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Why are you Bloated?

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Ep. 25: How to Find the Root Cause of Your Digestive Symptoms

When you have symptoms, how often do you treat the root cause of the symptoms?


In this episode of the Love Your Gut Podcast, I talk about identifying the root cause, treating the root cause of our digestive symptoms, and some of the most common root causes that we see with clients.


Topics Covered in This Episode:

  • [05:06] Why the root cause approach is important.
  • [08:25] Root cause testing.
  • [15:23] Brain-gut axis and motility issues.
  • [16:44] Large Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth.
  • [18:24] Chronic stress.
  • [20:08] Hypothyroidism.
  • [21:32] The ability to digest.
  • [24:14] Other root causes.
  • [26:00] Some action steps.


If this episode has been helpful, hit me up on Instagram, and tell me about your experience!



  • Root cause testing: The GI-MAP, do a health history, track symptoms,
  • Take my quiz – Why Am I Bloated
  • Increase variety in the diet to feed the good gut bacteria.
  • Optimize how you eat to improve digestion.

Pre-order my book: The Happy Healthy Gut Cookbook.



  • “The biggest mistake you can make is just throwing things at the symptom instead of identifying where it’s coming from.”
  • “Variety in your diet is key to feed these good gut bacteria.”


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Dr. Heather Finley

Dr. Heather Finley  00:00

maybe similar to your journey, you’ve been told to just take MiraLAX. And maybe it helps a little bit, but it’s not completely resolving your symptoms. When you take a root cause approach, you’re able to identify what’s actually causing your symptoms. 

Dr. Heather Finley  00:16

Hey, welcome to the love your podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Heather Finley, I know you’re thinking, how am I supposed to love my gut when all it does is hold me back. I thought the same thing before I found my own relief from my own gut health issues. I dedicated my life to getting to the bottom of my own gut issues, so I can help women just like you transform theirs. Now I’m here to guide you through your own gut health journey. We do this through identifying your root causes and making sustainable and transformational changes. As a result, you can unleash your true potential. My goal is to empower you with the information and tools you need to love your guts. So it loves you back right here on this podcast. 

Dr. Heather Finley  00:59

Hey, guys, welcome back to the next episode of the love your gut podcast. Today’s episode is going to be answering one of the most common DMs that I get is, How do I actually find the root cause of my digestive symptoms? So I thought I would just record an episode, you probably hear a lot of dietitians and health professionals on the internet talking about identifying the root cause. But you might actually be wondering, what in the heck does that actually mean? And I’m gonna get into that right now. So the allopathic model of medicine is identify the symptom, and then treat the symptom versus a root cause approach is identify what’s causing the symptom and address that. 

Dr. Heather Finley  01:42

So I want to give you an example. This summer, we went on vacation, and as you know, or maybe you don’t know, I live in the DFW area of Texas. And it gets hot here in the summer, like real hot. So we decided we are going to escape from the heat for a couple of weeks. And we went to California, and it was glorious. But while we were away, our pool, turned into a literal swamp. We had someone coming to brush it and someone coming to do the chemicals, but it just was not enough than what we compared to what we had been doing daily. So we came back home and no joke, our pool had at least six inches of thick algae on top. It was disgusting. And I was actually scared that maybe elite frog was going to jump out and there was going to be lily pads on this swamp. But I share this with you you’re probably thinking, Okay, what does this have to do with digestive health? I share this with you because I think this actually will help the the root cause concept to make sense. Instead of just continuing to throw chlorine in the pool, like the guy doing the chemicals had been doing, we had to address the reason why the algae was so bad. So there were some things that were out of our control, the wind, the heat, these environmental conditions, which are very similar to maybe the environmental conditions in your life, maybe your job, your relationships, stress, some things are out of our control, there’s no way to control everything. But there were some things that were in our control, we could start brushing the pool daily.

Dr. Heather Finley  03:31

And we also had to look at some of the mechanics going on with it. So some of the equipment that we had. Turns out, the filter that we had for our pool was not working. So hence why we had so much algae, we expected to come back and for the pool not to be perfect, but this was like next level. And so once we were able to identify that the filter was actually completely broken. Although it was super expensive and really frustrating. Our pool actually started to clear up and after having to get it professionally vacuumed and cleaned. Now our pool is crystal clear. And it’s not a complete eyesore when I look in the backyard. 

Dr. Heather Finley  04:15

But I think this is really similar to our digestive issues that we experience. We’re just continuing to throw chlorine in a pool, that that’s not going to work, there is actually a mechanical problem that needs to be addressed. 

