By Dietitian Jill
WHAAA … how can mindfulness … a spiritual practice … be the HEART of a good gut? And do guts HAVE hearts anyway?
WEEELL … if you believe that the body is a disjointed melange of disconnected parts … like “modern” medicine does … you probably don’t believe they do. But if you think that every part of you is connected … and influences all the other parts … like Root Cause (AKA Functional) Medicine does … you open yourself up to that possibility.
After all,studies have shown that we definitely have a gut-brain. And that nerve signals and hormones from the gut microbiome interact not only with metabolism but the mechanism that raises or lowers the risk of many health problems.Click To Tweet
So … since the gut and the brain connect in a profound way …it’s not farfetched to begin to think of mindfulness as the center … the heart of the proposition. What do the gut and the heart also have in common? Turns out lots …
A growing body of research suggests that the wrong balance of gut bacteria AKA the gut microbiome affects your blood vessels. Some gut microbiome chemical processes are linked in studies to a higher risk of buildup of the arteries of plaque which lead to things like heart attack and stroke, states a study review in the March 2020 issue of Microbiome.
And … beyond that … if you believe that stress reduction leads to a better gut (I wrote about it in the article, 4 Ways Stress Causes Leaky Gut) … you want to join the growing group that’s applauding any kind of relaxation as the key to overall better health.
So let’s call mindfulness … or any other stress reduction technique (but this is the easiest) … the heart of not only your good gut but your entire well-being. OMG … I now realize that it’s also the heart of my Good Gut 5-Day Challenge.
The Problem with the Challenge
I had a problem when I was creating this challenge. As I wanted it to be not only different from everyone else’s. I wanted it … first and foremost … to be successful in some way for each and every participant.
One problem was that I wanted it to be short. And still life-changing. But had to face the fact that you may not feel better in 5 days.
I also caution you … tooo … about pouring a ton of fiber (from eating more fruits and veggies) into your life all at once. As the Education Specialist at Health Valley Foods years ago, we put 30 people immediately on a high fruit-and-vegetable diet as part of a cardiac study in partnership with the University of California.
As the liaison for the study, I think I got calls from at least half the study population that week. Many were suffering from diarrhea due to the increase in fiber.
I instantly recommended that they cook some of the veggies … or drink vegetable juice and ease into the fiber thing. Fortunately … as most of these symptoms do … the problem didn’t last long. And we DID all make it through the month … WHEW!
And there’s also a little thing that I fondly call “DIE-OFF”. When you DON’T feed those “BAD-GUT GUYS” they die … and the little bodies both pile up and spill their toxic contents into your body. UGH!
And it can be worse than that description. But don’t fret. This is a normal reaction and goes away pretty soon.
What may not are things like cravings, cramps, diarrhea or constipation, headaches … you name it. Or not. But we never know until we start.
So now that I’ve totally discouraged you from doing the challenge … here’s WHY you SHOULD do it.
Get to the Heart of the Good Gut Challenge …
… with mindfulness. You see … all those food changes (this particular challenge is mostly about food … others will be about other things) CAN be daunting. Actually … we all have preferences … so I encourage you to begin this journey with stuff you actually LIKE to eat.
That can be a TAAALLL order for those who don’t eat veggies at AAALLL. I work with teens who will only eat broccoli. That’s where mindfulness REAALLY takes a front seat in this whole challenge.
Because it can change your mind about things. Which can change your personal reality!
I know that most people roll their eyes at the concept that we create our own reality. That’s only partially true.
We don’t look at the … say … my beautiful back yard with the rising sun streaming through the trees … and transform it into a wildly-multihued Willy Wonka wonderland complete with chocolate waterfall.
Instead,we create our own reality in this way. We decide what we believe to be true and what we believe to be untrue.Click To Tweet
Even if the truth doesn’t benefit us … like those I talk to every day many times a day that are literally damaging their health by the way they eat. But they’re stickin’ to it … and will defend it sometimes TO THE DEATH!
I often bring up Viktor Frankl, who survived the holocaust in a concentration camp by realizing that he could not change his situation, but COULD change his mind about it. He said …
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
Mindfulness can be the greatest tool to do that. Especially when you’re changing the way you eat.
What Mindfulness Does …
Research has shown us again and again that the mind doesn’t know the difference between “reality” (remember we create our own by the beliefs we’ve cultivated our whole lives) and what we suggest to it. Our bodies react the same whether we are actually experiencing something or just imagining something.
We have to reconnect ourselves with ourselves. And the best way I know to do that is to do mindfulness breathing. I do this many times a day at the hospital with anxious patients. ALL of them calm down in just three focused breaths. Try it! (adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh, “A Short Teaching on Mindfulness Breathing”)
Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down, with your head, neck and spine aligned. Uncross your legs and let your hands rest quietly in your lap or by your sides. Loosen any tight clothing and gently close your eyes.
