When All your Stress Goes to your Stomach

 

It’s a quiet day. You’ve finished up that contract before your vacation. The kids really like their new day camp. You feel pretty good, considering the roller coaster you’ve been on recently. You’re excited thinking about that new chicken recipe you’ll try tonight.

Then your mother calls to say that your father’s in the hospital again. It’s nothing major, but at his age, isn’t everything potentially major?

All thoughts of dinner leave your head.

In fact, your appetite gets kicked to the curb for the next few days, even once you know everything’s okay. Then your mystery cramps come back. You’re bloated and have to rush to the bathroom every couple of hours.

It’s how you felt before you admitted your marriage was done. It’s how you felt when you were finishing your Masters, when you were applying to university,… As long as you can remember, all your stress has gone to your belly.

You chalked it up to hormones, blamed it on your menstrual cycle.

You went through phases of fat-free diets, sugar-free diets, candida cures and giving up gluten. You’ve been tested for allergies and GERD with inconclusive results. You’ve taken Tums like candy and occasionally graduate to Pantoloc.

Some things help. Some don’t.

Some help until the next upset comes, and you start to understand the pattern.

 

You (over)react readily to everything. You feel things so deeply.

You’re sensitive.

I bet you grew up hearing that as if it were a bad thing.

“You’re so sensitive!” thrown out by other kids when you cried from missing the ball.

Your mother apologizing to strangers for your tantrum with, “she’s very sensitive.”

“Toughen up!”

You eventually learned to curb your reactions to life so as not to upset other people and not draw unwanted attention to yourself. Come to think of it, that’s when your belly started acting up.

Yes, you’re sensitive.

Your senses are highly attuned to your environment – that’s a good thing!

The 5 senses are the feelers that inform your nervous system of impending danger. Being able to recognize when you’re not safe is a strong survival instinct!

You’re sensitive also means that you are likely vulnerable to the subtler energy all around you:

  • your mother’s anger at your father as she quietly makes dinner;
  • the noise & chaos of all those kids in the class;
  • the overwhelming vibrations of the people on a crowded subway or at a concert;
  • the electromagnetic impulses whirling around your TV and computer and cell phone.

You are picking up more than you know, more than you want, and it plays into how much you can tolerate within your usual day.

With such a fine-tuned nervous system, your emotions are also closer to the surface, quicker to react.

Emotions are the movement that allows you to respond to that potential danger, and get you to safety. (Read more about the movement of emotions here.)

The French word for sensitive is sensible.

Sensible. The word we use in English to denote rational or logical. Considering that your survival is at stake, I’d say it’s rather sensible to be sensitive.

 

How your belly gets involved

A good portion of your nervous and immune systems are active in your digestive tract. Makes sense, considering that it’s one of the main ways we interact with the outside world, taking it directly into our bodies.

Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good and calms us down as part of the relaxation response, plays a role in appetite and digestive capacity.

If your nerves are reacting strongly to life, then so will your digestion.

It’s not just you. We all do: butterflies in the stomach when we’re nervous, can’t eat or eat too much under stress.

The more sensitive your nervous system, the more you’ll feel in your gut. The longer your digestion gets jostled by your stress level, the more it will lead to physiological issues and problems related to inflammation. Think about it, the “inflammation” itself is a direct manifestation of reaction to stress and emotion (anger).

Certain foods will be a problem for a variety of reasons.

  • Overstimulation from a food you eat all the time, in the same way you can get “sick” of the same pop song coming on every radio station every hour.
  • An underlying allergy to a food
  • Inflammation or genetic conditions impairing your ability to digest certain food
  • Poor quality foods, like trans fats, refined sugar, rancidity or mold, that your body doesn’t recognize as food and provoke inflammation
  • Reactions to the additives, bleaches, preservatives, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and radiation meant to keep our food safe
  • The way food was grown, harvested, processed, transported and handled by retailers will effect the energy of the food itself. If you’re highly sensitive, you may also be picking up on the vibrations and emotional states of the people involved in getting it to your table.

 

What can you do about it?

Here are but a few ideas to get you started:

Eat in a state of calm – engage the relaxation response by taking deep breaths or take a moment to give gratitude before you eat.

