The Battle Inside Your Belly
I’ve got some disturbing news for you.
After consulting with a number of high-level international black-ops contacts—people on the inside at the CIA, the State Department, MI6, Blackwater, and the guy in charge of bailing Justin Bieber out of jail—I’ve uncovered a shocking truth about your belly. It’s bugged.In fact, your belly is so heavily bugged that there are about a hundred times as many bugs—single-cell bacteria—in your digestive tract as there are human cells in your entire body. On a per capita basis, you’re about 99 percent microbe. In a true democracy, your body would cancel your Bumble account and reproduce only through binary fission.
Fortunately, human cells are much, much bigger than bacteria cells, which is why you look like you and not like a protozoan. But what’s happening in your gut does impact your shape in more ways than you might imagine. Indeed, if your midsection is looking more amoeba-like than you’d prefer, one of the reasons may lie deep inside your gut. Before you can reset your metabolism and turn off your fat genes, you need to balance your belly.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BUGGLY
The human GI tract contains more than five hundred species of bacteria—trillions of microbes that help to break down food, while also playing a role in knocking off any invading bugs that might be taking a ride on your radicchio. In fact, some of the bacteria in your gut even help ward off the pathogens that cause colds and flus.
Think of them as a little miniature battalion of Navy SEALs swimming around below your belly button, doing a lot of the dirty work while remaining always ready to engage in battle on your behalf. But like any efficient military, your bug brigade needs solid leadership—otherwise, you get chaos and mutiny. A balanced gut means your squirming little squadron is working with maximum efficiency on your behalf. But when things get out of whack—because of a poor diet or, sometimes, medications like antibiotics and even heartburn remedies—the forces below your navel can turn on you.
In fact, the inside of your gut is sort of like Game of Thrones, with good families and wicked ones fighting it out for supremacy. (Even the names of the microbe families sound straight from George R. R. Martin: studies show that obese people have higher levels of bad bacteria from the phylum Firmicutes, while lean people have higher levels of good bacteria from the phylum Bacteroidetes.)
Why do you gain weight when your bacteria are out of whack? Well, some of the bacteria in your gut release toxins, which inflame the GI tract. As long as these bacteria are kept in check, that’s not a problem. But when they begin to overwhelm the better-trained bacteria, you’ve got a midsection mutiny on your hands.
As those toxins begin to cause inflammation in your digestive tract—a condition known as “leaky gut”—the complications can be massive. Essentially, think of your intestinal tract as a fine screen, with little tiny holes through which nutrients can move into the bloodstream from your food. When bacteria get out of whack, they begin to irritate the lining of the intestines, and those holes become larger. Bacteria, food particles, and other nasty things escape your GI tract and get into your bloodstream. These pathogens begin to attack the body and the body fights back. The results: inflammation, weight gain, bloating, and fat genes that rev into the red.
On the other hand, when you start to cut out the sugars, preservatives, unhealthy fats, and bloating foods, replace them with ZERO BELLY foods, and allow your gut to begin to heal, you’ll start to see real changes.
You’ll lose weight. Inflammation caused by an imbalance in your gut can turn on your fat genes, leading you to gain more weight than someone eating the same amount of food, and spending the same amount of time in the gym. (That’s why ZERO BELLY places such a premium on restoring your gut health.) In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in late 2013, researchers looked at overweight men and women who were put on a calorie-restrictive diet and given either a placebo or a probiotic supplement—basically, Navy SEALs reinforcements—for twelve weeks. At the end of the twelve weeks, women who had received the healthy gut bacteria showed significantly greater weight loss than those who had the placebo.
Even more impressive, the treatment was then stopped and the subjects measured again twelve weeks later. Those women who got the probiotics kept losing weight, even after stopping treatment, while those who got the placebos started gaining weight back. (Researchers note that the same effect wasn’t observed in the male subjects, however.) In another study, adults with “large visceral fat areas” who drank 7 ounces of liquids laced with probiotics lost up to 9 percent visceral fat and 3 percent belly fat, while the control group lost nothing.
Your belly will shrink—rapidly—making you look slimmer in just days. Ever notice how some days you wake up, glance in the mirror, and just look and feel slimmer? And some days you go to button your pants and think, “What happened?” It could be in your head: maybe you’re not feeling as fit and fired-up as you normally might be. But maybe it’s because you still weigh the same, but you actually do appear fatter thanks to belly bloat—the side effect of an imbalanced gut. According to the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, a healthy bug called L. plantarum, a bacterial strain found in plant-based foods, can decrease bloating, particularly in people with irritable bowel syndrome. It’s found in the highest concentrations in fermented plant foods like sauerkraut and brined olives.
Your body will start creating the fatty acids that shut down your fat genes. Chronic inflammation caused by a leaky gut is one of the most common culprits for the triggering of fat-storage mechanisms and genes connected to metabolic disorders like insulin resistance. In fact, it’s the fatty acid butyrate, produced by healthy bacteria feasting on fiber, that helps to dampen the behavior of genes linked directly to insulin resistance and inflammation. More healthy fiber from the ZERO BELLY foods means healthier bacteria, which means more butyrate and an end to inflammation and diabetes.