if these (gut) walls could talk

I talk a lot about the relationship we have with food and ourselves, but in the process of a healthy emotional and mental relationship, a key component is building a healthy physical body.

It’s not the sexiest topic, but it’s something I have become incredibly passionate about over the years as I’ve worked through my own physical ailments.

Our gut health. Hormones and the biological make up of our guts have a direct impact on our overall physical, mental and emotional health. Our stomachs have long been considered our second brains, and for good reason. Studies have shown that what we put into our bodies releases different hormone receptors and causes different types of responses. The opposite is also true; our mental health impacts our body’s ability to break down and utilize nutrients. Stress eating, physical pain from worry, easy digestion when you’re happy? All legitimate responses.

Our body’s ability to break down, digest and utilize nutrients is based on the health of our guts. Good bacteria work in our bodies to allow for the absorption of key nutrients which leads to ultimate physical and mental health. Unfortunately due to poor eating habits, over use of antibiotics and medications, and environmental toxins the balance between good and bad bacteria often tips the wrong way. When this happens we create a volatile environment, which results in so many uncomfortable side effects and symptoms including bloating, diarrhea, constipation, skin issues, mood swings, sleep disruption, mental fog, headaches, joint pain… the list goes on and on.

Why does this happen? Well. To put it plainly, when we are constantly chowing down on junk food we cannot process or utilize combined with environmental toxins and a lack of healthy nutrients going in, our bodies become overloaded. Most of us have been on antibiotics at some point also. While I think we are so fortunate to live in a time when medicine is as advanced as it is, we have become so accustomed to pill popping which wipes out the bad and good bacteria leaving our bodies depleted of the much needed assistance required to break down nutrients for absorption.

Basic biology teaches us that bacteria thrive in a sugar filled environment. So when we are feeding our bodies highly refined and processed foods, this so easily converts to sugar and boom! The nasty bacteria overtakes our bodies, causes havoc in our stomachs, and then our bodies.

Often overlooked is the mind-gut connection and the unbalanced cycle which is created. When we eat poorly, our body cannot function the way we want it to; this includes our mental health. We are more likely to make poor choices, food and otherwise, when we are depriving our body of the healthy nutrients it needs. So no matter how much we may want to make good choices, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Instead we will chose the high, empty calorie, high sugar, high refined carbohydrates foods which are often filled with unhealthy fats. Our bodies are designed to work when being fed a high nutrient diet and this includes a healthy balance of carbohydrates (fibre filled!), protein and fats. So when we continuously feed it garbage, it’s still going to want the good stuff, and so the cycle begins. We eat unhealthy, over processed crap, our bodies signal we are still hungry so we give it more of the same junk instead of what it actually wants and then beat ourselves up because we ‘caved’ and ate too much.

The good news is that once you understand this mind-gut connection even in the most simple, basic form you are then able to work towards changing the way your body is functioning. It’s not a permanent problem and can be changed with a shift to more healthy foods and less junk. (I seriously cannot even say junk ‘food’ because that is not food!)

My number one suggestion for anyone wanting to make any sort of improvement to their health a simple one: add in more fruits and veggies. Even if you continue to consume the junk (hopefully in smaller quantities), at the very least your body is still getting some of the basic nutrients that it needs to function at optimum levels. By doing this you can begin to replenish the happy, gut environment and restore nutrients to your body.

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we’re all just the hungry, hungry caterpillar

Have you read the children’s book, the hungry, hungry caterpillar? It goes like this: the little caterpillar is born, and days 1-5 he eats all his fruits and veggies.  Day 6 he binges. The little caterpillar eats all the cake, all the sausage (who wrote this book?), pie, ice cream…you name it. But then day 7 rolls around and he eats a nice, big, green leaf.

And this, my friends, is us all. Well, until the end of day 6 anyways. What happens on day 7 is where the story changes from person to person; do you proceed in your ice cream and pie eating, or do you pick up and continue with your nice, big, green leaf?

We live in a constant state of cycles, our bodies are continuously detoxing and retoxing, the earth spins, the seasons change. Many people, myself included, find so do their eating habits. While this might appear to be ‘wrong’ or make us uncomfortable to admit, I want to throw it out there and just say nope! It’s healthy, it’s normal, you’re perfectly okay.

Food is meant to nourish us, support our bodies so we can achieve all our kickass, world domination goals. But we are also emotional eaters. We eat to celebrate, we eat when we are happy or when we are feeling down. Sometimes our emotional eating is a big old’ salad after a kickass workout, and sometimes it’s a bowl bucket of lime sorbet after a terrible day.  We’ve been taught that this is somehow wrong, that we have no willpower or self-control; that all it takes is some internal strength.

But when we look at our choices and our decisions as a temporary thing, with temporary consequences when the following choice or decision can change the course… it no longer becomes anything other than day 6. Creating a healthy relationship with food means allowing for those day sixes; and allowing for the unhealthy food that serves no purpose but to emotionally make us feel better in that moment.

Moving on past day 6, to the nice, big, green leaf is the kicker though, and not letting ourselves toss in the towel. When we see our unhealthy choice as one of many and not as the choice that ended all choices we let go of that little nagging voice telling us we need to get it together; that we need to regain control. It simple becomes another day in our food cycle.

A quick google search will pull up literally thousands of suggestions and ‘best’ diets to achieve your health or physical appearance goals, but what I have learned through trial and error and the many conversations I’ve had with people is that it’s not that simple. We have been taught we are eating good or eating bad, that this food is ‘good’ and that food is ‘bad’. To make matters worse the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods are continuously changing!

In comes my hungry, hungry caterpillar food philosophy. It’s not new, and it’s not even original, but any way you look at it, it makes the most sense. I believe it was Michael Pollan that originally said something similar, but I follow the simple rule to eat whole foods, mostly plants. 

After scouring through literally hundreds of books and websites reading about different diets and food philosophies out there, one day I thought “holy bananas. No wonder everyone is confused.” So, then I switched gears to read about the healthiest people in the world and the diets they consume. I realized in all my reading one thing remained consistent, plants.  No one could argue the benefits of plant based foods. Every diet, every group of people, every health advocate across the world emphasized the same thing: plants.

Then it dawned on me, I don’t have to have a list of foods I can eat, or not eat. Or a list of foods I tell people they can eat or not eat (unless allergies come in to play!). Let’s just act like the not so little caterpillar and focus on all the earth grown, plants the world has to offer and concern ourselves less with all the other foods. When we do that, we naturally eat less of the unhealthy stuff and in the process, can keep our sanity.