I’ve been writing recently about the profound connection between the brain and our gut! Most of my writing was intellectual, sometimes metaphorical, maybe a bit poetic, and also humbly instructional (i.e., the way mindful eating fosters health vis a vis this connection).
Today, here is part of my own journey with #AlimentaryAngst, the story that sparked my personal and professional quest to help heal mind through body, and body through mind.
Thank you to Further Food for publishing this and thank you for all the support. I hope this resonates-ultimately, that is why I’m putting THIS forth! What has YOUR journey been like? Comment below with your thoughts, I look forward to responding to each one.
To Thriving, xo, Dr. Jen
This blog post originally appeared on Further Food.
Let’s rewind. February 2013, I noticed that I’d become more bloated than usual after a hearty meal. I experienced a feeling of pressure in my stomach, as well as visceral pain, both of which converged to create a really uncomfortable experience. I also had GERD, and my heart felt fiery. My xiphoid process felt irritated. I was a hot digestive mess.
As uncomfortable as it was, I kept my cool. It was only a few weeks later, when I looked down towards the floor and couldn’t see my own feet, that I gasped with every ounce of guttural energy I had in reserve. I looked six months pregnant.
I used my hands to cradle my inflamed belly and I cried. I cried for so many reasons: the pain, the discomfort, the cruel joke of hearing my biological clock tick so loud I thought I’d go deaf. I only looked pregnant, but wasn’t. Was this some kind of phantom pregnancy? Was that even a thing? Was I about to be catapulted into psychological stardom with my new discovery? This faux-preggers state was characterized by the undoubted lack of a fetus, but a great yearning for one, and a belly the size of six-month gestational equivalence.
I went to the doctor. Gave her a history, which was mostly sparse, except for the few things I seem to always be relaying to doctors. I felt lethargic and tired all the time, and I couldn’t seem to ever get enough sleep. I never woke up feeling rested. Overall, I’m healthy, and thankfully so, but there’s health and then there’s “HEALTH.” The difference is the same as that between surviving and thriving. I prefer to do the latter.
My diagnosis: Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which had nonchalantly decided to go camping in my gut, like a pesky parasite sucking the life out of every ounce of normal flora to be found. Camping: as in pitching tents, and starting fires, and sleeping in the dark hollows of my alimentary organs.
The road to wellness began with self-compassion. Then, I changed my diet, and embarked on a journey consisting of many lifestyle changes. This was both extraordinarily cathartic and vulnerable to write. Yet, as a mind-body-brain wellness advocate I truly think it is incumbent upon me to share my journey. Why? Well, because my journey is what catapulted me towards the process of researching, reading, conversing, asking, anything I could about the topic. Gut health became a focus of not only my own, but of my practice with my patients.
I am blown away by the connection between mind, body, brain and gut. In fact, the gut is so powerful, and exerts so much impact upon our daily lives, that it’s even been dubbed the second brain. For me, knowing there is a real live brain in my gut makes me think twice about what I put in it, and I’ve never felt better.
Check out my next post on Further Food-I’m going to keep it raw and real, but will get much more technical and science-y about the importance of gut health.
This blog post originally appeared on Further Food.
Fibromyalgia consists of a complex array of symptoms, which include widespread muscle and joint pain along with overwhelming fatigue. It is often a diagnosis with higher prevalence rates in women and has been described as one of the “most controversial conditions in the history of medicine.” To many medical critics, fibromyalgia is one of several “somatic syndromes” driven by sensationalized media coverage, self-interest, and litigation. For these critics, chronic pain syndromes are believed to reside in the minds of the sufferers.
A variety of social and medical critics view chronic pain as a post-modern illness sharing a lineage with nineteenth-century pseudo-maladies like hysteria. These illnesses, they contend, originate in vulnerable human psyches. Central to these suspicions is the seemingly unshakable belief that chronic pain is a psychosomatic disorder, with the implication that the sufferer’s pain is not medically “real.”
Psychosomatic explanations ultimately reduce chronic pain to mental factors, the consequences of which are significant.
One consequence is that psychosomatic pain is inevitably devalued and the credibility of its sufferers is questioned. Another consequence is that accepted treatments for “physical” pain, like analgesics, may be discouraged even when they may be necessary. Often, being invalidated triggers depression and anxiety, which increases the burden of the disease, adds to the pain, and results in more stigmatization.
A lot is at stake, then, if chronic pain is conceived as psychogenic.
When it comes to fibromyalgia, there is a lot that Western Medicine continues to ignore. There is still no certain cause or recognized treatment that works for everyone. Many things, however, have become, at least anecdotally speaking, crystal clear:
1. People who suffer with symptoms can find relief by making certain lifestyle choices.
2. The expression and manifestation of Fibromyalgia is diverse and what works for one person might not work for another.
3. Fibromyalgia symptoms can have a significant impact on your life—your work, relationships with family members and friends, and your overall outlook.
4. A combination of treatment modalities is very beneficial.
Many people who suffer with fibromyalgia turn to their diets when making lifestyle choices that will offer relief and improve their overall functioning. The fibromyalgia-diet connection has in part emerged from the idea that people with fibromyalgia have mitochondria dysfunction, and therefore they need to increase levels of certain nutrients in order to produce enough energy.
While research hasn’t indicated specific foods that all fibromyalgia patients should add or avoid, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that supports eliminating and adding certain nutrients to the diet for relief. For example, caffeine and highly processed foods are often linked to exacerbation of fibromyalgia symptoms. The relief that comes through this kind of mindful eating is buttressed by other healthy lifestyle choices, such as adding an exercise regimen to your day, getting enough sleep, and reaching out to a mental health professional.
Since fibromyalgia is so diverse in its symptom presentation, what works for one person might not work for you. There will most likely be trials and errors as one finds relief, and a multi-disciplinary and holistic approach will likely work best. This might include dietary changes, psychological support, and perhaps medications and/or herbal supplements.
Whatever your journey entails, I know and trust it is worth the hope of a healthier and happier life. You can and will come to thrive, one step at a time!