The Real Reason you Need Fibre

 

As with many nutrients, people have a general, preconceived idea about their need for dietary fibre. As with many nutrients, those notions come from ad campaigns: orange juice for vitamin C, bananas for potassium and fibre to keep you regular.

True, but only part of the picture (for all those nutrients). Fibre is a key ingredient in the Magic Looking Glass for Eating Right for more reasons than pooping well.

In exploring the beautiful reflection you see in your meals through the Magic Looking Glass for Eating Right, you are also learning to reflect a deeper care of yourself. This is self-love in action. Eating a balance of nourishing food you enjoy is one of the concrete ways you express self-love – it’s a form of radical self-care. Each of the nutrients in the looking glass framework offer you an important angle for eating right AND show you how you can nourish your best self.

FIBRE PLAYS A VITAL ROLE IN THE OVERALL NOURISHMENT OF YOUR BODY AND SPEAKS VOLUMES TO HOW YOU NOURISH YOUR LIFE.

(Be sure to read right to the end to get to this essential point!)

fibre nourishes your life

Let’s start with the fibre basics:

What is dietary fibre?

Fibre is a complex carbohydrate, that is, it’s part of our plant-based nutrition.

It holds the plant upright by holding water within the plant (think flower stem or celery stalk).

It protects and preserves the seed or fruit by preventing water from getting in (a grain’s bran, the coat of a legume, rind).

It holds the water necessary for the fruit/vegetable to grow, flower and reproduce.

Fibre is either soluble – it can dissolve in water, bulking it up and making it gelatinous or even slimy (tapioca, oats, seaweed, pectin) – or it’s insoluble, like the coats & stalks mentioned above.

Because of its structure, the human digestive tract cannot break fibre apart the way it can starch, sugars, protein or fat. Some fibre is so tough we can’t eat it at all (corn husks, shells, avocado or pineapple rind). That indigestibility and its propensity to hold water are exactly how fibre provides its essential functions to the body.

 

Why you need fibre

Each type of fibre plays a specific role in your body, though fibre in general has many advantages.

In your mouth, fibre-rich food require more chewing to break it down. Cooking will also break it down to a certain extent, depending on the method (think steamed, boiled, roasted or raw carrots). The chewing and/or cooking allow you to access the other nutrients bound within the fibre’s strands. As chewing is the first stage of both digestion and immunity in your gut, I’m all for anything that encourages you do it more!

While in your stomach & small intestine, fibre contributes to satiety – that satisfied feeling of having had enough. With fibre in your meal, you feel satisfied sooner and stay that way longer, because it takes a little more work for your digestive juices to access the goods. That is, it allows for a slow, sustainable release of glucose into your blood, as opposed to the burst and peaks & valleys from more refined choices. (Read more about good carb sources here.)

Soluble fibre swells with water. This could be as part of your meal, as in chia pudding or oatmeal, or after you eat, when it soaks up moisture from your digestive juices. Note: this capacity of all fibre to hold water is why it’s always important to hydrate adequately when taking fibre supplements and why Health Canada/ FDA put limits on recommended intake (more about that shortly).

The resulting swollen jelly acts as a sponge as it moves through your intestines. Specifically, soluble fibre mops up bile containing excess cholesterol, hormone bi-products and other fat-soluble toxins released by your liver while cleaning house, and sends them out for disposal. For anyone dealing with estrogen dominance, soluble fibre is an essential part of the nutritional protocols. This is also how soluble fibre (psyllium husks) effectively improves cholesterol and blood sugar levels. (1,2)

Both types will feed your gut flora as they move through. Well-fed beneficial bacteria add to your intestinal immune system and provide you with some vitamins B & K.

Insoluble fibre adds bulk to the bolus (the mass of food moving through your GI tract). Your colon is a large muscle that serves to reabsorb water and move the garbage out. The bulk acts as resistance training for that muscle, giving it something to work against so it can function more effectively. Yes, that’s how fibre helps you poop efficiently.

When working well that efficiency contributes to detoxification and weight management.

 

fibre in foodHow much fibre do you need?

Health Canada/FDA say women need 25 g, men 38 g. As with your caloric intake, that number can vary depending on your size, lifestyle and state of health.

One good way to tell if you’re getting enough? Read your poop.

Of course, this is something to consider in the context of your entire diet, your habits and any health conditions you have, but generally, if your stool is loose or unformed, you may need more fibre; hard & dry, you may need more OR you be getting too much/need more water.

Not enough fibre intake can set you up for diseases such as diverticulitis or colon cancer.