Meditate, to calm your nervous system in general.

Ground any anxiety with movement or by getting out in Nature regularly.

Eat clean.

Eat local and get to know the people who grow and prepare your food.

 

How does stress show up in your body? When you share your experiences in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

 

Make a gift of this article to your friend with the constantly upset stomach, using any of the links here.

Why Worry about Calories? There’s enough to worry about already

 

Rather than count calories, I prefer to follow the kindergarten rules, or what my family calls the cottage rules.

You know, eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. The very basics of listening to your body also include sleeping when you’re tired and going to the bathroom when you get the urge.

Yes, there are days when I don’t heed those signals. Some days I eat too much; other times I eat too little or stay up too late.

In the end, it all evens out…more or less, maybe gaining or losing a few pounds here and there.

Being healthy is the key for me, more than the weight. Feeling energized enough to do what I want to do in life, and fitting comfortably into my clothes.

With so many variables in life draining our worry batteries, something as basic as eating ought not be added to that list. Better to stay present to your body and your food while you eat it, and pay attention to when it’s had enough or needs more.

So, let me expand on some of those rules.

Here’s a rough guide to some of the ways your body talks to you at mealtime, what it might be saying, and how you might want to respond.

1. Hunger is your body’s way of saying your blood sugar’s getting low, i.e. your brain needs food.

Choose something nutrient dense (not refined) to ensure that your blood sugar will stay on an even keel for a good while.

 

2. When you start to feel energized during a meal, that’s a sign you’ve had enough and your digestive tract has started to work on it. Yes, this requires you to slow down and draw a certain amount of awareness to your body as you eat.

Stop eating. (Anything left on your plate can be packed away for snack later, or tomorrow’s lunch.)

 

3. If you feel sluggish at the end of a meal, you may have eaten too much, and more energy than necessary has been diverted to its digestion.

Other than just wait it out, and not engage in anything too strenuous, you can take some bitters to speed the emptying of your stomach.

 

4. Getting jittery or sleepy immediately after you eat starchy/sweet food can be a signal that you’ve eaten too little protein or fat or fibre in that meal/snack.

Eat a stalk of celery, to help your body metabolize the excess sugar, and a handful of nuts or seeds to add protein, fat and fibre into the mix.

 

5. A heavy feeling, like the food’s just sitting in your stomach can be the result of a fat-rich meal. For me, it’s always the creamy dessert at the end of a big meal that does it. Alcohol can also slow down or even stop your digestion.

The heavy feeling may also indicate low stomach acid, especially if you just ate a meat meal. Heartburn, belching, constipation and gas are other symptoms of that state.

Drink a shot of water with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to stimulate your stomach and get things going.

 

Adolescent rules that also make sense:

When I was 14, my girlfriend and I came up with the rule that if you eat the same number of calories as your best friend, they cancel each other out. We were notorious for making Dagwood-worthy sandwiches and decadently dressed ice cream sundaes, so it was crucial that we find a way to be “allowed” to eat that way and still be true to our Seventeen-inspired world.

There may be no scientific proof, but I still believe in that theory.

Enjoying a meal in the company of people you love, of friends who make you laugh and stimulate your mind – people with whom you can truly be yourself – is just as nourishing to your being as the food on your plate.

Have you ever noticed you can eat some of your no-no food on holiday without issue and you might even lose weight? Or, that you can drink cocktails & wine at a party where you deeply connect with others and get no hangover?

If your heart, your mind and your soul are nourished as well as your body, you raise your vibration, stoke your inner fire, which raises your metabolism. Everything works better, when you’re in your body, in your flow, including your ability to digest, absorb, assimilate and eliminate – you extract the goodness and release anything that doesn’t serve you on all levels.

Which leads me to conclude that the connection to, and expression of, who you are is what matters most to good eating habits. It’s a matter of being your Self.

The bonus? When you’re satiated at a deeper level, you body won’t be looking for the love, connection, attention and fulfillment in a bag of chips or a pint of ice cream.

 

Note: If you’re working hard to lose weight or have just started a running program or intense exercise of some sort, and it’s best that you do count calories for a time, read this first.

