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.

How to Find Hope & Motivation after Divorce

 

There’s something about life after moving that has reminded me so much about how things were after I got divorced, 17 years ago.

There came a point when I knew what I had to do, when I couldn’t live as I had been. When I understood I’d be better off on my own than in a marriage where I was expected to bow to all his needs with no expectation of return. A marriage where I spent an awful lot of time alone, feeling like a single parent, and furious with him for landing me in that situation.

Then came the flurry of activity that is divorce – thankfully it was a relatively amicable split, but there were still legalities to work out, stuff to sort and the kids to consider and nurture in a new way.

I lay awake at night worried I’d never be able to support myself and 2 kids (albeit part-time) on my own, until life eventually settled into something I could handle. As sad and as difficult as it was, I took a certain pleasure in being able to stretch my wings more than I ever had with my parenting and the house, without judgment or accusations of being inconsiderate.

That’s when it reality hit.

There I was, 34 years old: I’d been through school and had a steady job. I’d travelled a bit, been married, had kids. All the boxes I’d wanted to tick as a girl had been ticked, or at least the ones I believed should have been ticked.

Was that it?

Will this be my life from now on?

With a few health issues no longer content to stay in the background, it started to feel like it would even start heading downhill from there.

This happens after a move or a big career shift as well as with divorce, that once the stress calms into a routine, there’s a lull.

A wise woman will recognize that lull for what it is: a well-needed break, the calm after the storm. Time to rest, rejuvenate and gather your resources for what comes next in this life on the other side.

Sometimes, we’re not so wise.

There were days when I came face to face with the same issues as before. I was alone, having to do it all on my own. Some days I wondered why I’d even bothered.

Am I really better off than before?

Did I really need to upend the kids to still be in the same place?

And I was still blaming him for it.

It was my garden that spring that taught me the lesson I needed to learn: it’s possible, even inevitable, to start over.

Every year, the flowers wither and die. Fields go fallow and leaves rot. After the snow melts, the world’s all muddy and smelly. There’s a moment when you almost doubt anything will ever actually grow. And then it does.

Look out the window and it’s all dank and colourless. The sun warms up that much more and poof! It’s orange and yellow and violet. Robins chirp. Crab apple blossoms and lilacs fill the air with their perfume. Pea shoots herald crisp green sweetness.

Something had died in my life; come to an end. That didn’t mean I needed to stagnate in the fallout.

It was time to let the seeds of what I wanted for myself to take root. It was time to notice the colours in me, and ask myself: What form of sunshine would help them to bloom?

I started to focus the warmth of my attention on just that: people and activities and food that lit me up, that excited me and nourished me to my very core.

I started to trim away the branches that were holding me down – the blame, the regret, the self-flagellation.

I had done all this, kept putting one foot in front of the other through the previous year because I needed to make me a priority. I chose this life so that my needs, my values would have space to grow in a nurturing environment. How else could I expect to be truly healthy, effectively raise my sons and be of any service in my community?

When you’ve lost motivation for what you want most, when you can’t find the hope of a better day, I beg of you to try this:

Open your senses to the world around you.

Notice:

what flavours make you swoon

which aromas make you sigh

which colours energize your mind

which music makes you dance

Remember: The most beautiful bounty grows from the humus and rot.

Don’t give up on yourself!

 

If you need more help putting self-care at the top of the list, let me know, I’d be glad to help. Click here and we’ll set up a time to talk.

 

If you know someone who’s stagnating in the fallout of the life they’ve left behind, help them to blossom using any of the share buttons below.

How to Have a Wholly Healthy Holiday

 

It’s mid-December. Life just got a tad more hectic and will stay that way until the kids go back to school in January.

You kick yourself for not having honoured last year’s vow to be organized earlier. You harp on about the excessive consumerism and the social obligations – loud office parties and stilted conversations with people you only see once a year. There’s cooking and shopping and wrapping and planning. There’ll be food from your naughty list on offer everywhere you turn.

Your belly clenches in anticipation, even as you fear you won’t get it all done, so you run too fast, stay up too late, say yes to more events and volunteering than you know is good for you. You start to feel your life getting away from you; you’re scrambling to keep it all packaged in a manageable bundle. (Writing this, I picture my arms flying through the air, trying to gain control over some invisible chaos.)

How can you get it all done without burning yourself out? How can you actually enjoy the celebrations after all the work?

How can you maintain the spirit of the season without compromising your own spirit?

The hustle and bustle of Christmas tips so easily into stress & overwhelm when there’s no connection. If you’re anything like me, a certain amount of what you do at this time of year comes from outside expectations – your husband and kids’ needs, of course, but also what your sister-in-law or your mother expect of you, office obligations, and maybe a small dose of keeping-up-with-the-Jones’.

