Freya Oostingh knows firsthand the remarkable and wide-ranging benefits of good digestive health.
A decade ago, she was down and out, suffering the effects of both botulism and Lyme disease. She was bedridden and unable to do anything for herself, and there was nothing even the finest doctors could do to help. She was in a medical gray area and knew she had to take matters into her own hands if she ever wanted to reclaim her life.
“I didn’t even have the strength to hold a cellphone,” she said, “but I had it leaning on the side of my pillow and started researching, researching, researching. In the end, I was able to heal myself.”
What she discovered in all that time spent researching from her sickbed was the role nutrition plays in wellness, and that whole foods have the power not only to nourish the body, but also help it to heal.
That idea may sound revolutionary, but in reality it is age-old.
Some 2,500 years ago, the Greek physician Hippocrates said, “All disease begins with the gut,” and “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
When Oostingh discovered these truths for herself, she not only experienced a full recovery, but it launched her on a mission to help others lead healthier, happier lives.
So it was that her Wyomissing business, BioLogic Nutrition, was born.
Today, after having studied to become a Certified Nutritional Therapist, Oostingh leads clients on a path to wellness through programs that teach them how to alter their diets to improve digestive and overall health.
Oostingh offers three different programs that help clients transition to an anti-inflammatory diet. The results speak for themselves.
“I do tracking before and after, and people just see great results,” she said. “It still blows me away how just changing your diet, eating whole foods the way nature provided, and removing the processed and convenience foods alone makes such a difference in digestive issues.”
A little history
Oostingh said humans evolved over 2 million years eating the foods that nature provided, but in the past 100 years that has changed drastically.
The early 20th century was a time marked by two world wars that saw men going off to fight while their wives entered the workforce, which left less time to prepare family meals.
That, combined with advanced technology that made it possible for factories to churn out packaged convenience foods, resulted in processed foods becoming a staple of the American diet, while natural foods took a backseat.
Processed foods tend to be laden with chemicals the body doesn’t recognize or know how to handle, which leads to digestive issues.
One of the benefits of eating natural foods is the rebalancing of microbial life in the gut.
Oostingh described the body as a complex super-organism that is more microbial than human. Digestion is dependent upon the balance and health of this microbial ecosystem, known as our microbiome. Beneficial microbes help break down foods, produce vitamins, reduce inflammation, regulate metabolism and blood sugar and support proper weight, to name a few. An imbalanced microbiome is a common contributor to digestive disease.
“Our microbial genes outnumber our human genes by about 100 to 1,” she said. “They’re everywhere. They’re in our eyes, our brain, they completely coat our skin, our mouth, our sinuses. But the largest portion of them live in our gut — about four pounds of them. It’s just like an ecosystem, and our modern way of life has completely disrupted the gut ecosystem.”
Stress and digestion
And it’s not just the foods we eat. Oostingh said many people have no idea the major role stress plays in digestion. She helps her clients to understand the nervous system, which has two branches: sympathetic, which is the highly stressed, emergency, fight-or-flight branch, and the parasympathetic, which she calls “rest and digest.”
“Literally, for digestion to work, you have to be in that parasympathetic, very relaxed state to produce your digestive secretions,” she said. “But now, especially with COVID, people are totally living in this stressed state, and when you’re in that state there’s no way you can properly digest your food because your body is preparing for an emergency. The blood’s going to the periphery, away from your stomach, and it’s not producing the secretions you need to digest your food.”
She teaches how important it is when you sit down to eat to take a couple of breaths, try to relax and engage in any kind of gratitude practice that will help you switch into parasympathetic state.
She says to avoid eating on the run in your car, or walking into your home after a stressful day and standing at the fridge and shoveling food into your mouth while barely chewing.
“Your stomach doesn’t have teeth in it,” she said.
What to eat
Once you get into relaxed mode, the next step is to give your body what it needs.
This means avoiding the center aisles of the grocery store — the processed food sections.
“I call soda diabetes in a can, which it is, like mainlining sugar,” she said, “and processed foods are basically inflammation in a box, because they’re just loaded with chemicals and things your body doesn’t recognize.”
She advises sticking to the perimeter of the store, where you’ll find natural foods like fruits and vegetables.
If you eat meat, organics are the way to go.
“All animals store their toxins in their fat, so if you’re eating meat from animals that are commercially raised, you’re going to be getting antibiotics, which are terrible for your gut, and possibly growth hormones,” she said. “There’s a saying, ‘You are what you eat,’ but also, you are what you eat ate. If you’re eating wild salmon, you’re eating salmon that has eaten what it naturally eats in nature. But if you’re eating farm-raised fish, you’re eating fish that are fed corn. No fish eat corn in nature.
“Farm fish are given antibiotics so disease doesn’t spread. The corn makes the fat in them more Omega 6’s, which is more inflammatory than the wild salmon that have Omega 3’s, which is actually anti-inflammatory.”
Continuing around the periphery of the store, you should look for organic, free-range meats, free-range turkey and chicken, and cage-free, free-range eggs.
In the dairy section, select whole-fat organic options.
“When they remove the fat, you end up with more sugars and carbs,” she said. “A lot of the information we got during the low-fat era about fats being bad has now been completely debunked. If you look at the physiology of the body, our bodies need fat for multiple reasons. Sources of good healthy fats are things like grass-fed butter, avocados, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, fats from animals that are raised organically and humanely, and free-range eggs.”
Oostingh concedes that eating properly is more time-consuming in terms of planning and preparation. That’s why society has veered toward convenience foods, which can be triggers for chronic diseases.
“Traditional cultures recognized the healing values of foods, and that it was necessary for health,” she said. “When women were pregnant in some cultures, they would give the best, most-nutritious foods to the pregnant women, recognizing that they were building a new body and that you need good nutrients for that.”
Oostingh’s experience has shown her that spending a little more time to prepare healthy food leads to huge payoffs, not only in terms of overall health and being able to potentially prevent chronic disease and age well, but also in terms of how you feel.
“Most clients have totally bought in by the end,” she said. “They see the value of it. They see it in their health in five weeks. They see improved energy levels, their mood is improved, inflammation goes down, they’re sleeping better, have increased mental clarity, weight loss, reduced cravings. To me, the payoff is totally worth it.”
A health makeover
Oostingh said improving your gut health and digestion by removing toxic foods, reducing stress and eating more mindfully is like a health makeover.
The best way to get started is simply by selecting foods that exist in nature.
“If it is hard for you, that’s where it’s good to work with a nutritionist,” she said. “That’s why I like the group programs, because everyone’s in it together, and they get that support.”
And the best part of transitioning to whole foods, she noted, is that you will feel so much better.
“You have this vitality, which is the way we all should feel,” she said. “Believe me, I ate all these (processed) foods most of my life, too, and in the end it almost killed me. Since I’ve made these changes, I feel 1,000% better. My mental clarity is amazing compared to what it was before.”
Better still, she pointed to a new branch of science called longevity science, which focuses on how to age well and stay healthy rather than spending your days going from doctor to doctor and stressing over diagnoses. She said researchers are finding that biggest needle-shifter in terms of longevity is adopting an anti-inflammatory whole-food diet that leads to a healthy gut microbiome.
“I feel like life should feel great as you get older,” she said, “and I can see that it’s working out that way for me. I feel a heck of a lot better than I did even in my 30s and 40s.”