Too much fibre

  • causes constipation and/or dehydration (also caused by lack of water);
  • prevents the absorption of other nutrients, especially if things are moving through too quickly (ideally a meal should take 24-36 hours from plate to toilet – beets help determine that transit time)
  • can interfere with medication
  • can irritate the intestinal tract.

Best to let your holistic nutrition consultant help you find the happy balance.

That’s the physical part. What about…

 

THE SOUL OF FIBRE

Let’s take a moment to look at the qualities you gain from having enough fibre in your diet… in your life. They are the qualities we glean from plants as a whole.

Think about this as you look through the food sources, which ones you eat, and where you lack in your life.

Fibre can be found in its various forms, densities and solubilities in all parts of a plant. Each part nourishes our bodies in its own way; each part teaches us a life lesson in its own way.

Do you remember grade 9 biology, when you learned about photosynthesis? That’s when the leaves make sugar by binding water and carbon dioxide with the sun’s energy. Sugar is literally cosmic energy and the building block for all other parts of the plant. Those sugar molecules link together to make starch, and that most complex polysaccharide: fibre.

lacework of fibre

Lignin molecule

Fibre is a lacework of that energy. The densest expression of heat and light. It gives strength to the plant; sometimes likened to fibreglass in its durability. Yet it can also be flexible. (Remember, too much and you will become hard and dry in your being.

As part of the leaves, it allows that primal reaction to happen by reaching up towards that sunlight. Leaves and their concentration of magnesium nourish your heart, the part of you that reaches for that which you desire, that which lights you up.

The stalk reflects your human need for social order. Have you ever looked at the patterns in the way leaves emerge on a stem? The specific shapes of leaves are part of that order in that the shape denotes its purpose. Think of the large leaves of a rhubarb that shade its heat-sensitive stalks or the spines on a thistle that protect the land from invaders.

The stalk also speaks to your moral fibre. What do you stand for? Are you capable of standing up for yourself?

Fibre holds water, the vital basis of all life. Do your ideas, words and values hold water as well? Are you living in integrity?

Fibre is the stuff of life that requires you to decide what you must absorb and keep, and what you need to release.

Fibre digs deep with the roots that ground you to reality. The formative forces of the earth draw up to nourish that plant and feed your brain.

Much subtler – no fibre, but it completes the picture as the last expressions of a plan – is the vibrational energy you receive from plants. The colours, essences and oils that nourish your subtle bodies – your chakras, your emotions and your aura.

 

YOU WANT TO HAVE MORE INTEGRITY, TO BECOME A BETTER, STRONGER, MORE ENERGIZED, MORE LOVING, CONFIDENT AND FOCUSED VERSION OF YOURSELF WITH EVERY FIBRE OF YOUR BEING.

Could it be that eating plant food more consciously and conscientiously will help enhance those qualities you seek?

 

Now that you know that fibre is so much more than the All-Bran you sprinkle on your morning yogourt, which ways will you incorporate it into your life? Which qualities do you hope to gain from that addition? When you share your thoughts in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Share your insights and get your friends in on the conversation by clicking any (or all!) of the pretty green buttons.

 

1 Anderson, J.W. et al. “Long-term cholesterol-lowering effects of psyllium as an adjunct to diet therapy in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. June 2000
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10837282, June 21, 2018

2 Gibb, Roger D. et al. “Psyllium fiber improves glycemic control proportional to loss of glycemic control: a meta-analysis of data in euglycemic subjects, patients at risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, and patients being treated for type 2 diabetes mellitus” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. November 2015
https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/102/6/1604/4555168, June 21, 2018

Should is the New Gluten

“I should eat better.”

“Great suggestion, I should try that.”

“I should be in better tune with my body at this age.”

“The weather is nice, I should get out my bike again.”

“I know what I should do, I just don’t do it.”

If there’s one word that I hear come out of every one of my clients’ mouths it’s the word should.

 

It’s not just about food and health, either. It seems to permeate all aspect of our lives.

“We should book a weekly date night… play with the kids more… ”

“I should get those investments sorted.”

“I should spend more time with friends… update my website… hire an assistant… network more.”

As one of the local business coaches says, “women are constantly shoulding all over themselves.”

 

My inner-perfectionist loves the word should, a word that we somehow imagine will move us forward and finally get us to that door we long to enter. As if it’s the driving force that will help you plan your day and inspire you to be more productive, make better food choices and show up as your best self in all ways.

In reality, all “should” does is elongate the hallway leading to that door, like in some weird dream where you can never reach the place you’re desperate to attain.