As your body settles and your eyes close, bring your awareness to your breathing. Notice the breath coming in, and the breath going out. Follow the breath all the way in … and follow the breath all the way out… not trying to change it in any way. If your mind wanders … that’s OK … just bring your attention back to the breath.
Just breathing in… and breathing out. Breathing in, feeling the breath as it passes through your nostrils… breathing out, feeling the breath as it leaves your nostrils. Keeping your awareness lightly and gently on your breath … say to yourself in your mind …
“Breathing in, I know I am breathing in…
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.”
If thoughts come in…as they always do… acknowledge the thoughts, without judgment, and let them go… let them drift away like clouds floating across the sky… and bring your awareness back to your breath, back to your breathing… back to right here … right now …
“Breathing in… I know I am breathing in…
Breathing out… I know I am breathing out…”
Each time your attention moves away from the breath… distracted by a thought about something you have to remembered to do perhaps… or maybe something that is bothering you or worrying you… notice the thought and then let it go … like a balloon floating freely towards the sky … and bring your awareness back to your breath.
Bring yourself back to right here … right now. Be aware of only the breath … as it comes in… and as it goes out… noticing the in-out rhythm of the breath. Continue in this way as long as you like then … take a moment … begin to move and stretch your body … open your eyes … and go about your day.
Feel better? Studies show that mindfulness (AKA meditation) can help you relax your mind, reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and even champion over pain . But the thing I like it most for when I’m working with clients is to put them more in touch with the complex web of emotions they’ve woven around food.
Mindfulness and Food
I love working with food using mindfulness as it brings us to a full awareness of what and how we eat. Just a few breaths … taking in the smell and the texture of food …before you eat can totally change the way you feel about it.
Making you not only aware of the feelings you have about it. But also broaden your vistas to possibly taking in new foods and new ways to eat.
Which … returning to the GOOD GUT Challenge … is exactly where we want to journey if fruits and vegetables aren’t our “jive”. In other words … even if you eat a lot of them right now … it can give you a brand-spanking-new perspective. And open the door to possibly welcome in things that you haven’t tried before … like fermented and Gluten Free foods.
So I invite you now to do this food mindfulness exercise with me. Because … as I learned from my acting training … the best way to understand something is by doing …
Pick some sort of “finger food” like a cookie, bar, candy, fruit, piece of bread, handful of nuts and dried fruit to begin … as the process is much easier than negotiating with a spoon, fork, and plate. Begin by doing the breathing exercise above but … now … at a table right in front of the food you are going to experience. Turn your awareness to your breath … and do at least 5 to 10 slow … deep breaths before continuing …
After breathing, bring your awareness to the physical sensations in your belly. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being that you don’t feel any physical sensation of hunger and 10 being that you feel very hungry, ask yourself “How hungry am I?” Tune into the physical sensations that might tell you tell you that you are hungry or not hungry … such as your stomach rumbling … feeling empty … or having no desire to eat or what to eat. Allow them in … and if your mind wanders … bring your attention back to your belly and your hunger … really listen to your body and the sensations that arise from it.
Now … pick up the item and focus your awareness to what is in your hand and imagine that you are seeing it for the first time. Explore its texture in your hand with childish curiosity … noticing also its color, shape, texture, and size. Is there anything else that you sense or feel? Notice too if there are any judgements about the item and let them move by like clouds …
Feel the smooth, rough, sticky or any other texture of it … its temperature and anything else that comes up for you as you explore the food in your hand. Notice any thoughts, sensations or emotions at this time. Continue to breathe normally and allow your awareness to be present in the here-and-now.
Now bring the food to your nose and active the total awareness of smell. Notice if you have any memories, sensations or reactions in your belly or body … dwell on that for a moment.
Now place the food into your mouth (or take a bite of it) without chewing or swallowing it. Just allow it to be in your mouth … roll it around with your tongue. Notice the flavor and texture. Notice the physical sensations throughout your body. Breathe and continue this as long as you’d like …
Next chew slowly and notice the flavor … the change in texture … the actual mechanism of chewing. Notice even the sound of chewing … and continue to breathe normally. Again … if thoughts float in … allow them to float out again and return you attention to the food …
Now … when you feel ready … swallow the food and observe the sensation of it going down … down … down to your stomach. Become aware of any sensations that may linger in your mouth after you swallow. As well as any other sensations throughout your body.
Continue with the rest of the food in the same way … take as much time as you’d like … then go about your day …
How do you feel now? Seethe simple act of eating a cookie mindfully can change the way you feel about ALL foods. You may even find that you don't like the food you've chosen ... the one you've been eating since you were a kid ... very much. Tempting proposition huh?Click To Tweet
That’s what I hope to accomplish in my GOOD GUT Challenge. Coming soon … sign up for my “Is Your Gut Good?” quiz below so that you’ll know when we’re open for sign-ups and start this health-ful mindful journey with me!