When you lose sight of the meaning behind the traditions in favour of trying to do it all, you end up losing sight of yourself in the process.

The other morning I headed out the door for an early appointment, into the soundless dark of that first deep snowfall. Because I’d taken on an extra contract recently, my time for all the Christmas necessities became suddenly limited and I felt that panic welling in me by the minute. My thoughts threatened to spin out of control as I walked to the bus. There was something about the peace of the day, however, that drew my attention more strongly.

It was one of those mornings when the carpet of snow muffles every sound. The only thing I heard was my breathe, so I settled into it and the way it shifted and vibrated with my steps. The sun was just coming up behind the clouds, sending the bare trees into dramatic relief against the lightening grey. No birds sang nor squirrels chattered – they were still huddled in their cozy nests. Even my usual morning petition to earth and trees for support through my day fell flat as I felt their own energy had settled deeply below the surface.

I heard a voice inside me say, “Enjoy the quiet. Enjoy the absolute peace.”

To use traditional Chinese terminology, this is a yin season – we’re approaching the most yin day of the year on the 21st – inward moving, cold, dark, moist, introspective and receiving. Your instinct is to follow that energy –the desire to curl up under a blanket with a book, have more nights in with your family, make pots of soup – that’s you putting yin into action.

Christmas is an affirmation of the return to more yang – outward, hot, light, expansive and giving. A natural celebration of those qualities we so love; they help us connect to the world around us, and traditionally offered survival as people share limited resources for food and heat through the winter. Yet, as we North Americans love to do everything to excess, the holidays are over the top, to the point of frenzy.

The stress of the year comes, in part, from the struggle between the two poles of energy clashing.

This year, in order to maintain your energy, your sanity and your joy through the season, balance those the seasonal extremes regularly.

Connect daily – hourly – with the yin energy of the natural season (of which you are an integral part) to offset the yang of the seasonal holiday.

Here’s how:

  1. Soups, stews and congees – food cooked with water or other liquid – nourish deeply with their easily assimilated nutrients and gentle warmth. Eat one or the other daily. Squash soup, with a hint of curry, apple and coconut is my favourite, like a warm blanket in a bowl. Bonus points for drinking/using bone broth.
  2. Foods that tonify yin include millet, barley, rice (eaten as whole grains, not in flour products); beans, especially black, kidney, mung or green; beets, black- & raspberry, seaweed. Easy on the red meat, sugar/refined carbs and alcohol; remember the gratitude for the bounty along with the indulgence – celebrate conscientiously.
  3. Turn inward daily with quiet practices such as meditation, yoga, journaling, put on a fire (or a candle) and get lost in its flames. Give yourself an opportunity to turn off for a few minutes every day. Trust that it will all get done; trust that what gets done is enough.
  4. Take a walk in the early morning or the evening. Let the quiet penetrate you, and notice your limbs soften as the frenzy drops away. Though the earth is frozen, you can still tap into its energy by consciously feeling your feet connect with the snow and pavement at every step – imagine red roots running into your soles, nourishing you with the distant warmth of the core.
  5. Balance the giving with a healthy dose of receiving. We’re good at the first – not so much the second. Practise receiving compliments, an offer of a cup of tea or help in the kitchen. At a recent party, several people commented on how good I looked – after the 2nd or 3rd time, I noticed my shoulders curled in and my chest collapsed even as I thanked them. Open your heart and let the love, the gift, the compliment in. As Dr. Northrup says, it gifts the other person with the joy of having their words and other offers of love accepted. (You can start right now – see below for my present to you.)

What gets you the most stressed out at this time of year? What practices help you stay balanced? When you share in the comments, you open the opportunities for others.

*****   *****   *****

My Christmas gift to you:

Over the last few years, I’ve found a word to be my touchstone, my intention and my guide for the year. Better than a resolution, it creates a container in which to take action with healthy practices, it creates a filter through which to set my priorities and make decisions, both personal and professional.

On the 21st, the darkest day of the year, I will be posting an audio guide for helping you connect with YOUR word for 2017. Solstice is the perfect time to explore your needs and priorities and set that intention, so that it can come into the light as we head to the new year.

Access will be exclusively for the community in the Whole Health Dinner Party space. Learn more and join here.

Now practise the joy of giving: Share this post with 2 of your friends using any (or all!) of the links below.

Good Food is Only Half the Picture

 

Do you work hard to be conscientious about what you eat, but still don’t feel quite like yourself?

food half the pictureThe food you eat is literally what you take in from the outside world in. But that’s only half the picture. Nutrition includes your food and your digestion.

Digestion is the gateway to the body: it’s how you take in and adapt the outer world to suit your needs and purposes.

