Donna Gates is a mother, nutritionist, author and the founder of Body Ecology, a gut and gene health-centric education platform with a line of nutritional products we love. Her book, The Body Ecology Diet is something of a health and wellness classic.
The Chalkboard met up with Donna to find out more about what makes the Body Ecology program so unique…
TCM: How did you get started on your nutrition path?
Donna Gates: “When I was young, I was constantly fighting off one cold or lung infection after another. By the time I was a teenager, my skin began to break out with acne. This led me to be antibiotics for a long period of time.
When I ate the standard American diet and followed doctor’s orders, my health suffered. I became sick. I knew that I was not the only one having this experience. I knew that others around me were unknowingly sabotaging their own health. My body seemed to be growing more sensitive with time and with antibiotic use. It was not until I was in my 30s that I began searching for answers to all my health issues.
By looking at my own diet and pulling together bits of information that I found in several other disciplines, I was able to figure out why my body struggled to be well. After several years of searching, I slowly began to heal a lifetime of sensitivity and infection. I felt better than I ever had before. So I decided to put together what I had learned into a book that is easy for others to follow and to relate to. “
TCM: What makes the Body Ecology Diet different from other diets out there?
DG: “The Body Ecology Diet focuses specifically on restoring and maintaining the gastrointestinal tract, what I coined our “inner ecology”. Unlike most diets, the Body Ecology is not a one size fits all solution. While it incorporates many principles that are important for everyone, it also approaches every individual through the lens of uniqueness–each of us has to honor our unique constitution and health challenges.
The mistake most diet programs make is assuming everyone should start their healing process exactly the same way with exactly the same foods. Thus, the Body Ecology Diet is a complete system embraced by many doctors around the world. One of the main tenets of the Body Ecology Diet is the introduction of probiotic rich, fermented foods and beverages. A number of diets over the years, like GAPS, have changed their protocol to include fermented foods after I demonstrated how their systems were incomplete.
Fermented foods are no longer consumed on a regular basis. Maybe our great-grandmothers made these foods at home, but most of us have forgotten about truly fermented yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir. Fermented foods are extremely important to our health because they educate and inoculate the gut with a wide range of beneficial microorganisms. When these beneficial microorganisms are not present, harmful ones are. When we give our body reason to house harmful bacteria, it will. When we give our body the tools that it needs to build a thriving and balanced inner ecosystem, it will!”
TCM: If people could remove one thing from their life to be healthier, what would it be?
DG: “Sugar consumption is at an all-time high – and growing. In the early 1800s, we ate roughly 5 pounds of sugar a year. Today, each of eats about 110 pounds of sugar a year. We are consuming sugar multiple times a day and our body is not equipped to handle this. Convenience food is loaded with sugar because it is a preservative. It also enhances flavor and drives up sales. Sugar is addictive. And sugar is extremely harmful to the body on multiple levels. It immediately weakens the immune system function, it blocks hormone receptors, it feeds disease-causing microorganisms and the list goes on. If we could drastically reduce the amount of sugar that we consume, I believe that we could greatly reduce many of the health disorders that are becoming ‘epidemic’.”
TCM: Can you give an example of a perfect Body Ecology dinner?
DG: “The first rule of thumb is to include fermented foods with every meal. The second is to follow the Principle of 80/20, which means that 80% of your meal is composed of non-starchy vegetables. About 20% of the meal would be a starchy vegetable, grain or animal protein. A lightly cooked piece of salmon, skin on, gives the body a small dose of long-chain omega-3 fats. We know that omega-3 fatty acids are good for healthy brain, joint and immune system function. I also always enjoy a glass of coconut water kefir or one of our fermented drinks with every meal.
So the perfect Body Ecology dinner would have a side of fermented vegetables, which add a flavorful kick to any meal. There would also be a side of lightly steamed vegetables topped with a healthy fat, like pumpkin seed oil, ghee or coconut oil and a handful of fresh, baby salad greens sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil and dulse, which is a type of ocean vegetable.”
TCM: Why is eating fermented foods such an integral part of being successful on the Body Ecology Diet?
DG: “Fermented foods are tremendously important because they safely deliver a complex range of healthy microbes to the digestive system. This cannot be accomplished with a probiotic capsule. You see, our intestines house millions upon millions of bacteria. And it turns out that these bacteria play a very special role in overall immune function and health! The Body Ecology Diet suggests that we eat foods that strengthen our immune system rather than weaken it.
The microorganisms found in fermented foods naturally assist with digestion. They also help to heal a permeable gut, which is at the root of many systemic infections and many chronic immune disorders. When the gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed, we are more likely to develop allergies, autoimmune disorders and signs of neurological degeneration. Beneficial bacteria have been found to reduce inflammation. They also have been found to metabolize heavy metals that are inherently toxic to the body.
Most of us think that the digestive system is largely about transforming and using food. While this is true, it is also full of cells that related to the immune system and to the nervous system. The bacteria and microorganisms that populate the digestive tract have been found to do amazing things like communicate with the cells of our immune system and to even generate their own neurotransmitters, which the body picks up and uses! So of course, we want to do everything that we can to create a healthy and balanced environment.
TCM: How do children respond to the Body Ecology Diet?
DG: “Children do extremely well on the Body Ecology Diet. I think it is the solution to so many of the issues children are now facing—from obesity and diabetes to reduced immune systems and autism. I wish I could speak with Michelle Obama about her ‘Let’s Move!’ program and her desire to fight childhood obesity. I have answers!
Through working with thousands of children over the years through our BEDROK Program–Body Ecology Diet Recovering Our Kids—we’ve found that proper detoxification, diet and supplementation can result in what many believe to be miracles. When we add good, nourishing fats to their diet while removing sugars and most grains, we find that these children thrive. The addition of fermented foods literally changes their desire for junk food, which many children are drawn to.
Once children begin the Body Ecology Diet, they are happier. They think clearly, perform well in school and many behavioral issues simply disappear. The Body Ecology Diet can also help to heal many of the digestive and immune system disorders that children face today. Whether a child has sensitivity to certain foods or to their environment, when parents change their child’s diet, they find that their child functions at a higher level and is susceptible to seasonal allergies and to infection.”
TCM: What do you do in your free time?
DG: “Research! I love finding information and putting together the puzzle pieces in ways that others have yet to do. Research not only helps me to be a better teacher, but allows me to give better guidance to others so they can live a happier, healthier life.”
TCM: What’s one thing people might not know about you?
DG: “That I love architecture and interior design. I’ve remodeled or built over 13 homes. When I need to relax, I simply open a design magazine and study the beautiful rooms.”
TCM: What are you excited about working on now?
DG: “Well, I had my youngest son when I was 44 years old. He is 21 and in college now. Many women are having babies later in life due to our culture, but there hasn’t been a shift yet in how we support women to be healthy enough at later ages to increase their fertility and create happy, healthy babies. Through my work with autism and my desire to teach people how to prevent it, I am now focusing on working with women so they can cleanse properly and increase fertility, and have an easy pregnancy and healthy babies.”
Learn more about Donna and The Body Ecology Diet here.