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Author: Alison

Why you eat GF/DF/sugar-free/joy-free and still have gut issues

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A couple of weeks ago I was at a family wedding, chatting with a woman I’d just met (a distant cousin in my partner’s enormous family whose names I try to but can’t keep straight).

When I mentioned that I help women with chronic emotional and health-related problems, she started to tell me how frustrated she was that she had awful digestion issues even though she had always lived a healthy lifestyle.

The poor woman had a terrible time with food — reacting to everything with cramps and bloating or desperate runs to the bathroom. She’d go for weeks only being able to eat rice crackers and broth and having to stay at home in misery.

This had been going on for many years.

The doctors couldn’t help her, and meds weren’t helping her.

She was just done with it.

“Why is it that I see plenty of people eating fast food daily, totally fine, and here I am exercising and eating clean and still as sick as ever?! I’ve never even been drunk or smoked, and I’ve been dealing with this crap since I reached adulthood!”

Ah, yes. Why is it that some of us struggle with anxiety or depression?

What’s the deal with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue and auto-immune diseases?

And why the heck do so many of us have food sensitivities or constipation or even IBS/Crohns/Colitis?

I mean, I bet you eat pretty healthy food; you’ve probably done yoga or meditation and seen countless doctors or naturopaths/osteopaths/chiropractors; you’ve taken so many supplements over the years that you’ve stopped counting.

You’ve done all the things, so why are you still dealing with these symptoms?

It’s frustrating and discouraging. And it can seem so random.

But it might not be.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

The answer is in the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) which is becoming more and more widely known. In short, this significant study (and subsequent research) showed how difficulties in childhood are directly linked to higher rates of chronic mental and physical health problems, including:

  • anxiety and depression
  • mental health diagnoses
  • autoimmune diseases
  • diseases affecting heart, lungs, and other organs
  • suicide or early death
  • addiction
  • ADHD and hyperactivity

These adverse childhood experiences include:

  • economic hardship
  • parental divorce or separation
  • violence or frequent conflict in the home
  • abuse (emotional, sexual, physical)
  • emotional or physical neglect
  • having a parent with an addiction or mental illness
  • witnessing violence or trauma
  • involvement with foster care

They found that the more ACEs you have, the higher your likelihood of experiencing negative mental, emotional and physical health effects later in life.

So, your unhappy gut is very likely a direct result of unprocessed toxic stress from early in your life.

Now, you might say:

“But I grew up in a stable, loving home. Nothing bad happened to me. So why do I still have these symptoms?”

And that’s what I’ll be talking about next time :).

Comment below (or write me directly)! I want to know:

Can you see a connection between your mental and physical health and what you went through as a child? Or not so much?

If you don’t, I have a feeling the next instalment may help you make sense of things.


How handholding is the superpower you didn’t know you had

A child's hand held by an adult's hand, both brown-skinned and wearing black

What touch does to help us feel connected and safe

Can you think back to a time when you had to go through something challenging, so you asked a friend or supportive family member to be there with you? Maybe it was something stressful like a medical appointment or a test result. Maybe it was really difficult, like the funeral of someone close to you.

Perhaps that person held your hand while it was happening, or sat right next to you. It probably felt easier having them there to provide emotional support or to advocate for you.

If you’re curious how having someone’s supportive presence changes how we handle difficulty — and what it does for us on a body level — I have a fascinating 13-minute TED talk for you to check out.

In it, psychologist James Coan explains how the presence of another (especially a loved one) calms our nervous system and makes things feel easier and safer for us.

Click here for the talk: Why we hold hands: Dr. James Coan at TEDxCharlottesville 2013

White man with ponytail (Dr Coan) in front of blue TEDtalk background

I love this TED talk because it really illustrates the almost magical effects of soothing touch on our brains and our wellbeing. It’s something I see all the time when working with in-person clients: by the end of a session they’ve visibly shifted into a state that’s slower, more embodied, and more present. (For you nervous system nerds, that’s a regulated Ventral Vagal state ;).

Not only that, Dr. Coan shows how connection is what we are naturally wired for. He says something at the end that is actually quite moving.

➜ What part of the talk really spoke to you, or gave you an a-ha moment?

Leave a comment or message me, I’d love to know.

With love,

What to do when the world scares you

Forget self-care — it’s not working!

Chronic pain and self-care

Alex (not her real name) came to see me feeling utterly defeated by unexplained chronic pain that she’d been having for several years. During our check-in, on the verge of tears, she gave a big sigh and said, “I’m doing all the ‘right’ things — I do yoga, I meditate, I eat healthy food. So why am I still in so much pain all the time?! I don’t know what else I can do!”

My heart went out to her.

Despite all her healthy habits, it felt to her like there was nothing left to try, and that she’d be stuck with the pain forever. What good was all this self-care when the pain still kept coming back?

But, as I told Alex, I know it’s really disheartening, but don’t give up — every bit counts!

Doing those things that keep your body and soul happy is still vital for your overall happiness and health, and without them your pain might be quite a bit worse. Self-care goes a long way to powering your healing process.

So why are you still in pain?

With issues like migraines and chronic pain or chronic fatigue, often the triggers are below our conscious control. Your nervous system — the part of you that regulates pain — has gone out of balance and gets easily triggered into pain mode where it cycles without being able to release. The good news? You can train your nervous system to balance itself again. You have more power to heal than you think.

One of effective way to manage chronic pain is also really simple.

Are you in pain right now? Try this tiny bit of self-care with a difference:

   Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet on the ground, and your back supported.

   Eyes closed, take a few slow breaths. Notice any body tension and allowing your exhale to carry it down your legs and out your feet.

   Now notice a part of your body that is in pain, and breathe into it. Place a hand there, if you like. (If your pain is hard to pinpoint to one area, just pick a place in your body.)

Here’s the important part:

Really pay attention to all the sensations there — perhaps texture, hardness, temperature, size and shape — and notice how they shift. Continue breathing normally and observing for one minute.

   End by taking a long breath, exhaling down your legs and into the ground.

How does that area feel right now? How is your overall pain level?

Try to do this throughout the day whenever you notice your pain, or while you’re on a break. It’s a great thing to do, lying in bed, to ease you into sleep.

How is this different from other kinds of self-care?

What you just did there was to begin calming your nervous system through connecting to your body. It’s that simple. (Well, the physiology of it is actually complex and amazing, but the tools are simple!) By regularly connecting in to your body and training your nervous system to calm itself, you’ve got effective tools for managing your chronic pain.

Let’s hear from you:

Do share your observations from doing the exercise.

What do you do for self-care? How do you feel when your symptoms aren’t clearing up even when you’ve been taking care of yourself? Do you notice a difference when you skip your practice or your self-nourishing activities? What inspires you to keep going?

Share your thoughts below!


(CC image courtesy of r. nial bradshaw on Flickr)