Should makes it harder to get through that door

All it really does is set you up for a sense of failure because the bar – that you set too high in the first place – is now completely out of reach, no matter how hard or try… so why bother.

You make it your responsibility to, not only look after everything and everyone, but do it gracefully, with perfectly coiffed hair, rock-hard abs and fuelled with nothing more than kale smoothies and rainbows. As my spiritual psychotherapy teacher often said, “we carry our responsibility on our should-ers”.

“Should” weighs heavily on you, it drags you down, makes it awfully hard to rise up to life’s challenges. No wonder you’re so exhausted all the time!

 

“Should” has become the new source of all that ails you in your life.

It’s the source of all your troubles in the way that gluten was tagged, about a decade ago, when it showed up as the nutrition buzz-word.

Women come to me with questions like, “should I give up gluten, should I give up dairy, should I give up red meat,…?” While it is a matter of personal exploration and reading of symptoms to decide which course of nutritional advice is right for you, the first thing that all women must to give up, across the board, is “should”.

I’ve recently started to catch myself: “should” comes out of my mouth far more than I’d like to admit. Curbing it feels a bit like trying to give up gluten.

It was hard to say goodbye to some of my favourite food – fresh baguette and croissant, pasta, French toast. With gradual shifts and letting new habits take root, my body slowly adjusted and I felt the difference. I noticed where the gluten had been doing the most damage.

 

Here’s what I’ve noticed about the damage “should” does:

“Should” comes out when I recognise that I’ve been “bad” and know it’s time to reign in and be “good” again. Foodwise, it usually that means that the sweets have snuck back into the daily for me and I need to get out of the jag…cut the addictive streak.

“Should” is the voice of the advice I’ve received over the years, when I find myself stuck in the same place for the 47th time. When I kept having gallbladder attacks over and over again, and my acupressurist reminded me at every session to eat less butter and more bitter, I nodded then promptly ignored her advice until it got so painful, I had no choice.

“Should” surfaces when I feel guilty for not being the perfect example of business owner or housekeeper or parent or wife. The perfection, of course, defined by what I see others achieving on social media.

“Should” is a word that comes from the outside.

When you look up your symptoms online or go through the latest book, there may be suggestions that work for you and there may be others that don’t. Not everyone can function as a vegan or Paleo or low-fat or on whatever diet/lifestyle is being sold as the best this month.

“Should” is all the expectations we set for ourselves based on the standards that have been set for us by society and the media. I’m paraphrasing my friend Casey Erin Wood here – that’s basically her definition of “perfection paralysis”.

Paralysis. Should doesn’t move you forward. It stops you in your tracks.

 

 

The best way to give up should? Say Yes!

There is no one-size fits all solution to eating right.

The truth for you may lie somewhere in the middle of several rules. You need to experiment, explore, try out and listen to what works.

In tuning into your body, and noticing its sensations & symptoms, in feeling the emotions that move through it, you learn what feels good at a deeper level. Listen to your body and get to know how it says “No” and how it says “Yes!”

 

Yes is a commitment.

Yes opens the door to possibility.

In the dance of emotion, Yes is linked to desire, the drive to step towards something new.

Yes is an action.

You get to Yes one step at a time.

 

This solution is not a quick and easy fix. Like giving up gluten (or sugar, or dairy, or avoiding your taxes, or…) there will be trial and error. There will be days when you can do it, and days when you want to give it all up and dive into the fresh aroma wafting from the nearest bakery.

Slowly, gradually, with baby steps and support, you move away from the perfection required by “should” and come home to the comfort of being good to your body. Yes!

 

Want help taking that action?

You’ve got 2 choices:

Through the spring, I’ve been going Live to talk about some baby steps – pick one that appeals to you and give it a whirl.

OR,

You can find support for these types of changes in The Eating Better Conversation, a closed Facebook group where we talk about the challenges that hold us back and celebrate the little wins that move us forward in our quest to eating better.

 

Where do you should on yourself? How do you define your “Yes!”? When you share your thoughts in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

 

Oh, and you should really click the pretty green buttons and share this post to all your friends, telling them they should read it too!

 

The Magic Wand for Eating Right

 

“I want to eat right, but I want it to happen like magic.”

OK, maybe the request isn’t spelled in such blatant terms, but the message is there. Clients arrive in my office with the apparent hope that I will have the magic wand to turn their belly fat, their fatigue, their achy joints and all their troubles into happy endings.

In a sense I do, though, like Cinderella’s fairy godmother, I’ll make her work for it. Have her gather all the necessary pieces so that I can help her turn them into what she wants.