Dr. Heather Finley  04:31

And so maybe similar to your journey, you’ve been told to just take MiraLAX and maybe it helps a little bit but it’s not completely resolving your symptoms. When you take a root cause approach, you’re able to identify what’s actually causing your symptoms. So in this episode, today, we’re going to talk about how you can identify the root cause some of the common root causes that we see with our clients and then how do we how do we identify some interventions that are going to address them 

Dr. Heather Finley  05:00

And so now that you understand what an actual what it means to actually get to the root cause, I want to explain to you why this is important. Because your symptoms are unique to you, maybe you feel six months pregnant and bloated by the end of the day. And maybe another client named Mary does does as well. But her, her causes could actually be completely different. There’s, you have the same symptoms, but there’s different consequences. There’s different root causes, and then therefore, different treatments, which is why the allopathic model of just take MiraLAX, or take these antibiotics just doesn’t work for most people, because the consequences and the pathophysiology essentially, is completely different. So some of the common symptoms that we see with our clients are constipation, bloating, gas, diarrhea. And it would be easy to put all of these in a box and just say like, if you have constipation, do XY and Z. And if you have bloating, do XY and Z. But unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. 

Dr. Heather Finley  06:12

So I think the biggest mistake that you can make on your digestive health journey is just focusing on throwing things at the symptom instead of identifying where it’s coming from. Because really identifying the root cause is just the start. 

Dr. Heather Finley  06:28

We see this all the time in SIBO treatment, you may have tested positive for SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and all you’ve been told is you need to take antibiotics to get rid of the SIBO. If you’re just focused on clearing the SIBO, and not actually healing the body and addressing the underlying issues, the SIBO is more likely to come back, which is why there is such a big reoccurrence percentage when we’re talking about SIBO. So some of the root causes that I want to cover today, I’m just briefly and there’s other episodes that you can check out that go into these root causes more in depth, but poor stress management, a gut brain access issue, blood sugar imbalances, poor mindset, you might be thinking, oh my gosh, don’t talk about mindset, again, hormone imbalances, large intestinal imbalances, and then digestive issues. So because I want you to get out of this vicious cycle, you may have had SIBO, or a digestive issue president, you may have treated it with antimicrobials or antibiotics or maybe a restrictive diet, maybe you were just told go on low FODMAP. And here you are two years later, still doing that. Maybe it cleared your issues for a while. But if the root cause wasn’t addressed, maybe now your symptoms are back, and maybe they’re even worse than they were before. 

Dr. Heather Finley  07:47

So I like to call this the SIBO or the symptom rollercoaster, you keep buying tickets to the fair that you no longer want to go to. And what what this will help you to identify is just using SIBO for an example. SIBO is a symptom of a greater root cause, um, or have a greater issue. And so maybe for you, you’re the reason that you have SIBO is because you have large intestinal bacterial overgrowth. Or maybe it’s because you’re really stressed. And so the symptoms are going to come back regardless. Let’s touch on testing for a second, we get this question a lot. Like,

Dr. Heather Finley  08:27

what tests do I need to have before I start the gut Together program? Or what test should I request from my doctor or what tests are helpful? I’m definitely of the mindset that testing is helpful, but not when you’re spending multiple 1000s of dollars on testing. One of the tests that we do for our clients that helps us to identify some of the root causes is the GI map. And we use that because it shows what’s going on in the gut at the current time and can give us insight into why you feel the way that you do. So that test can be helpful, of course, doing a SIBO test to see if you do or don’t have SIBO could be helpful, we don’t actually always recommend that for for every single client. But you don’t need a ton of tests to identify root causes one or two, depending on your case. I know we’ve had several clients with mold toxicity. So that can be helpful to identify. 

Dr. Heather Finley  09:26

But the first thing that you want to really want to start with is your symptoms. So you can put on your detective hat here and start looking at when did your symptoms start? So maybe you can keep a timeline or you can write down a timeline of when your symptoms started. And you could even trace it all the way back to birth. So right anything that happened in your life leading up to where you are now, and it might make a lot of sense to you. Looking at this timeline to see when your symptoms started or what has maybe trigger them to get progressively worse. So that might be a homework assignment that you can do is go and create a health history and see what’s what could have contributed to the symptoms, maybe you had IV antibiotics for a while for something, or maybe you had a head injury, and that triggered your symptoms. 

Dr. Heather Finley  10:23

Maybe it wasn’t a one event, but maybe it was a couple really small events, maybe you lost your job, and then you got out of a really toxic relationship. And then maybe you went on low FODMAP for three years, like those things could have been snowballed into where you are now. 

