Steve Wright – Digestive Health
Jonathan Bailor: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor here. Wanted to give you a quick, let’s say, disclaimer or heads up about this week’s podcast. We’re fortunate enough to be joined by a gentleman by the name of Steve Wright, who specializes in helping people overcome digestive and gut issues. When we talk to Steve, we’re talking more about what comes out of the body rather than what goes in to the body. Just wanted to give you that quick disclaimer because you’re going to hear some words which you may not use all the time and you certainly wouldn’t use around the dinner table – but, it’s certainly a very important health issue. Just wanted to give you the heads up so you are not taken by surprise when you listen to this week’s bonus podcast, which is very, very helpful and a very, very important issue. Hope you do tune in and I hope you enjoy it.
Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor here. So happy to be bringing you another “bonus” Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Very excited about this week, we have an awesome, awesome guest by the name of Steve Wright. The reason I’m excited to have Steve here on the show is Steve is the co-founder of the website scdlifestyle.com. What is so brilliant about Steve, his program, and even his story (which I’m very excited to hear him share with you) is it’s all about digestive health. Full transparency – as anyone who listens to this show or who’s read my book knows, I am not a digestive health expert. So, this is a wonderful opportunity for us to bring in someone who’s got some complementary information for us to get educated and help our digestion. Steve, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Steve Wright: Thank you, Jonathan. Thanks for having me and I’m glad we got to connect like this.
Jonathan: Steve, let’s just get started with your story. I don’t want to turn this in to an Oprah show, necessarily, but I know there are some emotional challenges with poor digestive health and that can be really a struggle. Tell us about your story and also the stories that inspired you to do what you’re doing today.
Steve: Yeah, whew! The Oprah show might be able to book me for about eight hours on that question alone. I’ll keep it as quick as I can because we do have over 300 articles on our blog at scdlifestyle.com, including several pages of my full story – the gory details. The simple story for me was that I was a typical American kid – athletic, went to college. In that time period, I didn’t eat out a ton. My family did cook meals at home a lot, however, I did a lot of things like take antibiotics. Then I went to college and got my degree in electrical engineering from a very stressful program where we took a lot of twenty-credit hour terms. The whole time I tried to play sports and tried to party. So, I had all these things going on that were just a myriad of factors that were not healthy. What begin to happen was that I had a lot of IBS issues. I had a lot of alternating constipation and diarrhea, a lot of farting and bloating. During college everyone just talked about this as normal. That’s what happened after you partied – you had some digestive issues, it’s just what you went through at that time period. So, I didn’t think of myself as abnormal, I just thought it was something I had to deal with. After college I was overweight. I was 240, I’m 180 now – so I was sixty pounds overweight. I was like, “Wow, I’ve kind of wrecked myself a little bit here, I need to get my health under control.” I’ve always been in to weight-lifting, body-building, sports, and that kind of thing. So, I really just poured my heart in to losing weight, getting back in to shape, and looking good. As I was getting slimmer and trimmer, I was also starting to realize that I wasn’t really normal digestively. I started to recognize my nickname was “the gas man” around my family and friends. That’s probably a bad thing, right? Various things like that where I was like, “Man, maybe I have a problem.” So, I started going to the doctors. The doctors said, “Oh, you have IBS, eat more whole grains, take more fiber.” I did this six or seven times and didn’t get any answers from the doctors. They basically just said, “You’re different. Unfortunately you have these bad genetics and there’s nothing you can do about it except for maybe try some drugs or eat some more whole grains.” I already tried that – it didn’t work. It really culminated where every time I ate, I would get really bloated and burp a lot. I had some accidents at various times. Like you said, digestive problems can be very emotional. I had public accidents and other things that can really wreck with your ability to go on a date or live a normal social life. My buddy, Jordan (who we started SCD lifestyle together), he had Celiac disease and he went on this diet called the specific carbohydrate diet. The specific carbohydrate diet is a grain-free, starch-free, whole-foods diet. It really was the only thing that turned around his Celiac disease when the gluten-free diet didn’t do anything after two years. He was literally dying. He called me up (we went to college together) and he’s like, “Dude, I know you’re sick like I was sick. You gotta try this.” So, I took him up on the offer. Literally, within the first week, I went from having gas 24 hours a day and not being able to concentrate every time I ate because of the bloating – to nothing. It was fabulous.
Steve: I couldn’t imagine that food -just changing what I was putting in my body- would give me hours of my day back.
