Gut health: Interview with Sam Johnson NTP

This is an interview with Nutritional Therapy Practitioner Sam Johnson from Anchored Wellness. She talks about her years of dealing with digestive discomfort and what she wished she knew back then. You can find Sam via her beautiful website

Tell me a little bit about your background and where you were raised?

I’m originally from Calgary, I came to the island [Vancouver Island, BC] for University and stayed out here.

What were you raised eating?

We ate pretty well as a family when I was younger. My mum always made a habit that whatever we ate we always had this huge bowl of salad with dinner, we all picked at it and got salad on our plates. We ate a lot of pasta though. It was quick and it was easy. Pasta, meat, a lot of meat, lots of vegetables.

What led you onto your path to studying nutrition?
I’ve always been interested in nutrition. I remember when I was younger making smoothies and wanting to make everything healthy. In 2013 I went travelling away to Thailand for 2 months. When I got home I noticed that my digestion was horrible, but I’ve always had really bad digestion.

When I was a baby I had my stomach pumped twice. I remember my mum telling me my stomach was always hurting and I would get really bad ear infections. I would also have a huge rash in the winter time underneath my bottom lip. I think I’ve just always been prone to digestive issues.

I went to the University of Victoria for kinesiology and almost finished my degree. I had one more year left and I realised I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to go on to be a physiotherapist or a chiropractor. I was going back and forth between figuring out if I wanted to finish my degree and then continuing on to do something like becoming a registered dietitian or some sort of nutrition program. Then I said nope, I have no desire to finish this degree and found the Nutritional Therapy Association. I dropped out of school and did the NTP program. Now we’re here.

What were the digestive issues like when you came back from Thailand?

At the time I was still eating healthy, it wasn't that I was eating like garbage or a lot of sugar. I think I caught a parasite or some sort of bug when I was travelling and I didn't know anything about it. Then I ended up seeing a gastroenterologist, did an endoscopy - they put the camera down my throat. She thought nothing was wrong with me or she didn't know what was wrong.

I was experiencing a lot of burping immediately after I ate, bloating, I wasn't hungry, I got so uncomfortably full. Some days I would be fine with vegetables and some days I would be fine with gluten and dairy. The next day the smallest thing would set me off so I didn't really understand what was causing it. I saw a nutritionist, she didn't know, she thought it was something to do with birch tree fruits and vegetables [pollen-food syndrome]. She told me to remove gluten but that didn't help.

Then I found out what we learned in the NTA about stomach acid. It wasn't until last year that I got it under control, my digestion has been much better.

Do you still experience digestive symptoms now?

Not too much anymore. Sometimes I notice different foods trigger it. I know I can’t have onions and garlic, onions are the bigger trigger. Also if I’m stressed, for example going through exams last year that's was a big one. I know if I go off from my regular eating habits, if I go out to eat a couple times a week then it’s going to happen. I usually take a digestive enzyme before the meal and that helps.

Sam loves to cook and lives with her dog and boyfriend on Vancouver Island, BC.

Sam loves to cook and lives with her dog and boyfriend on Vancouver Island, BC.

Is there one thing that you know now that you wish you knew back then?

Learning how important stomach acid is. Learning why when you're burping, when you’re bloated, when you have any sort of digestive discomfort, acid reflux, look at your symptoms and think “could I be not producing enough stomach acid?”. I wish my gastroenterologist knew that because you would think she should know something about stomach acid or anything to do with the digestive system if she is a digestive system doctor.

Also for so many years of being in University, learning about the nervous system and how our body works from being in Kinesiology I never really thought about why being in a parasympathetic [rest and digest] state is so crucial for digestion. We learned all about the different nerves that innervate different muscles and different organs in anatomy but it never really clicked until NTA. Now I know you have to be in a parasympathetic state. They never really taught you at UVic about how to go into this state, the NTA showed you how to transfer your body from sympathetic to parasympathetic.

What's your favourite way to treat yourself without compromising your health?

I don’t really look at treating yourself as a compromise. If you're going to go out and have sugar, just eat it and don’t feel bad about it. The biggest treat that I like to give myself is self-care. For me, this looks like my skincare routine, a nice bath or good quality chocolate.

What are your health non-negotiables?

Drinking water, making sure I drink at least two litres a day. If I can find an hour for myself to do some sort of sweat/movement then I find another hour in the day to take my dog for a walk, that is something I do every day.

I wash my face every day. I use a super simple cleanser from this company based in Victoria (Miiko). I put on a super simple toner and then face serum. I do this morning, night and usually after I workout. The product line is all natural and made with local ingredients, mainly from Vancouver Island.