Being the diverse mosaic of humans that we are, there’s obviously no one-size-fits-all solution to the quandary of eating right. The map for your healing journey will be different from anyone else’s.

And yet, there is a common ground to that human-ness, to the nourishment it takes to feed a vibrant woman. So, that the answer to that question of “How do I eat better?” really is as simple as the wave of a magic wand. It’s a guideline that goes like this:

Reduce any food that causes you trouble and increase those that nourish you.

Bibbity-bobbity-boo!

Very general, yes. Think of it as a forest path with several possible routes to get you to that garden of health you long for.

 

Explore the possible paths by listening to your body.

Eat less of anything you know you are, or to which you even suspect you are, sensitive. This could mean a full-on allergy (walnuts give you hives), an intolerance (lactose gives you cramps), or just some random item that makes you feel “wrong” (raw cabbage makes your eyes itch, grapes make you sleepy, oats turn you into a screaming banshee).

Logical or not, common or not, if you react to it in an adverse way, your body is saying “No” …at least for now.

Periodically avoid the items that are generally hard to digest or make your body work harder in other ways. These include such items as dairy, gluten, red meat, sugar, alcohol, poor quality fats, chemical additives. You don’t necessarily need to give these up permanently (ok maybe the additives and the poor fats), but give yourself a periodic break.

Whether you notice that they cause distress or not, they do add to your stress load.

Holistic nutritionist Jessica Sherman sees our capacity to deal with stress like a glass: the more you add to it, the more likely things will spill over into an inability to function or disease or irritability or weight gain or any of the myriad reactions we experience when our energy is drained under stress.

Staying away from foods that cause you stress, physical or otherwise, will allow you to keep enough room in that glass for the stuff you can’t avoid (the jerk at the office) or for when the rug gets pulled out from under you (your husband says it’s over) and you need the reserve.

Eat more nutrient dense food. Food that gives you more nutritious bang for your caloric buck.

Whole food. (Not sure what that means, or think you do? Read more here.)

Here’s a fairy godmother trick for you to ensure nutrient density.  Think of it as the Magic Looking Glass through which you can consider everything you eat.

magic of eating right

Make sure every meal and every snack contains some amount of protein, fat and fibre. Bonus points if you include something green.

Here’s why:

Protein: Needed to make all the functional molecules in your body and to maintain all of your structure. It’s easier to access when consumed in small amounts with other foods through the day. Get details on how much protein you need daily and food sources here. Get the deep story on why we need protein here.

Fat: Slows your digestion to help level out blood sugar; needed for your hormone balance, efficient metabolism and to help you absorb minerals and fat-soluble vitamins. Get the skinny on fat here.

Fibre: Will help you feel satisfied (and stay that way longer); feeds the friendly flora in your gut; gives your digestive tract a good workout and grabs all the garbage for removal. Here’s the real reason you need fibre AND this one outlines the benefits of whole carbohydrates (where you find fibre).

Green (plant) food contains magnesium. Of the 500+ jobs that magnesium does in your body, it is key to your hormone balance (in men that magic mineral is zinc); it helps your body release energy from food; it gets depleted under stress and yet it helps your body recover from the effects of stress.

Ex. Apple with nut butter (pumpkin seed butter)
Eggs with sweet potato and leafy greens
Chicken & vegetables (at least one green)
Rice cakes (or other whole grain/seed cracker) & black bean dip, drizzle with olive oil (add a pinch of arugula or cilantro)

Red beans & brown rice with avocado (really yummy with steamed broccoli)

What about all the other vitamins and minerals?

I’m glad you asked.

When you choose nutrient dense food, whole food that is naturally nutrient dense, you are choosing food that already contains the vitamins and minerals needed to digest, assimilate and metabolise that food.

And here’s my little secret: when you feed your body such nourishing food on a regular basis, then, having felt the difference, your body will start to crave those very things!

Like in the fairy tales, this magic mirror reflects something more than the beauty of your meals. It is showing you a way that you can up your self-care. It shows you one of the ways that you express self-love.

How’s that for a magic wand?

 

Think about the last 3 meals you ate through that filter, and let us know how they fared. Any improvements may be one small step away and sharing these tweaks opens the possibilities for others.

 

Let all your friends know about this simple trick by clicking any (or all!) of the pretty green buttons.

Curbing your Attitude of Apology

A few weeks back I received an email from my yoga teacher offering a 5-minute practice while she was away. It revolved around the mantra “I’m allowed to take up space.”

This affirmation immediately brought to mind how I often act with an attitude of apology, that is, not actually saying I’m sorry, but feeling like I’m imposing on others by requesting to have my needs met.

Ouch.