Jonathan: That’s amazing, wow, just almost overnight.
Steve: Yeah, literally almost overnight. At that point, I was working as a consultant for a big four accounting firm, I was very high-stress. Being in the office all hours of the day, I would eat and just stare at my computer screen with an excel document open, hoping no one would ask me to do anything because I was in so much pain – and that pain was gone.
Jonathan: Wow. You mention you have over 300 stories on your website. The thing that I love about your website and what you’re doing is this is not an easy thing to talk about. I think probably some listeners who heard the first however many minutes of this podcast… We’re saying things which normally people don’t talk about like pooping, burping, and farting. Again, it’s not a pleasant thing to talk about but it’s an even less pleasant thing to have to live with and to deal with. I appreciate that you’re bringing these issues to the surface, you’re willing to talk about them, be transparent about them, and help people with them. It’s not really a sexy subject, you don’t see covers of magazines saying, “Six tips to poop better.” It’s not something that gets the attention it deserves, so I appreciate that. Is this pretty representative of the people you work with? What is life like for someone who has this challenge? I mention that only so that some listeners might be able to empathize with what you are talking about here.
Steve: Yeah, you bring up some great points there. It’s really likely that if someone isn’t dealing with digestive issues, they know someone who is because it’s somewhere between twenty and forty percent of people have IBS. Obviously, as you just said, having digestive talks is not “sexy”. It’s a very under-reported kind of thing. Also, just like people think it’s normal to take Ibuprofen or Tylenol every day if you have a headache, a lot of people think it’s normal to be constipated, have really bad gas, or diarrhea every few days. That’s NOT normal, I really want that to be clear, it’s not normal. The people that we work with is really a big spectrum. Everything from my story (which is very IBS based – where at various points in my life I had a lot of bloating, gas, and pain, to having constipation and diarrhea) all the way to the other end of the spectrum which crosses in to the inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and other auto-immune problems. These people are literally chained to their toilet. It’s very common for Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients to have ten to twenty bowel movements (sessions of diarrhea) per day.
Steve: That quality of life, is awful. The options for these people (from the conventional current medicine paradigm) basically are drugs, drugs, and more drugs. We know that the side-effects of these very expensive drugs – you sacrifice your long term health for having a life. When you’re having twenty bowel movements a day, you cannot be away from a toilet – you don’t have a quality of life. So, just taking a drug that shuts off your immune system (with the risk of getting cancer, osteoporosis – very fast) it’s a pretty good trade-off sometimes.
Jonathan: Steve, I really appreciate that you said there this “scoping the problem” in a way – people who go days without a bowel movement, or have twenty unpleasant bowel movements a day. The reason I mention this is I know that when some people switch from a traditional American diet (very heavy in processed starches, sweets, and unnatural fats) to a SANEr, more whole-foods based diet (full of non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense proteins, low-fructose fruits, and whole-food fats) that their bowel movements do change. In fact, the amount of fiber they’re taking in is often dramatically….the average American consumes one serving of vegetables per day. When you have a more SANE lifestyle, you’re going in to double-digit territory. You are going to be taking in more fiber, so your bowel movements are going to change. Can you tell us, when should someone be concerned and when should someone celebrate because they’re actually normal? Normal is not what everyone else is doing because that isn’t normal.
Steve: Yeah, yeah, that’s a great question. I really want to talk about what you said at the beginning of the question (which is more of a statement). You made mention that we don’t see headlines like, “Six simple steps to poop better.” But that’s coming, Jonathan, I’m telling you, it’s coming in the next twenty years. What we’re learning right now through the science and through all of these people that are changing their health is that everything that you put in your mouth, you’re self-selecting the bugs that grow in your gut. Those bugs are almost like another organ in how much they communicate with all of the rest of your body and how they control your health and your metabolic pathways. It’s really exciting. So, yes, there is an optimal zone (if you will). There’s something called the Bristol stool chart, anybody can google it – it’s everywhere. This is really how I would love for everyone (just like you have SANE and inSANE foods) to everyday think about the Bristol stool chart when they have a bowel movement. It’s very simple, it’s just a scale from one to seven. At one, you’re constipated. It shows little pictures, makes it pretty easy to understand. The goal is to be at a four or a five on the Bristol stool chart. The other thing is, you also want to have easy evacuation – no straining, no pushing, no blood, and it shouldn’t be too smelly. When you start to have stools that are four or five (not a whole lot of mess, not very smelly, it’s very easy) that’s optimal. Really, that’s the goal of our site, to get everyone to optimal. What you said is true, as soon as you change your diet, you’re self-selecting what bugs are going to grow in your gut. There’s a change over period there where as you switch from a standard American diet towards a more whole-foods diet, it takes a little while for different microbes to grow and for you to kill off other ones that might have overgrown based on what you were eating before. There definitely is an adjustment period.
