Every once in awhile there is a gem floating around in the deluge of junk email I get. My email service takes care of the worst of the junk, of course, but I still receive all of the newsletters that I signed up for because I wanted the free gift. I’m sure you know what I mean.
Don’t have any of these? You’re in luck! I have one to offer you.
I check my email by poising my mouse over the “delete” button and repeatedly clicking. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Occasionally there is a message that is spared the trash bin because of its potential for quality information or entertainment. Like mine, right?
A few weeks ago I received just such an email. A diamond in the rough. It was from Mind-Gut Connection guru Emeran Mayer, M.D. and held the subject line ” The ‘National Eating Disorder’ Epidemic and What You Can Do About It”. It contained a link to an article that I shared on my Facebook fan page @nourishmewellness last week. This article, by Mark Bittman and David L. Katz, summarized the most common questions people ask about healthy eating and provided practical, down to earth solutions that are doable by anyone. You can read it here.
The email also had Dr. Mayer’s take on the article which is different than you might think. You see, Dr. Mayer’s practice focuses on gut-brain interactions. He is interested in how your thoughts influence your gut and vice versa. In other words, exactly what I am most interested in, except he is an actual expert rather than a random blogger.
In this article (you can read it here), Dr. Mayer emphasizes two concepts brought up in the Bittman-Katz article. One, that every species on Earth knows what to eat, but since we have the ability to over-think everything we have effectively evolved into the only species that has no idea what they should be eating. Two, what to eat is further complicated by “hyperbolic headlines” and “profiteers all too happy to peddle purposefully addictive junk food and nutrition-limiting fad diets”.
Dr. Meyer points out that worrying about what is on your plate rings alarm bells in your brain that set you up for disordered eating habits. When you do this, you give yourself food anxiety, as if we didn’t already have enough anxiety to deal with. Stressing out about your food, or anything else for that matter, alters your little gut buddies (the microbiota in your gut) and your digestion as a whole. In other words, it may not be the food itself, but your mental reaction to it that is the cause of your food sensitivities.
Because we have an unlimited supply of information and a weak supply of wisdom, at our fingertips via the internet, this effect is amplified. Anyone can write a blog. I know this first hand. You innocently Google your symptoms and suddenly you have a condition you have based a self-diagnosis on the clever musings of alarmists and profiteers. It’s the popular disease this week, so you decide to avoid a food group.
This is not to say that some people don’t have legitimate food allergies or sensitivities. These are definitely real things which are becoming more and more prevalent as our food supply becomes more and more altered from its natural form. The focus of this article is on the rest of us who may be over-complicating our already complicated lives with imagined maladies.
So is it all in your head? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. This is the placebo effect. If you think it’s real it is real. People recover completely after getting fake surgeries a large percentage of the time–basically, they get opened up and closed again without the surgeon doing anything, but everything else is the same as it would be if the person got the actual surgery. Sugar pills often work because the person believes they will work. The nocebo effect is also real. This is when a person gets a poor diagnosis and starts to steadily decline even though a second opinion may reveal that there is nothing wrong. Or, a person who is lonely or sad will fare worse than someone who has the loving support of family.
Our brain is our most powerful tool, our most valuable cheerleader, and our worst bully all wrapped up in one frienemy. How can we use this fantastic brain power to our advantage?
Five Simple (and sensible) Tips for Radiant Health
- Don’t eat if you are upset. If you find yourself agitated with your dinner companions or anxious about your food, don’t eat. Your gut is highly sensitive to your state of mind. Food eaten in times of stress will trigger the gut to react in a way similar to that of a food allergy/sensitivity, stomach virus, or food poisoning. Interestingly, it goes both ways. Food that is enjoyed in the warm, comforting atmosphere created by friends and family whom you authentically enjoy sharing a meal with is actually more nourishing than the same food hastily packed away standing in front of the television. A major element of the Mediterranian Diet, and one of the reasons why it is so healthy, is this fellowship with loved ones.
- Listen to your body. If you do A and usually get the desired result B, and A is relatively low risk, keep doing A. Keep in mind that newer medical research won’t make its way into mainstream medicine for another 20 years or so. Plus, everyone is different. Some of the natural stuff is bunk, but some of it has been used since ancient times or is just now being discovered by modern medicine. Contrarywise, if you don’t see any difference between using a supplement or not using it, don’t use it. Save your money, honey. Examples of low risk, highly effective methods to increase your health are in the Pillars of Health series on my Nourish Me Wellness blog. These are: Get more sleep, drink more water, eat more vegetables, get some exercise, and be mindful.
- Get Tested. Don’t self-diagnose. You may not be sensitive to the latest thing everyone on the internet is avoiding. In order to be sure, and to avoid the excess anxiety that is already plentiful in our lives, get an actual diagnosis from a doctor. Some people can handle dairy just fine, others can’t. Just because the latest internet guru is telling you to avoid dairy for radiant health doesn’t mean you should worry about it. This is the food sensitivity test I recommend. I like this one because it involves your doctor. It is the one I took and I believe it is tops for accuracy. I don’t have an affiliation with the company. There are many other tests you can find on the inter-webs that don’t require a doctor’s note, but I don’t know anything about them, their methods, or their accuracy.
- Be coachable. Find someone who actually knows what they are talking about, that you feel comfortable talking to, and has your best interest in mind. A certified health coach can help you work through underlying anxiety, food relationship issues, or refer you to reliable experts. I happen to know such a person. Spoiler alert: It’s me!
- Relax. This one appears twice in the list, because it’s that important. Taking a few breaths before you eat will help you not only digest your food better but will increase the likelihood that you will eat more mindfully. No one who is relaxed and eating mindfully binges on Doritos. It’s the distracted or stressed out person who is prone to dysfunctional eating. Bonus: This doesn’t just work in your eating habits. Taking a few minutes out to breathe helps you be more mindful, and thus more productive, in the rest of your life as well.
If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friends will, too. Share this with your friends right away while you are thinking of it. Thanks for reading!