How many times have I clammed up because I might upset someone or be an inconvenience to them?

It’s not just me. I don’t even think it’s just us overly-polite Canadians. How many women do you know who apologize at every turn?

  • I bump into a lady at the grocery story, and she says sorry.
  • Delayed email replies come in with the story that defends or hopes to excuse its tardiness.
  • A colleague who just finished the flu apologizes for needing to cough.
  • I decline the salad filled with nuts at a neighbour’s house and she apologizes profusely for not knowing about my allergy – how could she have known when I didn’t tell her? (There was no way I was going to starve without it, either.)
  • Women all over the internet are offering and taking courses about how to request the fees that reflect their goods’ & services’ value, or how to be visible for the sake of their business.

Some days it feels like the women around me are apologizing for their very existence. Double ouch.

At the same time, there’s a huge paradigm shift happening, with women standing up and speaking the truth despite the risk of backlash and shame.

The very energies make that kind of shift at this time every year, as the sap begins to flow and buds prepare to appear. Nature is burgeoning out of its winter shell. Seeds are decaying in the warming ground so that new life can feed on the remains.

To paraphrase Leonard Cohen, cracks are appearing in everything so that the light can get in.

In fact, I’ve come to learn that shame doesn’t happen when the truth is let out into the light. Shame is the stagnant stew that keeps the thing festering in the dark. Shame is what makes us want to apologize for just being here.

Which gets me back to the idea of taking up space.

In the dance of emotion, anger’s purpose is to take up space. It’s the sweeping arms and roar of a mama bear protecting her den. It’s the kicking and punching that fend off an attacker. It’s the premenstrual fury that makes everyone else take a step back from you, giving you the space you need at that vulnerable time.

Anger is the energy that pushes you out of the stagnating funk or disappointment or fear and makes you take that first step forward.

 

In a couple of weeks, we’ll be making the transition into spring – the season of wood, according to Chinese energetics – a time of blossoming green and all of life pushing out into new growth.

Spring is the time of the liver, what many people now know as the seat of anger. It is, however, also the seat of creativity. Just think how frustration leads to new ideas when you back off with a little patience. That creativity is what gets expressed when you step out of your shell and into the light of day.

The wood element also looks after your tendons. The sinew that, like the reawakening limbs of trees, are ready to be lubricated for movement, as you uncurl from the cold.

Spring is the time to throw off the detritus of winter, when your energy returns with the growing light, when you want to be outside more and be more active and start new projects.

The big trend at this time of year is to detox: clean that liver of all the junk and too much “comfort food” through the winter. This is a great practice, though for anyone who’s not used to it, I caution you to go gently; start simply in your first go-round. Overdoing it can deplete rather than recharge you, if you’re doing too much too soon (i.e. before winter is fully over) and it can also be like poking that mama bear when she’s been brewing over old slights for years.

Think of your liver like a pressure cooker: you want to let the steam off gently and gradually so it won’t explode in your face.

 

Other than cutting out the sugar etc., and eating more greens (if it grows naturally at this time of year, eat it!), there are other practices that can support your liver and your rejuvenation as you sprout into the next iteration of the wholly healthy vision of who you’re becoming.

 

  • Hydrate well: get all the juices flowing to keep you limber and flexible (physically and otherwise).
  • Get outside and move (walk, run, skate if it’s still cold enough, bike if it’s dry enough, play street hockey with your kids).
  • Look up to the clear blue sky; let it recharge your energy (your pineal gland loves that particular colour!).
  • Until the trees pop in the coming weeks, notice the patterns and shapes in their lacework of possibility.
  • Put on your favourite music and sing your heart out. Dance too!
  • Write out what pisses you off, cry about it – let those tears wash you clean – then take the steps to change what you can and release what you can’t.
  • When you hit frustration or irritation or any other brick wall that makes you want to rage or give up in despair, take a step back into the buffer zone of patience.

These gestures don’t need to be large or earth-shattering (that’s part of the patience piece again).

The day I got that email, I consciously made a couple of clear requests of those around me. No one was offended by my call for help – I was home with a very sick boy and needed a few groceries – or by my asking to reorganize schedules to better suit my priorities. The next day, I got up the gumption to quit something that wasn’t working for me, rather than stick with it out of obligation.

In staying present to what I needed that day, I opened my capacity to be present for myself and others…I gave myself the room to grow into that new space.

In opening the door to who you are, even just a tiny crack, allows the tiniest tendril of your being to peak out; to gather some sunlight, to feel the kiss of a few raindrops and grow that much more.

