It’s the day after Halloween, and my dining room table is completely covered with candy. Some of my old favorites are featured: Reese’s pumpkins, peanut M&Ms, Milky Way, and Heath. In our house, my kids get to pick their favorite pieces, no more than ten (I’m flexible because the size varies), and the rest gets donated. Mom and Dad get to save a few as well, because ’tis the season, right?
I know there’s an intuitive eating movement to let kids have all the access and listen to their bodies for stopping cues, and I respect that… but it doesn’t line up with what we know about brain health. Big Food Patriarchy wants your kids (their consumers/users) hooked on candy for a lifetime, so of course they develop their products to hit the bliss point of food, without ever feeling the physiological satiation or urge to stop.
I’m all about teaching my kids to listen to their bodies, but we also have to understand the neurotransmitter hijack that occurs with these engineered food products and the long term impact on developing brains.
It’s not about willpower, discipline, or being able to eat intuitively. It’s about understanding that our brains are wired for survival. And anything that gets our serotonin and dopamine hitting harder and faster pumps up our norepinephrine to make us feel good in the moment – until we don’t anymore, and we need another stronger hit.
“Self-regulation depends on having a friendly relationship with your body.”
– Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score.
You can work with your body or against it. You can force it into eating patterns that don’t work for you and your natural hunger cues, or you can ignore your body’s core needs completely and have a food free-for-all, contributing to poor sleep, mood issues, and blood sugar roller coasters.
Whether you are deep into restriction and diet culture or on the “screw-it-all, I don’t care” train, your body is still fighting for you, looking for balance.
Your body needs to feel safe in order to keep functioning in a healthy way. Chronic stress, intense exercise, yo-yo dieting, busy schedules, constant phone alerts, and an inability to deal with unpleasant emotions will take a toll on your physical well-being. The fear center in your brain, primed for your survival, doesn’t know if you’re running from an invading army in 1406, or if you’re just living the typical overstressed lifestyle of the 21st century.
When you befriend your body and learn healthy emotional regulation, and you will see your mental health improve as well. It’s allll connected.
Here are some of my favorite ways to befriend your body:
Lay off the intense exercise. I know, I know. Cardio is addictive and also feels productive. Getting your heart rate up so high you can barely hear yourself think is comforting for many of us wanting to escape real life anxiety. BUT. It is still a stressor, on top of dozens of other stressors. Depending on what kinds of signals your body is sending you, it may be time to re-evaluate your chronic cardio habits.
Do a body scan and check in with yourself. This is the opposite of cardio, and I promise, it’s way harder than running 6 miles. Lay in a quiet place and close your eyes. Breathe deeply, flooding your body with oxygen. Start scanning down your body, checking in with various body parts as you go. Where are you feeling tension? Where are you feeling pain or discomfort? Breathe into it, and lean into the stillness, connecting with your body. This isn’t easy, and it may be helpful to download a meditation app or try restorative yoga if you need assistance with this.
Schedule intentional down time. Whether you’re taking yourself out to lunch or dinner (without being on your phone), or you’re planning a morning to be lazy and lay around the house, plan it ahead of time, proactively. I like to set aside one day on the weekend for reading time, and by reading time, I’m talking about fiction, not the usual health/educational books I devour during the week. Taking time to remove yourself from the constant GOING will help you find balance in your nervous system.
Stay off social media. This really causes a flare-up of those “I’m not good enough” thoughts. It’s hard to be present and at home in your own body and life, when you’re constantly surrounded by what everyone else’s lives (and bodies) look like. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I feel so much more anxiety when I’m regularly scrolling on Facebook or Instagram. It inspires the opposite of gratitude in me, and causes me to feel unsettled and annoyed, which flows into every aspect of my relationship with myself and others I care about.
Make a nourishing meal at home – and eat it slowly. Food tells your body you’re safe. Period. Rushing through the drive through or mealtime may be a survival necessity at times, but it’s sending powerful messaging to your body. Eating nutrient-poor and quickly consumed foods tells our body we are stressed and that our body isn’t safe. Depriving ourselves of calories (energy) via dieting also sends unsafe messages to the body. Planning for a meal rich with nutrients and colors, food that may take a bit of chopping and prepping, prepares your body for digestion from the moment you start. I’ve found that while I often dread getting those first veggies chopped, once I’m doing it, I find it can take on almost a meditative state for me. Signing up for a meal kit delivery is a great way to provide intentional nourishment. (Note: Green Chef is one of my favorites, and by going here and using the code spark100 you can get $100 off and enjoy free shipping.)
Start re-training your brain to take the negative thoughts captive. Your negative thoughts are toxic, and they send powerful chemical messages through every cell of your body. When you talk negatively to yourself about your life situation, your body, your food choices, the state of the world, etc – you are sending a cascade of stressful messages to your body. Unfortunately, negative thoughts are addictive because they are so familiar to our brains. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome of the mind. It’s important to find tools to break away from those habitual thoughts. Having a regular practice of gratitude, journaling often, practicing mindfulness and meditation, developing mantras or reminding yourself of verses or Scriptural truths are all ways to start retraining your brain away from the the negative. My recent podcast episode with Dr. Caroline Leaf also provides some helpful tools.
