. After reading his book Food For Life and delving into plenty of reliable studies, I decided to implement a new strategy for my own lifestyle."

"My main focus was reducing the amount of ultra-processed foods I was consuming. I learnt from his book that a shockingly large amount of what I was consuming fell into this category, so week by week, my goal was to replace some of the UPFs with whole or minimally processed foods."

"So, how did that look in reality? Well, it meant reducing the number of bagels, protein bars, granola bars, coke zero and noodles I was eating, and eating more:

  • Oats
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • High-quality yoghurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Eggs.

"This also helped to reduce my artificial sweetener and flavourings intake."

"I focused on increasing the amount of pre and probiotic foods I was eating, as we need both of these to support a healthy gut microbiome. For probiotics, I started to introduce more kimchi, kefir, high-quality yoghurt and kombucha into my diet, and for prebiotics, I focused on varying the plants I was eating."

"This led me to arguably the biggest thing I changed, which was increasing the diversity of plants - aka vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and legumes - in my diet. Although I've always eaten plenty of these, I was guilty of buying the same things over and over again in my weekly food shop. Like a lot of us, I would reach for the likes of peppers, onions and broccoli each week, so I knew there was a lot I could change here."

"The theory is that aiming for closer to 30 varieties of fruit and veg a week will increase the diversity of your gut microbiome and lead to a better-functioning gut. I now switch up what I'm buying each week and make myself lunchtime nourish bowls which are full of variety that I look forward to every day."

"I focus these around a protein source and then fill the rest of my bowl with things like sweet potato, kimchi, chicory, red cabbage, dark leafy greens, nectarine and walnuts. The key is to constantly change up what goes into these - I always keep a delicious homemade dressing in the fridge to drizzle over it all, too."

"My whole idea of what constitutes a "healthy" diet has changed. I've found the key is to enjoy everything in moderation - there's no point in demonising foods or cutting things out altogether. I eat in a gut-health-friendly way 80% of the time and spend the other 20% of my time enjoying my other favourite foods that aren't so nutrient-dense."

"It's been a journey, but I can say hand on heart that the changes I've made this year have changed my life. I no longer bloat, I can enjoy the foods I love, and my skin, energy and immunity have been better than ever. Overall, I'm much happier - I feel so much more confident in my body, which in turn looks less inflamed. I have put my experience with gut health at the core of my fitness and nutrition coaching and now help women all around the world with making changes to their lifestyle, too." 

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Can improving gut health help you lose weight?

Short answer - while more research needs to be done, the studies that have been conducted indicate that yes, there's a link between gut health and weight management. 

Upping your intake of probiotics, fermented foods, and vegetables could improve your gut health, in turn impacting your metabolism and fat retention. Case in point: this research concluded your gut microbes alter the way you store fat. The more you know. 

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