Gut Health 101: Part 2 – What Do I Do?

Now that I shared what leaky gut is and how it starts, I’m excited to share my top tips for nourishing your gut! If you’re already feeling nervous or annoyed that I’m going to share a long to-do list that will overwhelm you, scroll down to Tip #4, then come back up to the top and be encouraged! Learning to take care of your gut is such a rewarding process.

First things first – because I love all things food, my inclination is to start there. But that may be backwards.

See, if you don’t take care of external triggers, it doesn’t matter what food you eat.

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Tip #1: Manage Stress

We can’t avoid traffic, work deadlines, soccer practices, family conflicts, etc. But we CAN handle how we manage the stress they create.

The best thing I’ve done for my stress levels is learning to breathe. Guided breathwork has been so beneficial. There are various studies into why and how they assist the parasympathetic nervous system, but let’s focus on this – deep nostril breathing will decrease the stress center in your brain. It will instantly calm and soothe you. Just a few minutes of calm, steady breathing can be a game-changer for your stress levels.

One other thing that helps lighten my stress load when my mind is racing is taking a bath with Epsom salts. I am NOT a bath person, and I’ve never been a fan of just laying there, but an extra hot bath that leaves me alone with my mind and deep breathing practices is something I’ve come to depend on during stressful times.

I’m also a big fan of a gratitude journal, either first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. Reflect on what went well the previous day. Try to list 3-5 things. It’s hard to be stressed or fearful when you’re acknowledging the positive in your life. Being grateful changes your brain, the expression of your genes, and improves your gut health!

Tip #2: Eat Real Food!

…And eat it slowly. It’s no secret that processed food is damaging for us. But we all know that, and we just keep on keeping on with our gut issues. So while ideally, one would focus on cutting out the triggers, for some it is a much more realistic approach to crowd in the most fueling foods. Eating slowly and mindfully gives your digestive system time to digest and process the food. Taking breathers between bites and chewing slowly gives your enzymes a chance to do what they need to do and break down your food.

Vegetables contain prebiotic fiber that feeds the good bacteria in our gut. They detoxify our bodies and provide much needed vitamins for our brain health. They also help produce short chain fatty acids like butyrate, which is so important for mental health and has even been studied to be helpful in reducing symptoms of mania. Side note – butyrate is found in grass fed butter and ghee, so by cooking vegetables in either of those you’re increasing your fat-soluble vitamin content AND getting a double dose of brain goodness!

Continue reading “Gut Health 101: Part 2 – What Do I Do?”

Gut Health 101: Part 1 – What is Leaky Gut?

Aside from epigenetics, one discovery that has completely changed the way I view my body’s healing ability is gut health. Learning how to take care of my gut transformed my mental health.

5 years ago, the term was a mystery to me. I thought probiotics were only necessary when taking an antibiotic. And it’s true – considering the fact that most of the food we eat contains antibiotics, probiotics are a necessity.

The reality is, the state of our gut bacteria determines much of our health and well-being, from our immune system to mental health to most chronic diseases plaguing people in the 21st century.

From a young age, I was on antibiotics, steroids, and various medications that disrupt gut bacteria. I suffered from intense sugar cravings and yeast infections, major signs that my gut needed balancing. The state of my gut health, those genetic predispositions I mentioned earlier, and witnessing a traumatic event at the age of 9 are what I believe led to my mental illness crisis in my teens and 20s. It’s alllll connected. Continue reading “Gut Health 101: Part 1 – What is Leaky Gut?”

How Dirty Are Your Genes?

“Our genes load the gun, but our environment pulls the trigger.”

Have you heard this before? We are not stuck with our genes. We can change the expression of our genes with every bite we take, step we take, thought we think. This is the concept of epigenetics.

I recently found out I have a copy of a gene mutation called MTHFR. Because I refer to this in many of my recipes as my motivation for eating the way I eat, I want to break it down in an easy, Cliffs notes kind of way. There are many websites out there that can explain it in depth (like this and this), but here are the basics:

An estimated 30-60% of the population has at least one copy of this gene. When you have MTHFR, your body cannot fully convert folic acid into methylfolate, the methylated form of folate, and some experts suggest that ANY folic acid consumed will block the absorption of folate – even that which you consume in whole foods. This is detrimental to our brain health, because neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine need methylfolate for production.

Common health concerns sometimes associated with MTHFR include:

  • ADHD, autism, mental illness (depression, anxiety, bipolar)
  • Autoimmune disease/thyroid disorders
  • Digestive issues
  • Migraines
  • Recurrent miscarriages
  • Infertility
  • Hormonal issues, like PCOS
  • Blood clots, stroke, embolism
  • And many many more (it’s a rabbit hole)

Continue reading “How Dirty Are Your Genes?”

Is What You’re Eating Stressing You Out?

Stress. We hear about it all the time. It’s in our daily vocabulary. We feel the weight of it constantly.

What if I told you that the food you consume is stressing your body out and making things worse?

It sounds crazy, right? When I think of stress, I think of a busy schedule, too many commitments, big life events or tragedies, etc. I don’t think of an internal response. However, the food you eat has a major impact on your stress hormone: cortisol.

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I’m more flight than fight, looking at this!

Cortisol is the fight or flight hormone. The purpose of it is actually a good thing! It is supposed to protect your body during times of stress. Imagine living in the wild and a mountain lion is approaching. Cortisol shoots through your body through the adrenals (hello, adrenaline!) in order to increase glucose for energy to ward off the attacker. Your heart rate increases thanks to epinephrine and you’re able to store fat needed for the fight. After the mountain lion has been killed and the situation is resolved, your body returns back to its normal state. All is well.

Here’s the problem with our current diet. When we eat lots of sugar and refined or simple carbs, our blood sugar is frequently crashing, signaling to the body that we’re under attack and need an increase of cortisol. So glucose is increased and fat is stored. This is super taxing on the adrenals, because due to the carb-sugar cycle we are always in, our adrenal glands are ALWAYS shooting out extra cortisol, way more than was intended in human design. Our cells soon become resistant to cortisol. What does this lead to? Inflammation, a poor-functioning immune system, type 2 diabetes, fertility issues, inability to lose weight, cancer, thyroid problems, depression, chronic fatigue…the list goes on. Continue reading “Is What You’re Eating Stressing You Out?”

Active Monitoring

I taught public school for 11 years, and every spring we received a special training in “active monitoring.” Nobody looks forward to active monitoring. It is the  job teachers take on during the end of year state assessments. All certified teachers must stay on their feet during the majority of the test, walking up and down the aisles, making sure nobody is looking at another test, or marking in another section, or eating, or ANYTHING that would cause them to get marked up as a “state testing irregularity.” I dreaded these days every year, because I knew if I lost focus for one second, something could happen and I would get marked up and have my state teaching certificate questioned or revoked or torn up or SOMETHING horrible would happen.

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Living with a mental illness requires active monitoring. Much like how I used to roam the aisles of my classroom, eyes alert for any misconduct or twitch of movement, I constantly roam my brain and my body for signs of disorder.

Continue reading “Active Monitoring”

I’m That Girl

Last weekend I spent time with a group of girls who have known me longer than anyone else besides my own family. We talked for hours and hours, laughing and sharing stories, erasing years and distance. It was refreshing and healing.

The final morning I found our senior yearbook, from all the way back in 1999. Flipping through it, I noticed something. Page after page, a familiar face kept popping up at me. My own. Every activity, every party, every event. The more pictures I saw, the more I cringed. The inward narrative started.

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“Ugh, why did you have to do so much?”

“Why were you always a camera hog?”

“You must have been so annoying!”

“Why are you always That Girl?”

Insecurities surfaced with the old narrative. Yes, it was clear that I lived with a deep need to find my worth in my activity and my achievements. We went to a small private school, so plenty of opportunities for over-involvement existed. Still, it hurt to watch it unfold in this book, as I know I STILL so often act out of a craving for approval and acceptance. Continue reading “I’m That Girl”