Jonathan: What are these steps that individuals can do to get to a more normal and healthy space on the Bristol stool scale?
Steve: Yeah, great question. Ideally, you want to be going to the bathroom one to three times a day, and you want it to be a four or five on the Bristol stool chart. Let’s say you switch to the SANE food groups and you’re not going as often, you’re kind of constipated (which, I would say, is like not going to the bathroom for three days or longer). Or you’re on the lower end of the chart, which are like rabbit pellets, if you will. What you need to think about at that point is that you’re probably not eating enough fat. It just tends to be that when people eat a really low-fat diet, they don’t quite have the bowel movements that they need to have. It could also be that you have a lack of bacteria and you need to help repopulate your gut. I’m a firm believer that every day we should eat some fermented food to help with probiotics from those fermented foods. Those probiotics help not only with going to the bathroom but they help regulate our immune system, keep inflammation low, and lots of other good things. If you’re on the constipated side, a really common mistake is eating too low of fat, so maybe some more nuts, oils, that kind of thing. Incorporating some fermented foods. After that, if things don’t really change, you kind of need to go even deeper. If you’re at the other end of the scale where things are kind of loose and not really formed, that’s where you might have to think about, “Ok, maybe my enzymes aren’t quite ramped up properly yet and I have some pancreatic enzymes deficiency.” Maybe you want to use some digestive enzymes/pancreatic enzymes to help the transition in to eating these other foods. It’s also a great indicator that you actually do have a gut infection. You might want to get some more advanced testing if you’ve been doing the SANE food groups for longer than four or five weeks and you’re not seeing a reduction in those symptoms – definitely want to get some more testing then.
Jonathan: The thing that I found fascinating about what you just said (it’s all fascinating) but some of the things I found most fascinating were when you talked about the first set of challenges and the need for different fats and probiotics. What I wanted to dig in to here is: one thing that I found interesting and maybe under appreciated (and I’d love your take on) is (I just thought of this term and I’ll try to use it more moving forward) “fiber-y” fats. Here’s what I mean by that – when people think of fat, they often think of Kentucky Fried Chicken or oil, right? That’s what they think of (whether or not that that’s what they should think of) but there’s other sources of fats. Let’s talk about coconut or cocoa. Just the raw pure forms of these foods that are incredible sources of healthy fats, nutrients, and (shockingly, most people wouldn’t think of these like this) amazing sources of fiber. If you can eat these wonderful fats and these “fiber-y” fats, do you think these would be even more helpful? What are your thoughts?
Steve: Yeah, yeah, I would totally throw avocado in there as well.
Jonathan: Absolutely, avocado definitely.
Steve: Yeah. Here’s a simple trick that I use with a lot of clients that I work with or people that e-mail me on my site: if you’re constipated and you’ve switched to a whole-foods diet, really ramp up your coconut and coconut oil. Just using more of those fats, really seems to help people along. The fat doesn’t actually get to the stool. I’m not really sure about all the mechanisms yet, I’m not really sure if anybody is because the gut is almost like the brain – science doesn’t understand it yet. We’re only beginning to start to understand the interplay between the gut bacteria and the rest of the human body. It’s safe to say at this point that with more than 100 times more gut bacteria than we actually have cells in our body, we really need to pay attention to “tending our garden” and making sure that what we’re putting in our body is also feeding and growing the right type of microbiota.
Jonathan: I appreciate you blazing this new trail because you are right, this is just an area that people are starting to understand. This is also why you don’t see much talk of it in my work because it’s such an emerging field, the research is still being conducted. To give listeners an idea of just how big of a deal this will likely become as the science advances (this is going to sound a little gross but we’re here to talk about science and sometimes that can be a little gross) one technique that the research community is experimenting with, with great success to heal some issues, is what’s called fecal transplants. They’re actually taking feces from an individual who does not have a certain condition, transplanting it in to the relevant body part of an individual that does have a medical problem, and watching as that medical problem is resolved. I’m not sure any of us want to sign up for that tomorrow, but that’s – wow. Steve, what do you say about that?
Steve: It’s fascinating. Number one, the people who are doing this (as you said, when you first hear about this term fecal transplant, you’re like, “Holy gross,” right?) and seeing this success are people with resistant colostrum difficile infections – these are infections that you will die. We don’t have enough antibiotics, we don’t know how to deal with them. Anybody can go in to the hospital, have a simple procedure done, and catch C. Diff. It happens all the time, everyday in the United States. If it doesn’t respond with the first round of infections, they start to run out of ways to treat these people and death is a very likely outcome. They can completely eradicate it with just this simple procedure of swapping out a healthy person’s gut/colon microbiota in to this very sick person’s – and they’re literally symptom free. It’s quite amazing. If you haven’t seen it, Jonathan, there’s actually some new research where they take some slim people’s gut bugs, they put it in to obese people – the obese people lose weight. If you put the obese people’s gut bugs in to slim people, they’ll gain weight.
Jonathan: That’s so fascinating. That reminds me – so much of my work is predicated on hormonal balance and there’s very similar studies done in rats with hormones. They will combine two rats together to create a “Franken-rat” (again, it’s not the most pleasant image to think of). The reason they do this is they’ll take, for example, a morbidly obese rat and stitch it together with a slim rat and the hormones then cross what is called the parabiotic union, or they have one source of blood. The obese rat will start to just lose weight because the hormones which are in the lean rat will then trigger fat-loss processes in the obese rat. Sounds like something similar is happening here with the gut. That is – wow – that’s just amazing.
Steve: Yeah, there’s plenty of rat studies that do that same fecal transplant with the fat mice and skinny mice. I think, obviously, there are some Franken-mice as well, so we have to take that with a little grain of salt. I think, like you said, the research is very new, the fecal transplants are super new. They’re sort of an alternative thing where it’s off the FDA’s radar right now. It costs a lot of money out of your own pocket to save your life at this point, if you want to go that route. But, what is true is that it’s working. Again, every bite of food you put in your mouth, you’re self-selecting what is going to grow in your body. Every time you choose to use antibiotics, you’re also choosing to kind of carpet bomb everything that’s growing inside of you. What we’re learning is that these bugs really play in to your immune system, how your skin looks, how you age, and all these different things. It’s very important.
Jonathan: One thing I want to urge listeners to take away from this is – You could hear this and you could think to yourself, “Oh, Jesus, just another thing to think about. Oh my God. Now they got gut biota and…Oh my God!” Really what I think we’re saying here (which is so encouraging if you look at Steve’s website and resources) is just eating things you find in nature. Eating water, fiber, and protein packed foods. In some ways this is just manifesting yet another example of the benefits and glory of just taking that simple approach. You can count calories until you are blue in the face, it’s not going to help these gut issues we’re talking about – at all. If what you’re eating is causing you to have gut problems and you just eat less of it, you’re just starving yourself. You may have slightly less gut problems because you have slightly less of it to cause problems, but as soon as you stop, you’re right back to where you started. Then you keep taking antibiotics to deal with the problem rather than just eating the foods that would avoid the problem in the first place. Life get’s so much simpler if you just eat those SANE, natural, and delicious foods. This is yet another example of that, which (again) just makes me happy rather than feel overwhelmed or, “Oh my God, there’s another thing to worry about!” What do you think, Steve?
Steve: I think you’re spot on. I definitely don’t want any listeners to be like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so overwhelmed,” or like you said, “Just add this to the pile of things I need to learn about.” The only person who needs to really learn about this is one of those people who are just digestively not doing well. If you’re having a lot of pain, if you’re someone who’s on the far ends of the Bristol stool chart – then that’s somebody who’s going to want to dig deeper, come over to my site, and do some looking around. The diet that we use on our site is called the specific carbohydrate diet. The only change, really, from what you’re telling people to do is that we remove starch for a little while because it feeds a certain class of bacteria. For those who have really bad digestive problems, normally they have an overgrowth of that bacteria. We then add that starch back in later. We are advocating the exact same foods. It doesn’t have to be more complex than that. If you switch over to eating SANE foods and you’re digestively doing great, there’s really nothing else for you to worry about. I would say the only big take home point (if you want to boil it all down) is that the human body is such a complex mathematical system, right? I’m an electrical engineer by the first amount of training I’ve had and I’ve had some functional medicine training since then, but I always come back to math. The inputs are all the things that you talk about – whether it’s food, healthy water, air, exercise, and that. We don’t really have that many outputs that we can measure or track – it just turns out that poop is one of those. So, if you just kind of keep an eye on it and you know that you’re kind of trending in the good range of the Bristol stool chart, then that’s really all you have to take home.
Jonathan: I love it. Steve, one last question I have for you. You mentioned earlier, probiotics. We hear a lot about probiotic supplements and we also hear about probiotics being found in dairy. But, we also hear (especially people who are plugged in to the internet nutrition community) some mixed messages about dairy – should you eat dairy, should you not eat dairy? My take is things like high-probiotic, low-sugar dairy foods such as cottage cheese and Greek yogurt are good options. What do you think?
Steve: I think it’s really an individual question. I think that you can get probiotics from all kinds of sources. You can get it from a pill, fermented dairy, sauerkraut, kimchee, natto, and all these other fermented foods. One of the core principles of our e-book, and our way of having everyone create their own custom real food diet, is using the science of the immune system to test if you have a leaky gut and if you’re going to produce reactions towards foods. What we do is we have a rule for four days (that’s basically what the scientific literature is going to tell us). If you eat a food and you react to that food (it can happen anywhere in between the zero to four day mark) then you know that you kind of have a leaky gut, or some sort of immune system build up to that food, and you should probably avoid it. What I would say to all your listeners who are curious about this question whether or not they should be eating dairy, whether or not they should be getting their probiotics from dairy, is use the four day rule. It’s very simple, for four days don’t change anything – eat the same foods you always eat. Then just eat some dairy, each day, for four days. Maybe a cup or two of cottage cheese, yogurt, whatever your favorite thing is for those four days – and then stop. Give yourself four to seven days, wait, and then do it again. What you’ll see is you’ll either notice a difference or you won’t. You can also do a wash-out period ahead of time – four to seven days no dairy, then try dairy for four days. If you notice post-nasal drip, if you’re stools get different, you notice any other brain fog, that type of thing, those are the people who might want to consider sauerkraut or probiotic pills.
Jonathan: Fascinating, fascinating. Where can people, if they do want to dig in to this and learn more, where should they go? What should be their three take-away steps to learn more about what you’re doing?
Steve: First step is definitely come over to scdlifestyle.com. We have a free ‘quick start guide’ that you can download right there if you’re curious about the specific carbohydrate diet. Or, just spend some time on the site there. We have a podcast and a TV show where we’re just trying to spread awareness about different digestive diseases, different digestive conditions, the symptoms, and what are some simple strategies – whether it’d be testing, different foods, or supplements that could really help those various conditions. I would say, I’d hope they could just spend some time on the site.
Jonathan: Wonderful, wonderful. I really appreciate all that you’re doing. I tip my hat to you for dealing with a subject that is not one that’s talked about much and one that needs to be talked about more. I’m thinking to myself of a story I heard where one of my friends from college ended up doing quite well for himself in the urinal cake business. It was just like – What the heck? They asked him, “Why did you go in the urinal cake business?” He was like, “Well, no one wants to go in the urinal cake business.” So, it was actually surprisingly easy to do quite well there. The same thing with what you guys are doing, right? It’s not necessarily the sexiest thing but it’s something that’s really, really important. My hat’s off to you for that and I really appreciate you sharing your insights with us today.
Steve: Yeah, thanks Jonathan. I appreciate you letting me come on the show and talk about poop. It might not be the sexiest subject but it is one that is really growing in the scientific literature as far as something people should pay attention to. The reality is, when you’re someone like myself and you struggled with those sleepless nights, those public problems, and that kind of thing – you overcome that and you know the emotional pain and the body pain that goes along with that. I just can’t shut myself up. Apparently people are listening, so that’s a good thing. We’ll just keep trying to talk more about poop and I think we’ll help more people.
Jonathan: I love it. What I see you doing is really freeing people. We live in a country, in a world, that values individual freedom so highly. What I see you as doing is freeing people from something which is otherwise really, really trapping them in a way no person should have to deal with. So kudos to you sir and thank you again.
Steve: Well, thank you Jonathan for all the work that you’ve done and I appreciate you letting me come on the show.
Jonathan: Beautiful. Alright, thanks so much, Steve. Thank you everyone for listening. Until next time, remember to eat more and exercise less, but do that smarter. Talk to you soon.