Taking time to slow down and be present, in the body you’re in, with whatever state of mind you have, will make a huge impact on your body’s intuitive need to regain homeostasis. It’s okay if you have built up coping mechanisms of constant activity and commitment. Those behaviors were probably really helpful at one point. But over time, your body will likely get worn down and need some new tools for long-term support… tools that will make you more resilient to stressors in the long run.
Your body sends you signals every day. Are you listening?
I have multiple opportunities for one-on-one coaching, as well as group sessions. Message me if you’re struggling. I’m here to listen and support you on your journey to wholeness!
Are the lights on your dashboard going off? Meaning, is your body giving you warning signals that you continue to suppress? This podcast episode is for you!
Jennifer Pickett is a Dietitian turned Functional Wellness Coach. She helps spiraling moms overcome the overwhelm through Functional Wellness coaching for the body, mind and soul so they can transform their health and live a deeply fulfilled life of freedom and harmony. She believes that to make the shift from “knowing” to “doing” you must apply mindfulness, address what is driving the behavior, be intentional and practice self compassion.
Download here or find and listen wherever you get podcasts!
Now that we’re officially into winter, I have my late night urge to indulge in something warm and cozy (and by late night, I mean like 7:30). While there are plenty of packaged hot chocolate options out there, taking a little extra time to make something from scratch represents true self care for me.
I’m such a rushed person, but lately I’ve come to realize that when I fail to take time to prepare or sit and eat a meal slowly, I’m sending signals to my body that my nourishment isn’t important.
If food is information for our cells, and it is, then what kind of information do we send our body when we say we don’t have time? “I don’t have time to give you what you need.” Most times, we eat in a rush and don’t get a chance to savor complexity of flavors because we are so busy inhaling our packaged convenience food in order to go on to the next thing.
Taking time to prepare food also prepares our thoughts. Our thoughts are powerful chemical messengers that tell our bodies what to do. If we are stressed and rushed, we tell our bodies to shut down digestion in order to “survive” whatever is stressing us out. This year, I’m making an effort to take my thoughts captive – and even what I think about the process of eating makes a difference.
All right, enough philosophizing – now to the recipe.
I woke up with a pep in my step today, not so much because it’s a new year, but because December is OVER. Historically, the month of December is rough on my mood and this year was no exception. Too much activity, too much planning, too much sugar and alcohol always puts my sensitive brain on overload.
But today marks a new month and whole new year! My newest Feast 2 Fast nutrition coaching group starts on Monday, and I can’t wait to get back to allllll the veggies!
At the last minute, I decided to whip up some lucky black eyed peas in honor of a fresh start. Full disclosure: I’ve never made black eyed peas. I remember my grandparents always had them on New Year’s Day, and as a little girl I turned up my nose at them and thought they were icky.
Not to brag or anything, but I made a mean red beans and rice one time, so I figured it couldn’t be that different. The ingredients are simple and tasty. The bone broth gives your gut microbiome some love, and the bacon adds an extra kick of flavor that partners well with the spice from the jalapeno pepper (which is an idea from my brother when I told him I was attempting to make black eyed peas).
Like all legumes, black eyed peas are a great source of soluble fiber, which helps support healthy blood sugar metabolism. Soaking them overnight can help reduce the antinutrients in order to make them more tolerable for digestion and to optimize health benefits. They’re very high in folate as well, which is a brain-boosting bonus. I enjoyed a bowl of the spicy peas right after my New Year run, and I may even end up blending some up to make a hummus dip – who knows!
You know, recipes stress me out. It’s the aspect of multi-tasking I can’t do. Gathering the ingredients, measuring them out, and moving from my phone to my work station and back again… it’s too much, especially toward the end of the day when my kids are running around terrorizing each other.
I discovered a secret to cooking recently. It goes like this: I play around and I trust my foodie instinct. After thirty-some years in this gluttonous country, I think I know what kind of flavors I like.
This little girl didn’t know that in 10 years she would wish for death. She loved her family, her new siblings, and Jesus, too. Much like the Tom Petty song, she was about to take a free fall – down the path of a broken brain.
She was a preacher’s daughter with a genetic disposition to mental illness. Add on to that various health issues like chronic ear infections, asthma, allergy shots, antibiotics and steroids… and a budding sugar addiction, due to poor gut health. She was all energy and filled with curiosity, wanting to know the how and why of everything. So one day, when the darkness closed in, she would questions why she couldn’t just pray it away.
Hi, I’m Erin Kerry! Welcome to Sparking Wholeness, where I share all the realistic ways I enhance my mind, body, and soul in everyday life.
The language of wellness is new to me, but it has transformed my life. As a survivor of bipolar disorder, I am continuously learning what that means and how it presents itself in my day today. I have been medication-free for 3 and a half years and counting. I consider myself an anomaly (I share my full story here). Because of this, I believe whole body health is key to managing the illnesses that threaten to take us down. Everything is connected. How I feed my body feeds my brain. How I feed my brain feeds my soul. And on it goes.
I have three children who keep me busy and a pastor-counselor-husband who keeps me inspired. I taught English as a Second Language in public school before I made holistic wellness a full-time job so I could be home with my crazies. Now I homeschool, something my public school teaching self would not have believed 5 years ago.
Thank you for joining my journey to wholeness. I hope it sparks a flame inside of you the way it has for me.
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” – Rumi