How much fibre is enough? Is gluten actually bad for us? And what the heck is a microbiome? Founded by DJs and presenters Lisa and Alana Macfarlane (AKA The Mac Twins), The Gut Stuff offers free, straight-talking advice and resources on everything from the dairy debate to stool charts. And it’s right on time
There was a guy, and every Thursday he had really bad digestive issues. He started tracking things, and found he wasn’t eating anything different, but realised that his team review was every Thursday morning, and he was really stressed about that,” Lisa Macfarlane tells me, as I sit with her and her sister, Alana, at their stylish headquarters in Camden, London. “It was only when he laid it all out, that it made sense.”
Raising awareness of the ways that our gut health affects our overall wellbeing is at the heart of what the Mac Twins do with The Gut Stuff. Founded in 2017, the site offers a huge collection of free advice on all things related to gut health, and Lisa and Alana travel around the UK to spread the message that gut health deserves to be taken seriously. It’s something that all of us should be taking the time to tune into – and the Mac Twins are here to tell us why.
It’s not all in your head
The day I got together with Lisa and Alana is also the day that they launched their new infographic exploring the link between gut health and anxiety. Working with the charity Anxiety UK, they look at the way that the gut and the brain are chemically connected via neurotransmitters, and how this link is heightened when anxiety is triggered.
“It’s difficult for us, as a company, to talk about the gut-brain connection, because the science behind it is still very new,” explains Lisa, when I asked what inspired their latest move into mental health. “But what we saw as people not from the wellness industry, is that people have such a warped relationship with food, and there is so much misinformation out there.”
“It’s a perpetual cycle,” adds Alana. “You get anxious about what you eat, and that’s affecting what’s happening biologically, and then when you’re anxious you have gut symptoms. We live in a constant flight or fight mode, we’re all super-stressed all the time – and that isn’t good for digestion.”
The Mac Twins’ campaign comes at a time where there’s an increase in interest in the connection between our gut and brain. And while this area of study is still in its infancy, the discovery of such links will bring hope to many who experience the gut-brain connection first-hand.
The poo taboo
Of course, akin to the stigma that surrounds mental health, is a feeling of shame when it comes to the subject of gut health. But that’s something that the twins face head on.
“We love poo chat,” Lisa declares.
And it’s a good thing, too. From the branding in their site, to their journals that provide people with a stool chart to track how their toilet trips differ depending on their diet, to do what Lisa and Alana do, you’ve got to be straight-talking.
Everyone should know that gut health is important, and we need to empower people with that
“I’m always fascinated about where we stop being open,” says Alana. “Because with babies and puppies – we talk about poo all the time, and we congratulate them on it. And kids talk about poo, so at what age do we lose the ability to talk about it? It’s one of the only things other than eating and dying that we all do. And no one talks about it! But we’ve always been quite open about our poo habits.”
“I think it’s part of being a twin – there are just zero filters,” Lisa chips in.
“And zero boundaries,” Alana finishes.
Of course, a consequence of the majority of us keeping quiet about our gut habits is that it can be hard to know what’s normal. And yet, as the twins have found out with their work, the looming taboo appears to be a lot more repressive than it actually is.
“As soon as we started talking about it, you wouldn’t believe the number of people who began coming up to us in toilets saying: ‘Hiya, I haven’t pooed in three days, is that normal?’ People are actually very much willing to talk about it, once you’ve opened the floodgates,” Lisa explains.
Opening up the industry
Another part of the challenge that Lisa and Alana want to take on with The Gut Stuff, is improving the accessibility of the wellness industry, something that Alana sees as the “backbone of the business”.
“People see health as being ill, and they see wellness as this thing that Gweyneth Paltrow talks about, when actually they’re two of the same thing,” says Alana. “Where we’re from in Scotland, if we knew just a few of thesefacts – like you should probably eat just a bit more fibre in your diet – then we would have started to think of our healthcare system in more of a preventative way.”
With their free informative videos, blog posts, events, and anonymous ask-a-nutritionist service, the Mac Twins are breaking down the barriers to wellness that so often have kept people from accessing the information they need to better understand their gut health, and avoid misinformation.
“In our early 20s, we did the cabbage soup diet, and all those sorts of fads,” says Alana. “It just takes empowering people with the knowledge to change that.”
“And it is changing,” adds Lisa. “These things are, at best, a bit misleading, and at worst illegal. So it’s a question of how can we educate people enough to know that these things are fads.”
Getting the word out
In a time where we’re constantly bombarded with conflicting ideas about what we should and shouldn’t be eating, The Gut Stuff is a breath of fresh air – laying the facts on the table, and leaving it up to the individual to decide what works best for them.
The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all diet that will solve all of our gut issues, but by taking the time to tune in to the way that our body reacts to stress, anxiety, and different foods, it’s possible to take back control of our gut health.
“The heart of all this is that everyone should know that gut health is important, and we need to empower people with that,” says Lisa. “When everyone knows that, then I think we will have done our job.”
Find out more about The Gut Stuff by visiting thegutstuff.com