 

What do you notice your body doing during a meal? Does it change depending on the day? When you share your thoughts in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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I’m Good All Day, then I Lose It after Supper

 

If I had a dime for every time I hear that one… clients and friends who start each day fresh, with new resolve to eat better and take better care of themselves, only to find themselves at the bottom of a cookie bag by bedtime.

I know the drill: you just want a little something sweet. One cookie turns to 3…plus a square of chocolate. Maybe a handful of chips, …may as well get a bowl…

Raise your hand if you’ve caught yourself in front of the fridge looking for something to do.

My mind also likes another type of rationale when I’ve eaten one of my no-nos (dairy & gluten), because that’s what was on offer or because there was a particularly fabulous version I didn’t want to pass up. Since I’ve already “cheated”, I may as well keep going.

I know perfectly well that one croissant or grilled cheese sandwich, once in a blue moon, won’t do me much harm, but, I definitely suffer when I overdo it.

Sure, there’s the 80/20 rule and cutting yourself some slack, and being forgiving rather than beating yourself up. What’s going on when things shift to 20/80 or the premenstrual grazing becomes a daily habit?

When the exception becomes the rule, it’s a sign there’s something more going on.

It may be a physical addiction to sugar or to an allergen. Yes, you can get addicted to things you’re mildly allergic to because it sets you up for a cascade of adrenaline and other stimulating biochemicals which give you a certain satisfaction beyond the taste of the food. Anything that tickles the ol’ brain chemistry is going to have your body calling out for more.

Certain aspects of addiction are about associations, so, we also start looking for the psychological need for a certain food.

Yes, it means digging around in the stories of your past yet again to discover the source of the issue. Once you shed light on it, though, you can more easily dust out the corners and then let its significance fade into the background.

A single woman came to me with headaches and other discomforts. Going through her eating habits, she admitted that she often ate a large bag of chips for supper. As we sifted through that fact, she remembered her alcoholic father, cruel and abusive most of the time, would occasionally come home on a bender, lavishing joyful attention on the kids, and declare it a party, complete with pop and chips. In her childhood mind, chips became indelibly linked with love. What more obvious food choice to make when the adult arrives home, stressed and lonely at the end of the day?

The fact is, under all of your grazing there’s an emotional need for something more.

A divorced man needed my help him with weight loss; a mother of a difficult teenager wanted my support to stick to her anti-inflammatory diet. Both were the epitome of the mindful eater who loses it after supper. One struggled with anger management and feared he’d never have someone in his life again; the other couldn’t get over the way her husband walked out the year before and left her to deal with the child alone. Both were clearly using the snacks as a way of burying the huge and overwhelming feelings that were never far from the surface – rage, grief and self-hatred and a basic desire to be loved. Scary stuff – the kind that you fear will take over and never leave if you let them in.

Without the junk-food as a crutch and a hiding place, they were each forced to come face-to-face with what they were feeling, experience it and move through it.

Maybe you don’t have any overt drama in your past and you’re not suppressing any big emotions, thank you very much. Maybe it’s just a few snacks in front of the TV.

How to get through the evening without snacks

 

Nothing wrong with that on occasion. If, however, that’s the norm; if you can’t face the evening without numbing out with TV & snacks, then it’s time to address what’s going on underneath.

  • Compensating for a lack of love,
  • Hiding from grief or anger or loneliness;
  • Craving something in your life but can’t put your finger on it;
  • Knowing what you want, but can’t sort out how to get it.

Until you sit with those thoughts & feelings, say hello to them, let them expand so you can explore what they need from you, you will stay stuck in that vicious cycle of grazing.

 

Offer yourself the white space for your thoughts and feelings to emerge.

It might will get messy and uncomfortable; let it be so.

Take some flower essences.

Call on your support system when you need them.

 

The peace you find on the other side with be well worth it.

 

What happens to you, inside, when you choose to stay away from the evening snacks? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

 

Send this post to a friend who’s stuck on this wheel, and let her know that you’ve got her back while she works through whatever comes up.

I Know What to Do, I Just Don’t Do It.

 

I get it.

There are only so many hours in a day. You only have so much creative energy and only so much will power. You’re keeping the family happy, you’re effective at work; how can you be expected to be consistent with positive food changes?

