Friday, June 14, 2013

Marie's Musings: My Brain-Gut Connection

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As part of the Gluten Free Health Challenge, Marie will be posting her journal entries on the first 3 Fridays of every month from now until December. She will also be receiving free health coaching during this time from Sarah Dochow of Nurture Nutrition and Iris Higgins of Your Fairy Angel

Hello world! I have a feeling this post is going to be a bit scatterbrained today, so please bear with me as I try to collect my thoughts and reflect on what's been going on since I've officially gone gluten free.

Knowing that Saturday was the first official day of my GF journey, I decided that Friday would be a day of bagels. Bad choice. Since April I've had a lot of accidentally gluten free days. For the past month and a half, my diet had been mostly rice-based and repetitive with an abundance of instant white rice, beans, canned vegetables, and not too much else. While I'm not dissatisfied with such boring eating, I thought I should fit it one last wheat-filled hoorah while I still could. Let's just say that within hours of eating those lovely bagels on Friday, I was violently tossing my cookies. I've figured out that dairy makes me ill. Okay, I can accept that. But is it possible that my body is also rejecting gluten? How did I not know this? Is it all just a massive coincidence, or did reincorporating an abundance of gluteny goodness cause me to be sick? I found myself wondering if my diet has been unknowingly causing my gastrointestinal distress, and if so, what else will I have to eliminate just to feel like a normal functioning person again? When my stepfather was on dialysis with kidney failure, he had a long list of no-no foods and often joked that the only thing he was allowed to eat was apples. Would this be my fate? Is my body rebelling against me? Am I going to be the girl who can only eat apples or else risk getting violently ill? I can't even get fresh apples here in the desert!  

As it turns out, my dietary intake is not the only thing that's conspiring against me; stress causes me to have violent and painful GI attacks. On Monday I discovered that my bank account had been hacked and all of my money is gone. They have initiated a fraud investigation, but told me my funds will not be returned to me for another 90 days. I had barely eaten on Monday, but the stress of it all had me running to the bathroom, writhing in pain, experiencing all of the yucky and unpleasant symptoms that I'd experienced before going vegan. 

In a way I'm almost glad, really. Not glad that I've been robbed, of course, but glad to know that mental stress produces an extreme physical reaction in me. I now know for a fact that in addition to being mindful of what I put into my body, I must be vigilant in how I process stress or else I'll just be a weak-boweled mess who can't leave her bathroom. But it's okay. Because I can control these things. Because to the best of my knowledge I don't have a disease that causes this massive dumping; it's only when I don't eat right and/or my life goes crazy and I don't know how to handle it that my intestines decide to play hop scotch on crack. It's a nuisance with a huge learning curve but I'm convinced that I can fix this, or at least thwart these ghastly symptoms before they arise.

This afternoon I had my first phone consultation with my health coach, Sarah Dochow. Can I just take a moment to say she is simply amazing? Anyway, I was completely honest with her about my goals and my struggles, and to my utter amazement, she confirmed that I am not some freak of nature and that this stress-induced intestinal emptying is not abnormal. It was so nice to feel validated! I have an aunt who also experiences uncontrollable diarrhea when she is upset but I really thought she and I were the only two on this planet with some genetic mutation that causes us to become defective when the going gets tough. Maybe more people have this problem and are just too embarrassed to talk about it. Or maybe my aunt and I are just really hypersensitive (okay, I know for sure I am hypersensitive!) and that's why mental things affect me physically. But I'm not a freak! And most importantly, with a bit of practice I can manage this.

Sarah gave me some recommendations that should help me manage my stress and normalize my stomach acid. Here are the things that I am going to try incorporating this week, as per her recommendations:
  • Have a bit of protein before bed. I'd told her how off my sleep schedule is and how I've been using alcohol as a sleep aid, which is obviously not the most healthy choice. Apparently low blood sugar from only eating one large meal in the afternoon may be causing a bit of anxiety at night, so I'll try having some peanuts or beans before bed and see if that will help me relax enough to sleep. 
  • Write out my fears and also my blessings. We've established that stress makes my gut go crazy. I don't want a crazy gut anymore. When I get repetitive negative thoughts, I'm to write them down and put them away to deal with in the morning. I've also found that making a gratitude list helps to put things into perspective and lessens my upset, so I'll try that as well. I feel like until I learn to teach my mind how to shut off, I'll never be able to teach my hyperactive intestines to shut off.
  • I need to calm down before eating! Take a few deep breaths, clear my head, and let my body know that I'm about to eat, that I'm nourishing it, and that eating is a time for calm and to replenish what my body is lacking. Not go all willy-nilly crazy on me. Apparently there is a connection between the gut and the brain, and mine may be a little off. I need to look into this some more. 
  • Chew gum before meals. Even though I have pretty bad heartburn every single day, apparently I may not be producing enough stomach acid, which would explain a whole lot. I need to find a vegan brand of gum to enjoy; that should help keep my tummy doing what it needs to do. 
  • Drink apple cider vinegar in water half an hour before meals, and also refrain from drinking while eating. Again, this has to do with getting my stomach acid normal and not diluting it. I actually love the taste of ACV - I know, I'm a weirdo - but stopped drinking it a while ago. I'll be reincorporating it again and I'm really excited to see what it does to my body. 
So obviously, I am not saying you should do any of the things I was advised to do. My body has its own issues - and a whole lot of issues! - which may or may not be different from yours. What I am saying is, don't be afraid to talk to a health professional, particularly a holistic health professional. When I went to a gastroenterologist last year, his solution was to give me prescription medications and schedule me for invasive diagnostic testing that would cost thousands of dollars. While I can't say this is "wrong," I am personally wary of prescription medications as I feel their side effects are just as bad as what you're treating in the first place. A lot of doctors that I've dealt with are all about treating your symptoms, which is of course a huge relief, but my objective is to figure out why my body is protesting, and change what I'm doing so that it functions appropriately. Because somehow or other, I've been mistreating my body. I didn't know I was, and I didn't mean to, but obviously I have been. Bodies don't just decide to get sick one day. It's a reaction to an external stimulus, and I do believe if you correct what you're doing wrong, you will see really positive changes.

Speaking of stress, I thought I'd include a picture of me and my kitty cat, Nathan. He is the best boy in the whole world and he definitely helps to relieve my stress. A cuddle from him, and all is right in my world. While I figure out how to fix myself, at least I know of one strategy that always makes me feel calm and good: hug my boy and listen to him purr and know that no matter what else is going on in my life, we've got each other and we're going to be just fine.

Thanks for reading all of this. Until next time, be kind to yourself.



Dorothy said...

Marie, I'm so sorry to hear about your banking situation. That is awful. Awful! Do you need help? Let me know. Thanks for sharing the rest of your story. You are definitely NOT a freak. You are learning about your body and mind.....and how food impacts it. You know what makes it you are going to learn what heals it. Good for you. P.S. Nathan is adorable. Dorothy

Carole said...

Marie, Having your account hacked sorry it happened to you. As far as being able to "turn your mind off", the thing I have found most helpful is meditation. I went to a graduate counseling program in which we had two years of meditation training, and I resisted it like crazy. I still don't often find myself sitting on the cushion. But everyday I lay in bed before falling asleep and before getting up, so I use that time to just focus on my breath. And when my crazy mind wants to jump around,(I should have said that....I need to get this done tomorrow etc.) I just gently call it back, again and again to noticing my breath. Alternately, I watch thoughts coming up and passing away, rather than being caught in them. Even as a child I had such difficulty drifting off to sleep, and used to say, "if I could only find the knob to turn my thoughts off". Doing what I call my lazy meditation lying down didn't work immediatly, but with practice I now find myself falling asleep easily, and sleep deeply. I'm convinced adequate sleep is vital to good health, both mentally and physically. Also, thanks for sharing those ideas your health coach gave you...I'll try some of them too!

Stella S said...

Man, the hacking just sucks, doesn't it. A pox (?!?!?) on the hacker and his fingers too! I am glad that your money will be returned eventually. Someone in my town got their bank account hacked and lost their life savings...Seriously, a pox on the thief! LOVE your black kitty! I have a black kitty too. I wasn't aware before I got her that black cats and dogs are difficult to get adopted. So go black kitties!

TdotTwiFic said...

Hi, Might I add another suggestion that has been working for me. Drink warm lemon water when you wake up. It is really simple, warm some water, not hot, just warm. Buy organic lemons. Cut a lemon in half and save the other have for the next day or whatever meals you make during the day. Squeeze the half lemon into a cup (to go mug), even the seeds. Cut some of the pulp and put it in the mug, put the half of lemon right into the water... why not, this stuff is life. Pour the warm water in the mug and drink. Do this before eating. It does the similar thing as chewing gum before meals, but is already vegan. It preps your stomach and intestines for food. It also may heal any damage that may be there. It gets the acid going in your stomach so that your food will be digestible which makes it all happy to pass your intestines/bowels/guts. Then you can use the lemon rind and make a vinegar cleaner for your house or any of the many other uses for lemons. Google it, you will see what a difference lemons can do. And I use to hate lemons, too tangy, but now with my new lifestyle, lemons taste damn great. So do cranberries, which is another superfood. Also turmeric, cayenne, onions, garlic, cilantro and so much more. Hope it helps and thank you for sharing your posts. You are certainly not alone, because I share in all of this too. Mine is just a little opposite, stomach can handle anything but intestines just get bunged up and stop working. And yes, stress is a hug factor, because I tend to not eat when stressed. But I have many other issues then just that. But that is a whole other Oprah show. *waves*


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