Which door are you ready to crack open; where does your being need a little more light? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Where Are You on your Healing Journey?

In an email she wrote me last week, a client referred to her health as “an ongoing project”.

I could easily have read a defeatist attitude in that descriptive, and certainly, there have been times with that client when the relentless energy it sometimes takes to manage her health has gotten the best of her. However, considering the beauty she shared in the rest of this particular email, I read those words as coming from someone who understands and accepts that what she’s going through is as much a part of her life as the family and friends who surround her, as the work she does, as the food she cooks & eats.

Which isn’t to say that she’s given up on getting better. I have also seen that same person, experiencing the same symptoms, embody the hope of growth and self-discovery as she strives to overcomes the very issues and realities of a chronic condition that threatens to drag her down.

As much as you want to find that miracle solution to cure all that ails you… ever… for the rest of your life, there’s no getting around the ups & downs of healing.

Healing is a journey. There’s no doubt about that. The concept of a healing journey isn’t some new-agey, airy-fairy or lofty notion. It’s a fact.

Like any journey, there are easy steps and rough patches, there are days when you want to call it quits and others when you feel ready to take on the world.

Where you find yourself on that journey speaks about where you’ve been, but more importantly, it offers the map of how to uncover your next steps.

 

Health & the Healing Journey Demystified

In the linear, Newtonian thinking of our conventional world – the mindset and belief-systems we’ve been steeped in for generations – our ideas of health get caught in the realm of those straight lines, of cause and effect. When you have condition B, take steps 1, 2 and 3 to get you back to healthy state A, by the removal of B altogether.

Some things work like that, with the ease of a light-switch.

Break your leg, set the bone, and it knits back together.

Get a cold, rest and drink clear fluids, and the cold goes. (I want to argue here that a generally healthy body will get through the cold regardless of what you do or don’t do.)

Get a headache, take a Tylenol, and it’s gone. Gain 10 pounds, eat fewer calories, and you’re back to normal.

Which gets into the question of what constitutes the illness. Is the pain in your head a condition? Is your coughing and sneezing the cold? Is your bulging belly the problem?

No.

Those are the signs & symptoms of your condition, illness or problem. They are the outward proof and inner experience that let you know something is wrong. Their progress and decline might even inform you about how much better or worse you’re getting. They are not the disease.

Health itself is a balance. The word stems from the same root as the word whole. It insinuates a completeness – which might be where we get the idea that there’s a final Point A to which we can return.

The fact is it’s a continuum.

Maybe continuum is not the best choice of word to use in relation to healing. It again insinuates a linear journey, a sliding back & forth along one track.

What most people forget is that health runs along several tracks at once. You’ve got the 4 major lines of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, with a few intersections for ease of movement, and occasional expansion outward – kind of like the map of the Montreal Metro system.

The healing journey map however, is more like the map of London’s Underground. Besides the routes that allow you to go east/west and north/south across the expanse of the sprawling city and its suburbs, there are also circular lines that bring you around to the same spot an hour later. There are those that cut diagonally, getting you where you need to go more efficiently. Some have several tangents so that, depending which train you’re on, you’ll end up at a different destination altogether. The number of intersections create countless possibilities – some more direct, some busier at rush hour, some not running on weekends – for getting you where you want to go.

Far from a straight line, the state of your health swings you around the loops of the lemniscate – sideways 8 –  the infinity symbol that reminds you that it’s endless.

Your health is a dance that sways to the tune of your life.

Your health can sit steadily like when you and your best friend found the sweet spot between your weights on the see-saw, or it can tip over and crash-land you on your butt.

I can keep going with these metaphors, but I think you get the picture.

 

To add to that more expansive picture of health, understand that the narrow range of movement which you call “healthy” can shift. The point you aim to regain won’t necessarily be the same place you started.

Your definition of health will change – it should change. If it’s not, you might want to start with examining and exploring your personal definition of health. As you age, as chronic conditions crop up, as the bumps and scrapes of life leave their scars on your body, point A looses its clarity, is no longer one fixed point.

From this perspective, Quantum thinking, the concept of whether energy is a particle or a wave (spoiler: it’s both) takes concrete form in your body. Your ideal health wriggles and dances its way through your life.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that your vision of ideal health can only decline over time. On the contrary! It’s quite possible to seek a state of health that’s an improvement on where you started, or where you’ve always considered “normal” to lie.

 

All that to say that your healing can be about being on the one little trip that will get you from being congested or overweight or in pain, back to the point of departure. Yet it’s so much more.

Your healing journey is an adventure that takes you around the world and back, only to have you decide to pack up and try again.