You know perfectly well that to lose the weight, heal your digestive woes, calm the allergies, you’ll have to cut out an entire grocery list of foods & additives, squash a lifetime of bad eating habits, and probably eat more vegetables.

The theory’s all mapped out in your head, but you just can’t seem to put those good intentions into action.

Instead, you use what precious little energy you have left at the end of the day to beat yourself up about everything you should be doing while mindlessly inhaling a pint of cherry chocolate with a salt & vinegar chaser.

It’s a slippery slope, isn’t it? You start by taking stabs at your poor food choices, until your mind inevitably points out how you haven’t been feeding the kids so well lately, not to mention all the other bad parenting moments you’ve had this week, …how did you think you can be an effective parent with everything else you’re dealing with? What were you thinking? Did you really think you could manage it all?…Is this boat you’re in all your fault because you chose the wrong man in the first place?…And now you’re going to be a fat, lonely slob for the rest of your life!

How stupid are you?!?

STOP THAT!

Right now. Just stop. Take a breath.

We’ll look at the mindless junk food habit next time; for now, let’s talk about the self-flagellation.

Would you talk to anyone else that way? Would you tell a friend what an idiot she is for eating ice cream or getting divorced? I’d wager not.

It’s time to stop being so tough on yourself and try a bit of tough love instead. You know, set yourself straight in the kind way you would with a small child you care about.

Another good theory, but it’s where you get stuck in the follow-through.

It comes down to perfection. That habit you have whereby, if you’re not going to do something to the letter, the way the experts and the health nuts do it, you’re not even going to bother.

Tell me, if the boss handed you a list of what she expects you to accomplish over the next 6 months, and told you to get it all figured out tomorrow, you’d freak out, right? You’d quit your job, or report it to the higher-ups. If, however, she explained the big picture of the goals she wants to reach by the end of the year, then gave you the first pieces to start on, it would be simple, doable.

Same goes with how you nourish yourself.

Consistent, positive food changes require awareness, small steps and a hint of tough love.

 

If you’ve given even half the thought to all the possible solutions you’ve googled, there are likely a few options that stand out, whether you want to admit it or not. Trust that wisdom. Chances are there’s a reason you zoned in on them.

 

Of all the things you know you need to do to get your body back to its happy place, pick one.

Just one. It will likely be complex in and of itself.

For example, giving up dairy is one thing you know might help your digestion.

 

Break it down further:

Become aware of when and how you eat it: notice through the course of a few days and/or write down all the foods you normally eat that contain some form of dairy – milk, cream, ice cream, yogourt, cheese, whey powder, butter,…

Now choose ONE of those, and replace it: instead of the milk/cream you use in a day, put almond milk in your coffee, coconut milk in your porridge or your soup, have tomato/vegetable sauce on your pasta… after a few days, even a week, move onto to replacing the cheese, and so on…

In the same way you would track the metrics and such of how your work project is progressing, you can understand how well these changes are helping (or not) by observing your body, your energy, your moods.

Notice how you feel after a meal without the usual ingredient.

Notice if any of your symptoms calm. Maybe nothing happens after a week of no milk, but eliminating the cheese then makes a difference, …does it improve more when you reduce your dairy sources even further?

What happens to your appetite, your hunger and your satiety?

What happens to your cravings?

Has your sleep improved? Your energy?

Notice where you still get stuck.

Have you run out of ideas? Do you lack motivation? Would you kill for a piece of cheese?

Get help if you need it.

 

Every journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Same applies to self-care habits.

Pick a habit to change.
Trust yourself to stick with it.
Notice what happens.

 

What do you KNOW you have to change and where do you get stuck? When you share your thoughts in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Know someone who’s been lacking consistency in her food habits? Send her this post using any (or all!) of these buttons.

The Secret to Moving Forward

 

In the previous post, I told you about my friend, Sharon*, with the chronically sore wrist and upset stomach; how she’d asked me what I meant exactly by “listen to your body” and “talk to your wrist”. A few weeks later, I followed up with her and hit upon an important key for any kind of healing to work.

Sharon told me how she’d decided to try energetic healing; Reiki being one and another she’d heard about at a conference. She was comfortable with the concept of Reiki, allowing whatever emotional release or images or realizations to come up. The other technique, done over the phone and quick-acting was also touted as clearing blocks from generations of stuck emotions; this she had a harder time believing.

Was it the distance? The speed? The idea of having her great-grandmother’s frustrations lodged in her wrist that caused her to doubt?

It ultimately came down to the fact that she experienced shifts with Reiki and had no “proof” of the other thing working, other than the practitioner saying that she was “done”. Yet, in neither circumstance was there a moment when she consciously “heard” the exact nature of what’s irritating her body, nor a clear solution.

So, she brushed off any effectiveness. During our conversation, though, she kept saying that her stomach and wrist were feeling better, relating it more easily to new meds than anything else she’d tried.

Reminds me of a story that Louise Hay tells in one of her books, about a visually impaired woman who’d recovered her sight after working with Ms. Hay. She walked around for a week saying, “I can’t believe I can see,” and not surprisingly, by the end of the week, she was back to square one.

Like this woman, Sharon doubted the power of the energetic work.

That’s right. It comes down to faith. It comes down to trusting the process, whether you can see the end results or not.

 

Whether health-related or not, this is the same kind of resistance that holds us back when anything new presents itself in our lives. (Read here about the pain of transition.)

You fear the part you can’t see yet – what it’ll be like to live on your own or in a new city; what it’ll be like once your business takes off or your pain is healed. We get so used to how things are now. No matter how much we want them to change, or, no matter how much we feel our world’s coming to an end when the change is unexpected, we have a hard time projecting ourselves into the unknown territory on the other side.

We fear the unknown.

I get it. I was so scared of what splitting up would do to my kids, I was temporarily willing to fold myself back up into the unfulfilled ball I needed to be to stay in that marriage. I was so afraid of walking away from the support and old-slipper comfort of my life in one city, I fleetingly considered ending a second marriage to avoid having to move away.

My friend, in healing her wrist and stomach, will be letting go of the traumatic end to her own marriage. Staying locked in a place of “I have been a victim” has been the driving definition of her life for 8 years. By walking away from it all – by trusting the potential offered to her by her recent energetic sessions, she is saying yes to herself. She is saying yes to a part of herself that she has yet to discover. How exciting!

How scary.

No wonder she’d rather doubt and hold back.

As I learned by following the suggestions of healthcare practitioners over the years, as I learned by embracing life as a divorced mother, as I learned by opening myself to the possibilities of a new city, at a certain point, you have to trust where the road is taking you.

Consider that these changes in your life might be the answers to requests you made of the universe months or even years ago. You never know.

It’s quite possible that in signing up for the energetic work, Sharon was in some way listening to deepest needs.

How and What to Trust.

* When you ask for help, trust that what shows up is what you need in that moment.

When you choose to hire an expert, or read their book, or follow their blog, trust that she has the expertise and experience to get you where you need to go on this leg of the journey. She’s been where you are, she knows how to get you through.

Trust that she holds a vision of what’s possible for you, even if you can’t see it yet.

When you come upon a new experience, trust that is has gifts for you even if you don’t see them in the moment.

* Trust that you are safe.

Trust that your support system (the professionals, your friends, your family, your gods/angels/spirit guides) and your inner knowing all have your back, and will get you through this, no matter how long, no matter how hard.

* Most importantly, trust yourself.

“I can’t…, I don’t believe…, this never works for me,…” these are words of doubt and resistance; they will only become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Trust yourself to stay open to what happens. Even in listening to your own body’s wisdom, trust that wisdom…and trust your body’s capacity to heal.

Trust yourself to use the tools you’ve been offered. In any kind of healing – health, marriage, business, parenting,… – there’s always homework, action to reinforce the lessons and insights. Don’t question the validity of the exercise, simply trust that there’s a reason you’re being told to do something, even if it’s not immediately clear to you.

Trust yourself to do the work.

When you want and need to move forward into the unknown of your life, resistance will rear its fear-drenched head. Take a deep breath and trust.

* not her real name

What has held you back from moving forward with your health and your life? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Any of your friends lost in the mud of transition? Send her this post using any (or all!) of these buttons.