‘I saw a traditional medicine doctor, now my gut health is better than ever’

In the depths of a ‘Spirit Sanctuary’ in the mysterious Kingdom of Bhutan in Asia, a traditional medicine doctor was about to change my gut health for good.

Holding my palms upwards in hers, looking at the whites of my eyes before asking me to stretch out my tongue for her to inspect, I had been sitting with the doctor for 20 minutes already, answering a series of seemingly random questions while she gently prodded different parts of my body.

I hadn’t long arrived at The Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary when I was ushered downstairs to meet one of the two resident traditional medicine doctors at the Sanctuary’s wellness centre.

The Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary is not the ancient, monk inhabited monastery-like hilltop fortress you might expect, but a luxurious hotel, built in the style of a Bhutanese temple or ‘Dzong’, that welcomes guests within its towering stone walls to retreat from their everyday lives and experience something truly extraordinary.

When you sit down with the doctors in the echoey depths of the Sanctuary, they analyse your health, diet and lifestyle. Far from aiming to tell you what you are and are not doing right with your life, the aim of the conversation and the consultation is to connect with you and discover any imbalances in your life, in order to help you find a path to healing and overall better health.

That’s how I found myself there, in a dimly lit room lined with traditional ‘singing’ bowls and jars of healing herbs, sticking my tongue out at a traditional Bhutanese medicine doctor.

When my 30 minute consultation was complete, the doctor lets me put my tongue away and my hands back in my lap before telling me her diagnosis. It seems my habit of drinking a coffee every morning is wreaking havoc with my gut and avoiding caffeine before 10am is advisable if I want to beat the bloat and feel ‘lighter’.

She also tells me that my kidneys are working over time, so upping my water intake would be beneficial to help them out. I have no idea how she has come to these conclusions after just half an hour, but I figure it’s worth a try and cutting down on my daily coffees can’t hurt. Plus, I definitely want to feel lighter and less bloated – so it’s worth a shot.

So long, coffee

I start that very day, following the doctor’s advice and swapping my normal mid-morning caffeine hit with a cup of sumptuously sweet, herbal peach tea. I do this for the next few mornings while also drinking water like it’s going out of fashion. Yes, I needed to pee almost constantly, but I hadn’t felt so well hydrated in ages.

However, while my aim was to beat the bloat and tame my tummy troubles, giving up coffee ‘cold turkey’ sure had its side effects. For the first week after I quit my daily caffeine fix I experienced pulsating headaches and I also felt exhausted all of the time.

Normally, when I feel as tired as I did then, I would reach for a coffee, but I didn’t let my caffeine withdrawal symptoms break me. It helped that I was on holiday and not in the midst of the usual daily grind where time to rest is limited and an oat milk latte is never far away.

When I returned from my trip, even though I’d seen little change in my tummy troubles and I was still nursing a bloated gut for most of the day, every day, I continued following the doctor’s advice. I downed at least four litres of water every day and instead of just abstaining from coffee before 10am, I actually cut coffee out altogether. It just felt easier than trying to sneak a latte into my day at 10.01am and I wanted to see if it made a difference.

Getting into a new rou-tea-ne

Well, I’m happy to report a difference it did indeed make.

A couple of weeks back into my normal routine, post-holiday and nearly month after I’d had my tongue, eyes and palms analysed by the traditional medicine doctor in Bhutan, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror one afternoon looking substantially less bloated than ever before.

Not only was my skin clearer (thanks to the H2O and quitting coffee no doubt) but my stomach was flatter. Gone was the soft middle that used to make me feel so self-conscious and even though I hadn’t actually lost any weight, I looked and felt slimmer too.

Even though I still miss my morning lattes and sipping on cappuccinos while catching up with friends, I’m going to try and stick to my coffee-free lifestyle for the future. I still enjoy cups of tea and the occasional Diet Coke, so I haven’t cut all caffeine out completely, but the difference I’ve noticed since giving up coffee for good has made the small sacrifice worth it. Oat milk iced coffees, I will always love you, but I love this new bloat-free feeling so, so much more.

What the experts say

Accredited Practising Dietitian Melissa Meier doesn’t doubt that cutting coffee can make a difference to your health and diet – but she also doesn’t think that coffee itself is enemy no.1 – it’s everything else that comes with it:

“I don’t believe the coffee itself is the problem – but rather, everything that comes with it.

“A large cappuccino with full cream milk and two sugars, for example, provides a hefty dose of calories and saturated fat, which can hinder weight loss attempts (or even lead to weight gain) if consumed excessively.

“Same goes for coffees flavoured with syrup, and the muffin or slice you might pick up with your coffee at the cafe, too.”

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