Dr. Heather Finley  10:44

So step one, do a health history. Step two is look at the patterns in your symptoms on a day to day basis. You might feel like there is no pattern, but that actually is a pattern not having one. If they’re unpredictable, there’s it’s probably not the food that you’re eating that’s causing the symptoms that you’re having. It’s these underlying digestive issues. I hear from clients all the time, I ate the same thing on Monday. And then I ate it again on Thursday. And why am I having symptoms today, but not on Monday? That just shows that there’s other things at play than food, maybe you didn’t sleep? Well, the night before, maybe your stress was higher, maybe there’s a histamine issue. And as food sits longer, it produces histamine and it can be harder. For those with histamine issues. There’s a lot of reasons. 

Dr. Heather Finley  11:38

So tracking your symptoms, even if you just do it for a week or two weeks, can be helpful looking at when you’re having bowel movements, when you’re not when you’re bloated, what you’re eating, sleep that can really provide insight, we find a lot of our clients have huge lightbulb moments when they realize, Oh, when I sleep eight hours, I feel a lot better or even on the hydration side of things. How much water am I drinking? How much caffeine am I drinking, how much alcohol there’s a lot of other things that could be affecting the symptoms that you’re having. So that’s step two, is looking at the symptoms on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. Even monthly if you are a menstruating female, how does how do your symptoms change throughout the month, that can be really insightful as well. 

Dr. Heather Finley  12:22

And then step three is looking at some of these other triggers and how they affect each other. So for example, if you’ve taken the quiz, which if you haven’t, the link will be in the show notes, I have a quiz that will help you start to identify your root causes. What you want to know about this is a lot of people take my quiz and I think it’s 74% The last time I checked 74% of people that take the quiz get chronic stress as their number one root cause and then I’m getting all these DM saying I’m not stressed. And as I started talking to you guys, you’re like, okay, maybe I am stressed doesn’t just have to be like you’re anxious and stressed all the time. There could be other stressors on your body, including having gut issues, when you have bacterial overgrowth in your gut, that is a stress on your body. When you have histamine intolerance, that is a stress on your body when you have SIBO. That’s a stress on your body. 

Dr. Heather Finley  13:21

So if you have gotten chronic stress, as a result on that quiz, don’t write it off. Because now we want to see if you don’t feel like your stress. Now we want to see what the actual causes of stress are. Maybe it’s lack of sleep, maybe it’s dehydration, maybe it’s mineral imbalances, there’s so many things that can cause stress on the body. And typically, it’s not just one thing, it’s an accumulation of stress. And so you might be able to tolerate some stress. But then when you add in digestive issues, it overflows your stress bucket. So stress, maybe that’s your number one root cause that’s going to affect the entire digestive process. Stress is going to decrease stomach acidity, it’s going to decrease digestive enzyme availability, it’s going to shut down the entire digestive process, because if your body suspects a stressor, it’s getting prepared to run from a tiger it’s not ready to digest a meal. And so when your brain and your nervous system is in a chronic state of stress, it’s going to affect all the digestive markers. Those are then going to affect bacterial overgrowth in the large in the small intestine. And then bacterial overgrowth decreases your ability to tolerate stress. 

Dr. Heather Finley  14:35

So you can see how this can be a super vicious cycle, and you kind of have to address it from all angles. 

Dr. Heather Finley  14:42

Hey there, I know you are absolutely loving this episode, but I have to jump in really quick and remind you that I have a quick, free quiz that will help you finally figure out why you’re bloated. In order to live a life free of discomfort. You need to figure out what the root causes that’s making you experience the he’s uncomfortable symptoms. The easiest and fastest way to do this is by visiting Dr. Heather finley.co backslash quiz. Take the quiz as soon as you can, so you can transform your gut issues and lead a happier, more vibrant life. Now let’s get back to the episode. 

Dr. Heather Finley  15:17

So let’s get into some of the root causes. The first root cause that we typically see, in addition to stress as a really common one is a brain gut access issue, or a motility issue. So if you struggle at all with constipation or even diarrhea, you could have a motility issue. And motility really means the contraction the movement of the gut muscles, so maybe they’re moving too quickly, maybe they’re moving too slowly. But when you have a brain gut access issue, obviously, this is going to impact your intestinal movement, but it’s also going to impact the brain because if you have an anxious gut, you will have an anxious mind. It’s very common to have a brain get access issue. If you’ve had a previous food poisoning event, this actually will damage the nerves that are responsible for motility. So when you go back to that timeline from step one, make sure that you note if you remember any incidents of food poisoning, but you’re migrating motor function and your motility function is really important because if your gut can’t move effectively, then things are either moving too quickly through your gut and you’re not getting the benefit there. Or they’re moving too slowly and you are things are sitting in your gut overgrowing fermenting and causing all the unwanted bloating and gas and maybe even cramping that you’re experiencing.

