Dr. Will Bulsiewicz of Lowcountry Gastroenterology is better known online as “The Gut Health M.D.”
With nearly 90,000 Instagram followers, Bulsiewicz embarked on a crusade several years ago to convince his patients (and his followers on social media) that a plant-based diet full of fermented foods could radically change the gut microbiome. In turn, he has long argued, a healthy gut equals a healthy life.
On May 12, Bulsiewicz, who lives with his family in Mount Pleasant, will release his first book, “Fiber Fueled: The Plant-Based Gut Health Program for Losing Weight, Restoring Your Health, and Optimizing Your Microbiome.” It has been published by Penguin.
He agreed to answer a few questions about the book ahead of its release and explains below why a “fiber-fueled” diet during the COVID-19 pandemic may be more important than ever.
Q: In one sentence, explain to our readers the premise of your book.
A: All health starts in the gut, and “Fiber Fueled” is the revolutionary plan to optimize it.
Q: Who did you write this book for? Who is your target audience?
A: While most would imagine that gut health only matters to those with digestive issues, I would argue that gut health is incredibly important to each of us, whether we are trying to correct and reverse disease or trying to prevent it.
This is because the gut is absolutely central to human health. We all know it’s important for digestion, but did you realize that it’s also home to 70 percent of your immune system, 90 percent of your serotonin (the happy hormone), regulates hormones implicated in diabetes and obesity, balances estrogen, and makes up 99.5 percent of your genetic code?
Our immune system, metabolism, hormonal balance, cognition and mood are all regulated by our gut microbes — 39,000,000,000,000 of them. (Yes, that’s 39 trillion.)
It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. The engine that drives human health isn’t even human! “Fiber Fueled” is the bold new plan to get those microbes working for you and then reaping the health rewards that come with that.
Q: There are countless books about diet and nutrition already published. What makes your book different?
A: For the last 20 or so years, countless books and fad diets have been telling readers that the solution to their problems is through dietary restriction: If something doesn’t agree with your stomach, that it’s inflammatory and should be discarded. Not only is this wrong, it’s dangerous.
In recent years, the research has been consistent: When you restrict your diet, you injure your microbiome. The most important thing for a healthy gut microbiome is to have a wide variety of plants in your diet.
With this book, I am swinging the pendulum away from dietary restriction and toward the science that says that our gut microbes thrive on fiber from a wide variety of plants. We’re moving past calorie counting, macros and long lists of forbidden foods and finding health by eating the right foods in abundance and diversity. Being “Fiber Fueled” isn’t a diet or a fad, it’s a lifestyle that heals.
Q: Tell us a little about your own journey with food and fiber. How does the way you eat now impact your life?
A: Ten years ago, I found myself 50 pounds overweight, anxious, depressed, with high blood pressure, low energy and low self-esteem. I needed a way out, but my medical training at Georgetown, Northwestern and the University of North Carolina hadn’t shown me a path. I was miserable! Little did I realize that it was the diet that I was raised on dragging me down.
Then I found the power of a plant-based diet. It changed my life. The weight melted off. The anxiety lifted. Blood pressure normalized. My energy came back. I was “me” again!
I went to the medical literature, surprised that I hadn’t heard anything about this before, and found thousands of studies to support a plant-based diet, including cutting-edge science connecting fiber to our microbiome.
So I brought this new knowledge into my medical practice as a gastroenterologist. Patients started having amazing results too. I was healing and reversing complex digestive diseases with food and lifestyle.
The knowledge was so powerful that I felt compelled to share it, which ultimately led me to writing this book.
Q: Everyone out there wants the “magic bullet” to lose weight. Is fiber the answer we’re all searching for?
A: The “magic bullet” implies that there are shortcuts. There aren’t. So you can’t take a fiber supplement and think you’re going to magically fix all your problems. But what you can do is heal your gut with diet and lifestyle using the principles laid out in my book.
Our metabolism and weight balance is deeply intertwined with our gut microbiome. Studies have repeatedly shown that people with obesity have a damaged gut. And when you restore your gut, you also restore your metabolism.
I’ve witnessed some amazing transformations in people following my program. One person lost 118 pounds without restricting her diet at all, but by simply eating the right way. And the beautiful thing is that her son reversed major health issues of his own by following the same plan, and now he’s thriving and recently was awarded a college scholarship to play soccer.
It’s absolutely possible to achieve a healthy weight and be able to eat food that you love in abundance and without restrictions.
Q: Explain the connection between a plant-based diet and our immune systems.
A: You can’t separate our gut microbiome from our immune system. They are deeply intertwined, with just a single layer of cells separating 39 trillion microbes from 70 percent of your immune system.
Fiber is the food for our gut microbes. They thrive when we feed them and grow stronger. And then they reward us by releasing molecules that cross that single layer of cells and go to work optimizing and fortifying our immune system on the other side. In other words, fiber isn’t just food for our microbes, it’s also food for our immune system.
Q: What makes your book relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: This past week a study came out suggesting that it’s the microbes in our gut that may determine the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. Personally, I am not surprised at all. There have been other studies showing that fiber, through the microbiome, can enhance the immune system to protect against respiratory viruses. There’s a direct connection between your diet, your microbiome and your immune system, and this book has the plan to help you fortify your defenses.
Q: How has social media influenced your career as a doctor?
A: I actually think it’s the other way around. I was never interested in social media. It’s not a natural fit for me, I’d rather be with my family or friends. But my passion for medicine and the feeling that there was a message that I had to share beyond the walls of my clinic led me to start my Instagram account, @theguthealthmd, in 2016. Having clarity of purpose led to organic growth, and there’s no doubt that it has opened doors and created new opportunities for me.
Q: Are you planning any future books? If so, what are you going to write about next?
A: Honestly, it was never my dream to be an author. Since I was a teenager it was my dream to be a doctor and to heal people. What I’m most excited about with this book is that I truly believe it’s going to help a lot of people. That’s my childhood dream come true.
It’s too early to say if I’ll write another book. If it happens, it’ll be an unforced compulsion motivated by my desire to help others.