The digestive tract is actually outside the body – did you know that?

It’s a tube that runs through the body. Think about it a minute: one long tube with an opening at both ends. Sure there are variations along the way, and valves to keep things contained in the right place at the right time, but it’s all one big tube.

The food you eat, substances from the outside world, go into the tube. Your digestive organs release juices and such out to break down those morsels, then the bits you need get absorbed into the bloodstream. Into the body to be made into your substance.

The function of your digestion plays an active role in how well you’re nourished.

We tend to think of digestion as an automatic thing over which we have no control. Not true.

Who you are, your emotions, your attitudes, your approach to life, your personality even will effect your digestion and how you assimilate food. There have been studies, looking at identical twins, who’ve been raised the exact same way, and yet one is fat and the other thin. One thrives and the other is sickly.

Other factors go into how well you digest: stress levels, emotional state, where you are, who you’re with.

Have you ever eaten something, let’s say an oatmeal muffin, one day and be fine, and the next time you eat the exact same muffin, you sneeze your head off or get a belly ache?

Have you ever had a big fight with someone you love and not be able to eat even though you were hungry 10 minutes ago?

Do you try really hard to be conscientious about food choices and amounts, with little or no impact on your weight, your energy levels, you skin, or whatever your weak spot is?

Digestion is an expression of your soul.

Your spirit holds the blueprint for your most vibrant manifestation: your highest potential. Your soul helps to guide you towards that potential through the messages it sends you through symptoms, images, sensations and feelings.

Your soul guides your body to become what it’s meant to be, in order to best steer you towards who you are meant to be. On a physical level, this means building the container, the body that will best suit your purpose. Hence, directing your digestive tract to absorb certain nutrients.

Digestion is also a reflection of how you take in and digest life.

It contains the metaphors for how well you savour, absorb and release situations. It harbours clues to where you need to grow and expand and what you need to release.

When you learn to understand your digestive processes and see your role in its function, you take a pro-active role in getting the most out of the food you eat. You set yourself up for improved health across the board.

Because digestion is how you access nourishment, it’s the best place to start when it comes to healing your body.

You can’t maintain and repair the vessel until you get full access to the raw materials it needs.

Kind of like the shipping and receiving of a major corporation. Once that department’s running efficiently, the rest of the company has what it needs to grow.

Through enhanced digestion you’ll realize your pot belly’s not here to stay. Your smelly pits and acne aren’t requirements of perimenopause. Nor is exhaustion and indigestion as you get older. Your depression or anxiety isn’t something you have to live with.

Imagine:

  • Feeling good in your body.
  • Having the energy to fully enjoy your life again.
  • Being a better role model to your kids – both in how you care for yourself and in how present you can be for them.

I could write pages about this stuff. Instead I’ll leave you 3 simple fixes you can make to improve your digestion today and an invitation for more if you want it.

3 small steps that will impact your ability to nourish yourself for life.

  1. Sit and Savour.

Take a breath as you sit: Engage your relaxation response and give gratitude for what’s in front of you.

Engage all 5 of your senses: Give your body a chance to sensually and energetically tune into the food you’re eating for better assimilation.

  1. Chew.

Other than making things easier to swallow, the movement of your jaw sends a muscular message down the tract, telling the organs that it’s time to get ready to receive and digest some food.

  1. Include fermented food with your meals.

Things like yogourt, kefir, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut and other fermented veggies.

These are your sources of probiotics, the micro-organisms that improve digestion and elimination, stimulate your immune system and provide you with certain nutrients, like B and K vitamins.

Better health is possible.

It starts with building the relationship to your body and taking an active interest in how it’s nourished.

Do you take your digestion for granted? What’s one thing that would improve in your life if you had better access to the nutrients you ingest? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Know anyone else who works hard to get the best out of their food? Send them this post using any (or all!) of the social share buttons below.

What is Whole Food?

OK, you know it’s good for you. But there’s a bit of confusion out there around what whole food is. And do you know exactly why it’s good for you?

When I ask my clients about it they say, “Sure, I eat whole wheat pasta,…I eat organic,…I shop at Whole Foods.”

While whole food my be organic, organic food isn’t necessarily whole. Even grown locally, sustainably, fair trade, what ends up on your plate may not be whole. Shopping at Whole Foods doesn’t make the food whole. These are all good choices to be sure, but only part of the whole picture.

Whole food is food that is a close as possible to its natural state.

  • Nothing (or very little) taken away – you might still need to peel or hull or skin/scale certain foods.
  • Nothing (or very little) added to it, not counting the lovely things we do to enhance flavour, preferably whole in themselves.
  • Not altered (or very little). You might need to cook (meat), ferment (soy) or add minerals (corn) to make certain foods digestible or to access the nutrients. You might need to dry, salt or ferment it to preserve it through the winter.