Dr. Heather Finley  16:41

The next root cause that we see is large intestinal bacterial overgrowth. I think people focus so much on SIBO all the time, and they’re so worried about getting rid of their SIBO, but they’re not focused on the landscape of their large intestine. So dysbiosis or large intestinal bacterial overgrowth can occur with slow motility. When you have slow motility. As I mentioned, things are sitting in the gut, they’re fermenting their overgrowing. And they can cause a lot of those unwanted symptoms. variety in your diet is key to feed these good gut bacteria. Adequate stomach acid is necessary to help with emptying and you have to manage your stress because if your body is in a state of stress, it’s going to affect the motility and the movement of your large intestines. So we want to focus on nourishing that gut bacteria, feeding them the fuel source that they prefer prebiotic fiber, or poly phenols, resistant starch, versus just restricting them and continuing to starve them of their preferred fuel source. So as I mentioned, you can use something like a GI map, sometimes people use gi effects. There’s lots of different tests, to look at digestive markers to look at the landscape of the large intestines, you can look at h pylori on some of these tests. But it’s important to see what’s going on there. And a lot of times, when we do these tests on our clients, we see that actually their good bacteria is starved. And that’s part of why they’re bloated and constipated. And having the symptoms that they are is because they don’t have adequate good bacteria in the gut. The next root cause that we see I already already mentioned, but is chronic stress. And as I mentioned, it’s the number one root cause that we see. And I want you to remember that stress comes in all forms. So of course, it could be psychological and mental. It could be gut issues, it could be hormone issues. You can even have stress on your body from under eating, or over exercising. You want to look at the overall picture and see what are the stressors that could be contributing to the symptoms that you’re having, and try to implement some kind of stress reduction throughout your day. Everyone can use stress reduction. And often I get comments whenever I post about stress on Instagram, often I get comments like wouldn’t it be nice to not be stressed. And of course, that would be nice. But the goal is not to eliminate all stress. That’s impossible, and some stress is good. Stress gets us to move and do things. So the goal is not necessarily to eliminate all stress and live in this like euphoric environment. It’s to rewire your body’s ability to manage stress. And you can do that by just making time to have fun and participate in hobbies, even if it’s 15 minutes a day. You can do this by spending time with loved ones. It’s really easy when you’re on a digestive health journey to only focus on healing, and you need to find time to do things that you love and spend time with people that you love. Otherwise it becomes really isolating and the lack of pleasure and joy and Your Life. And the increase in stress could actually be contributing to your symptoms more than you know.

Dr. Heather Finley  20:07

Another root cause that we see that is actually part of my story is hypothyroidism. There’s a lot of mechanisms here. But what you need to know is a slow thyroid equals a slow gut. So if you struggle at all with bloating, constipation, you typically, you could have hypothyroidism. And typically, if you have hyperthyroidism, meaning your thyroid is moving too quickly, you will have the opposite issue. So typically, that’s going to be associated with diarrhea. So it’s important to check your thyroid if you’re fatigued if your face is puffy. If your hair is falling out rapidly, if you have unexplained weight gain, it might be worth checking into your thyroid. I know that this was part of my story, as I mentioned, and it was missed for a really long time. And had I known, I would have obviously gotten help for this. But essentially, I started doing my own research and went to my doctor and said, I need you to check my thyroid, and they even gave me pushback like you’re fine, you don’t need your thyroid checked. Well, turns out, I not only had hypothyroidism, I had Hashimotos. And so if I hadn’t advocated for myself, who knows how long it would have taken for them to discover that, and addressing my thyroid was literally a game changer for me on my gut health journey. So you definitely want to monitor this and work with a provider that’s going to help you there. The next root cause that we see and one of the often missed root causes is your ability to digest your digestion matters. And as I mentioned earlier, oftentimes people focus so much on like, I just, I have SIBO, I need to take the antibiotics, I need to get rid of it. If you can’t digest food, and everything before food ends up in your small intestine isn’t working, then you’re going to continue to fail SIBO treatment or even if you don’t have SIBO, you’re going to continue bottoming out on some of these interventions, because you need adequate stomach acid, you need adequate pancreatic enzymes, you need adequate bile flow. And that actually all starts with how you eat not what you eat. So if you are not sitting down and enjoying a meal, if you’re rushing through meals, if you’re not chewing Well, the the sub phallic phase of digestion, what we often refer to in our program as meal hygiene, meal hygiene is the way in which you eat. And it’s very important, about 30% of digestion starts here. So you’ve probably all had an experience where maybe you walked past a bakery and you smelled something really delicious. And you started salivating and you said, I wasn’t hungry, until I smelled this food. Well, that’s the cephalic phase, you’re smelling something and your body is getting prepared to digest. So you start salivating, that saliva actually then signals your stomach acid to activate and that activates then enzymes, pancreatic enzymes, and then bile flow to help with digestion. So if you’re rushing through meals, if you’re not even thinking about what you’re eating, if you’re not chewing adequately, this can greatly affect things. You don’t want food ending up in your small intestine not digested. So you can really optimize this by how you eat. Even walking before a meal can help stimulate stimulate bile flow even just for 510 minutes. Eating bitter foods can help with this. So things like arugula, dark chocolate, dandelion greens, those can really help with the digestive piece as well. And then keeping your bowels moving, of course is going to help this entire process. There’s some other root causes that I won’t really go into on this episode today. But just to keep in mind, if you’ve addressed all of these root causes, and you feel like okay, everything head to toe digestion wise is working well, but I’m still having issues. Another root cause could be excess alcohol consumption that’s going to affect the entire digestive process and the landscape of your small and large intestine. Frequent antibiotic usage. This can continue to deplete the good bacteria in the gut, long term PPI usage. If you’ve used a proton pump inhibitor, maybe you were told you had acid reflux for a long time.

Dr. Heather Finley  24:39

That’s going to affect everything your stomach has to fill with acid in order to empty and so we need adequate stomach acid their poor sleep as I mentioned earlier, poor mindset. There’s really interesting research about how even negative thoughts are going to deplete your gut immune system. done, there’s a marker that you can look at on the GI map called Secretory IgA. And this is a marker of your gut, immune system. And even negative thoughts or stressful thoughts are going to deplete this. So you could be doing all the quote unquote, right things. But if you still think negatively about your symptoms about really anything in your life, this is going to make it really hard for you to feel better. And we see Secretory IgA super depleted on a lot of the tests that we do with our clients. And typically it’s from under eating and that gut bacteria being starved from being on elimination diets for so long. But it also can be from chronic stress and poor mindset. Some other things that could be root causes or could be inhibiting you from feeling better would be different medications. We’ve seen this with Accutane. And then of course, birth control, which I won’t get into On this episode, that could be a whole episode in itself. But what I want you to hear from this episode is first just give you some action steps one is start tracking your symptoms on a daily basis and see if some of these other things like sleep, hydration, mindset, even environment are contributing to the unpredictability of your symptoms. Also do that health timeline and see what maybe was the straw that broke the camel’s back on your symptoms or what, what started the snowball effect of the symptoms that you’re having. And then the third is if you need more support. This hopefully gives you some things to look into as far as what could be contributing to your symptoms if you’ve had recurrent symptoms, and you can’t seem to get them to go away. Because no longer do you want to keep just throwing things at your symptoms, you want to actually address what’s causing them. So I hope that this was helpful. If it was shoot me a DM over an Instagram, letting me know so or letting me know what questions you have. And I’m so excited to hear from you in what you’re implementing and what was helpful from this episode. 

Dr. Heather Finley  27:14

So thanks so much for tuning in. And I’ll see you next week on the next episode of the love your gut podcast. 

Please note that this episode is not a substitute for medical advice. And you should always consult your healthcare provider prior to making any changes.

I’m giving your gut a thumbs up because you just finished another episode of the love your gut podcast. Thanks so much for listening in to this episode. I hope it was helpful.

I am so excited because my book The Healthy, Happy Gut Cookbook is now available for pre order. This book is designed to help you identify the causes of your symptoms, give you really actionable steps to address them, and help you love food again and get back in the kitchen. So not only is it packed with tons of info, it’s also packed with over 50 delicious recipes that I’m so excited for you to try. When you preorder this book, you not only get the book on your doorstep on December 20, just in time for Christmas, but you also get access to some bonus trainings and a live q&a call with me in December. So we will be releasing more info about that soon. But I would absolutely love it if you would pre order the book and share it with a friend who might need it as well. The link to preorder the book is in the show notes and also on my website.

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Hi, I’m Dr. Heather

Registered dietitian and helps people struggling with bloating, constipation, and IBS find relief from their symptoms and feel excited about food again.

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