Your healing journey offers routes to ease the pains that crop up over and over again, until you find one you walk comfortably,…then until you discover yet another option.

Your healing journey derails your plans, leading you down dark alleyways of terror, or turning you around a corner into the most beautiful meadow you’ve ever seen.

Your healing journey takes you to the mountaintop you always dreamt of reaching, and from that vantage point, you see the possibility of how many more places you could go.

Your healing journey happens on the outside with lifestyle choices and professional help and new modalities and a changing body.

Your healing journey happens of the inside with deeper self-knowledge and growing courage and emotional roller coasters and shifting energy.

Your life is a healing journey. What an absolutely exhilarating thought to ponder!

The 3 Stages of the Healing Journey

How exciting, and yet how daunting to imagine so many possibilities for yourself and your health!

Even trying to decide how to eat these days gets overly complicated and overwhelming, with endless experts trying to convert you to their magic formula. Search for one thing, like how to cook Brussels sprouts, and you get thousands of recipes. (1,420,000 actually, I just checked.)

Now that we’ve created a complex image in your mind that resembles a spider’s web, all sticky with places to get snagged, it might be helpful to think about which stage of the journey you’re on.

Are you dealing with an acute condition that needs immediate and focused attention? Have you come out of those woods and are working to stay well away from them? Or have you turned your gaze to new horizons?

While the map for each of those areas of healing might look just as complex as the other, remind yourself that a map is something you observe from above. Imagine instead that the complexity comes from the fact that you’ve got 3 different levels of journeys laid on top of each other. Have you ever seen the transparent layers that make up the details of an animated movie still or a cartoon strip? The big picture emerges when different elements come into play.

Same with your health. Let’s rotate that map of your healing journey so you’re looking from the side, at 3 layers, like a cake. Much easier to swallow!

 

The first layer, or the first stage of your healing journey, gets back to the basics of that conventional approach to medicine. It’s damage control, the place where you’re trying to overcome or survive an acute issue.

Symptoms → find the cause → take the remedy/undergo the procedure → return to normal

My own healing of different conditions and states have gone through these stages. I can turn any one of my experiences on their side to see how they’ve played out.  To make these concepts easier for you to understand, we’ll look at the cross-section of how I’ve been dealing with gallbladder attacks in recent years.

My digestion has often been a weak point in my physical health. About 4 years ago, things were getting worse. One night, what felt like indigestion progressed through the night until I was awake with cramping pain so bad, I half hoped there would be a baby at the end of it. The second time it happened, I realised it must be a gallbladder attack. The 3rd time, in as many months, I cut out certain foods, and started to see a practitioner for acupressure and Chinese herbs. When it happened again, after a perfectly “healthy” vegan meal, the pain settled in for the long haul – dull, thank goodness, but very present – and I knew I had to get more help in case of any complications.

After 24 hours of being poked and scanned and observed and soaked in fear-mongering in the ER, I was sent home with prescriptions for 2 heavy-duty antibiotics and a referral for a surgeon to remove the offending gallbladder as soon as the inflammation subsided. I understood the potential gravity of the state I was in, however, I also knew that removing my gallbladder would open me to a whole gamut of other long-term issues down the road.

Which is when I made the leap to the next level.

 

The second stage of the healing journey focuses on prevention, in which the impetus for your care becomes about thriving and getting past the issue.

Through psychology, we’ve come to learn that people are motivated by the need to move away from, or towards, something they don’t want, or desire. Preventative medicine and preventative self-care stem from avoiding certain risks. This approach can be as superficial as not eating fried foods to not get a zit, or as extreme as having a full mastectomy to avoid breast cancer.

Up until the time I found myself in the hospital, I was simply using bandaids: staying away from food that clearly triggered the issue, while taking Chinese herbs and going for acupressure when things got out of hand.

The fear-driven intensity of the ER doctor and his conviction that surgery was the only option, as well as antibiotics that did not agree with me at all, galvanized my resolve to never get back to that place again.

While in the first stage of dealing with this, I was merely trying to get past the pain when it hit; now I had become prepared to do whatever it took to avoid having to go to the ER and to keep my gallbladder without putting myself at risk of dangerous complications.

Under the guidance of my acupressurist, I systematically removed any foods that might put my liver into undue stress – for me, that meant all dairy, gluten, sugar, alcohol, red meat, fatty foods, and chocolate. Without the context, it would have been pretty dire and depressing to drop all those at once. Newly motivated by the deep need to avoid a repeat performance made the decision easier. It was a simple question of, did I prefer to have the piece of cake and glass of wine, or to put myself in danger again?

My self-care routine expanded to include regular appointments for acupressure and emotional/spiritual sessions, to maintain the better flow of energy through my digestive tract and in my life.

These steps worked wonders. Not only did my symptoms subside, I started feeling more energized than I had in a while. I was sleeping better. My usual nasal congestion had all but disappeared. My digestion flowed, so I was able to enjoy food more freely again, even while sticking to some restrictions. I had everything under control.

When things slackened so much that the subtle symptoms cropped up again, I recognised that it was time to refocus that resolve.

Recently, my habits slipped further still and I felt things block up like they hadn’t done in a couple of years. Problem was, I couldn’t muster what it took to get fully back on the wagon of those good habits anymore.

This approach worked until it stopped working.

Slowly, gradually, I found my way into the 3rd stage of this process.

The last level of the healing journey looks at the same problem from the other side of the motivational coin. The difference can be subtle, but extremely powerful.

 

The 3rd stage of the journey – the icing on the cake – is when you start creating the health that you want, and blossom into your full healing potential, by moving in the direction of what you desire.

Looking after yourself from this angle means that you’re making decisions from the point of view of the person you want to become, how you want to eventually feel.

How would “Ideal Me” eat? What would She do for exercise? How does Ideal Me want me to deal with that relationship issue? How does She pray?

Where the act of preventing illness has a huge element of control, creating what you want requires a large dose of surrender, as you open yourself up to the possibilities that come your way. It requires you to trust the answers that arise to the questions you pose, because there’s no concrete proof that your intuition – yes, this is your intuition working in its full glory – is steering you right.

I wish I could say there was some defining moment that sparked the shift in mindset for me. With so many huge transitions in my life over the last 2 years, it’s difficult to pinpoint, but the fact is that this has been a gradual shift – more a whimper than a bang.

Sometimes the knowing is crystal clear and I make choices with absolute ease. Other times, there’s a struggle as fear and doubt creep in again.

Ironically, many of the decisions I make now, especially when it comes to food, are exactly what I had done under the guise of prevention. The difference is that where I had been making those choices to avoid a gallbladder attack, now I am trying solutions that might possibly dissolve the stones altogether.

As the paradigm flipped from one side to the other, the conscious feeling and movement of my emotions started to become a regular habit – or maybe it was that emotional play and release which allowed the tide to turn.

The more deeply I settled into the vision of where/how/who I wanted to end up, the more I noticed the breadcrumbs of synchronicity showing up to lead my way. Unless, it was the light I shone on those breadcrumbs that guided me to this new awareness.

In this part of the world, it doesn’t matter which is the cause and which the effect. The upshot is that I am letting the possibility of yes take me where it might, when before I was guided by the limitations of a no.

The most remarkable thing about being in this place is the strong sense that I am healing, regardless of whether those gallstones go away or not. Perhaps one day I will need surgery to remove the physical residue and eliminate dangerous risks, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t healed in the meantime.

I am constantly healing. This is a journey, after all – one that constitutes many trips and adventures. Some longer than others, some that end and some that never will.

 

Healing is as unpredictable as life itself. How you approach it depends on who you are in a given moment as much as the severity of what you need.

The healing journey, that convoluted map, has as many intersections connecting the layers, as it does along each plane. You will find yourself travelling it up & down as well as back & forth and all around.

Though I’ve laid this out in a linear story for ease of telling, the journey itself isn’t linear. In this particular experience, I move up & down through the stages as time goes on. Though I spend a lot less time in damage control than before, it doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally find myself back on that station platform.

Like life, healing is not a 1-2-3 experience. You might start with prevention and move into creation with a certain issue without ever having to do any damage control. Chronic issues might have you swimming from one to the other and back again in a seemingly endless cycle of flare-ups and remission.

And remember, you can go through these phases with your mental, your emotional, your spiritual health as much as your physical.

How daunting, how terrifying and how exciting. Yes, it’s a process. Are you up for the ride?

The client I mentioned earlier is someone who has poured a good dose of creativity on this project that is her healing journey. She has grown to explore it in a way that allows her to shine fully as one of the most warm, generous and beautiful souls I know.

She has proven what I believe at my core: Your healing journey is self-love in action, and the straightest path to a better life.

The divine Amanda Marshall sums it all up so beautifully in her song “The Gypsy”:

“The finest tapestry takes patience and the ability to wait
For each thread to support the bigger picture and the larger purpose
And in the fearless, reckless pursuit of intimate love
It is not the destination it’s the journey.”

Where are you on your healing journey? Where do you get snagged in that complicated web? When you share your thoughts and questions in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.