Whole food is what was traditionally called, well, food.

It’s the opposite of many of the food-like products we find in our grocery stores: refined and processed items.

Using that definition, we can look at what we eat along a spectrum from whole to processed:

Wheat berries – stone-ground whole wheat flour products – unbleached flour products – white flour products

(Whole has nothing to do with gluten or lack thereof:
Brown rice – white rice – brown rice flour products – white rice flour products)

Meat is tricky because we rarely eat the whole thing, maybe a fish or small poultry  – sticking to chicken breasts only is a partial food – processed meat products are made from parts as well and have lots added to them.

Egg – egg yolk/white

Fresh whole milk – pasteurized/homogenized whole milk – 2%/skim/cream – powdered milk

A no-brainer whole food choice would be fresh vegetables and fruit. Eat more of those, and you’re golden.

Some fractured foods are indeed formulated to contain certain nutrients. What, then, makes a whole food choice so important?

In terms of straight nutritional health, whole food provides a better profile of nutrients. The beauty of whole food lies in the fact that it contains all the nutrients you need to digest, assimilate and effectively metabolize the core ingredients. It’s pure logic.

Take wheat again (or any grain for that matter): It contains a good store of starch – the carbs we use for energy – as well as the B-vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and fibre we need to efficiently absorb and use that energy.

Strip away the bran to make pretty white flour and you’re left with straight starch – the “bad” carbs you run from in your food choices. I don’t need to tell you its impact on weight and many health conditions such as diabetes or other hormonal imbalance.

The commercial benefit of white flour is that it won’t go rancid – they’ve taken out the (good) fats. If you ask me, though, a food that doesn’t go bad is a food devoid of life. The essence, the life-energy, has been stripped from the grain (for more on this concept, see my post on Fats). The vibration produced by the living aspect of the plant is what actually feeds and helps your organism stay alive.

As time went on, nutritional scientists gradually realized the folly of this practice, and so they started to “enrich” the flour with synthetic or extracted forms of the same vitamins & minerals they took out – as if they’re making it better. And the stuff they don’t replace? We’re all scrambling around trying to access it in other ways…can you say omega-3 supplement?

Without going on too long about it, this herbal example illustrates my point as well: Willow bark is a traditional remedy for headaches and fever. It’s active ingredient, salicylic acid, was researched, extracted and sold in a pill: aspirin. Trouble is, aspirin wreaks havoc on the stomach. Willow bark, however, has no such side effect because it contains other substances that work symbiotically with the s.a.

Among those of us who grew up from the late 50s through the early 90s, I’ve often had conversations around “How did we ever survive?” We of the Alpha-Bits and Chef-Boyardee, Tang and McDonald’s. Sure, we survived, but did we thrive? We of the chronic diseases like never before.

From the body’s perspective, we’ve been asking it to deal with products that don’t resemble the fare our organs evolved with. So we end up with lacking enzymes to metabolize certain things. In some cases like dairy, not knowing what to do with it, the body either pockets it away in our tissue (joints and breast in particular) or it feeds the bad bacteria in our digestive tract. Or else the body mounts an inappropriate immune response (allergies and auto-immune disease).

How can something nourish you if you can’t even access the nutrients?

Is the long-term poor nutrition perhaps the reason why we’re all desperately loading up on superfoods and supplements – food that over-compensates for the nutritional gaps we had growing up?

Here’s a thought:

We were the generation raised on the standard American fare: processed (convenient), fast and altered food.

We’re also the generation that walks around talking about “not being enough” – not smart enough, not thin enough, not rich enough, not creative enough, not healthy enough,…

My husband calls us the searchers: perpetually looking for the purpose, the career, the diet, the guru, the man/woman that will solve all our problems…that will make us feel enough. That will make us feel whole.

Could it be that we’re feeling this way because we are, in fact, lacking in some way? That by refining away and destroying nutrients – the essence of the food we’d been eating for years (during our formative years at that) – we are indeed undernourished? Lacking in a way that goes much deeper that the nutrient itself.

What’s the solution?

Eat whole food:

Eat colour – this is where the plant world stocks up all those antioxidants, the immune system of the plant.

Eat fresh – avoid anything without a best before date, or anything that doesn’t expire until next year.

Eat what your grandmother cooked. As a bonus prepare it the way she did. (The true bonus is the way she enriched all her meals with love.)

Now it’s your turn: Do you feel your body’s been deprived from eating less-than-optimal food? What do you do to make up the difference? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Be sure to share this post with your friends using any (or all!) of these buttons: