Being an expat can be highly rewarding. From travelling the world, meeting new people, learning about different cultures to exploring new opportunities, there are many reasons to love living the expat lifestyle.
But what we don’t often talk about is how moving around the globe can take a toll on your health.
About 13 years ago, my husband and I escaped for a long weekend getaway to Bali. Having just gone through an international relocation to Singapore, this little vacation was much needed. He had been extremely busy with his new job, I had been extremely busy settling the kids into school and doing up our new home.
My in laws had flown in from India to look after the children and there we were: surrounded by tropical beauty, staying in a gorgeously indulgent romantic suite, looking forward to the romance and blissful long days on the beach.
It was perfect … except for one thing: I was so fatigued that I barely made it out of bed the entire weekend.
I had been struggling with health issues for a while. Fatigue, skin rashes, digestion out of whack, mood swings and more. Unfortunately it was on this trip that I hit rock bottom. The frustration of not being able to enjoy my holiday, combined with the fear around my confusing symptoms and the inability to resolve my issues made me decide to do whatever I could to start feeling better.
When I got back from that disappointing trip to Bali I embarked on a committed and almost obsessive search to find the answers. Over the years I studied with some of the world’s leading health and nutrition experts, became a Certified Holistic Health Coach and Functional Nutrition Practitioner, healed myself and started helping other expats optimise their health.
And here is what I learned: at the root of most health issues that trouble expats lies a compromised digestive system.
Transitioning to environments and climates very different from the one you grew up in, exposure to different hygiene conditions and new micro organisms, stress and overwhelm due to relocating can all trigger digestive imbalances that, if not resolved, contribute to perplexing and frustrating health issues that can have a ripple effect on your entire health and wellbeing.
The way this shows up for many expats is through not so glamorous digestive issues such as stomach pain, gas, bloating, acid reflux, diarrhoea or constipation (or both!). Or perhaps your weight is creeping up, you have mysterious allergies or reactions to the things you eat, skin rashes or you seem to be catching every cold or flu that is going around.
And if you are like most other expats, you try to take care of this on your own: by popping some pills, trying to eat healthier or exercising more. If that doesn’t solve the issue you see a local physician who most likely treats your symptoms with medication but fails to address the underlying root cause of your problems.
Good health begins in the gut.
If your digestion is compromised (and this can show up in many different ways!) you are not going to be able to absorb and utilise the nutrients from your food, no matter how healthy that food may be. You are not going to have optimal energy levels and you will see a ripple effect in your health. That ripple effect is different for everyone; we all have our own unique “weak link”.
Fortunately there are a few things you can do right away to begin healing and optimising your digestion. Here are two ways to get started:
- Cut out trigger foods
These are foods that are contributing to digestive distress and internal inflammation: sugar, refined carbohydrates, conventional dairy, processed foods, bad fats such as refined vegetable seed oils, gluten, and GMO foods (corn and soy) are a good place to start.
Replace these foods with nutrient dense, whole and minimally processed, fresh foods.
For example, when I cut out gluten from my diet and replaced it with more nutrient dense vegetables my lower backache almost immediately disappeared. This inspired me to see what else could be causing my symptoms. The results were amazing. After clearing my own trigger foods my digestion improved, my skin cleared up and I got my energy back. Since this is different for each person, try replacing one thing and see how that makes you feel.
- Add probiotic and prebiotic rich foods
We have around 100 trillion microorganisms housed in our digestive tract. These bugs play an important role in our health and influence our digestion, immune function, metabolism, brain chemistry and even our weight and cravings. The truth is that most of us walk around with too many bad bugs in our belly and not enough good ones.
We want to bring in more good bacteria (probiotics) and more importantly eat the foods that feed them (prebiotics).
Fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha are rich sources of probiotics. Onion, garlic, leeks, green asparagus, turnips, green bananas, and boiled and cooled potatoes are some examples of foods rich in the fibre and resistant starch that feeds your beneficial gut flora.
By addressing the root cause of your health problems: your digestion, you can literally transform your health and your life and get back to enjoying the expat lifestyle. I have done it, so have many of my clients and you can do this too.
Take charge and get back to feeling like yourself so that you can make the most of your life and travels abroad.
Monique Jhingon is a Functional Nutrition & Lifestyle Practitioner who offers select private coaching to expats whose health and digestion has been compromised as a result of transitioning into new environments, cultures, climates and foods.
You can read more on her website and sign up for a free nutrition breakthrough session here: www.moniquejhingon.com