It’s true. I am absolutely not a scientist…I prefered the humanities and the arts to science classes in school.
I became an editor and writer instead of a biologist or chemist.
And I couldn’t tell you for certain the scientific aspects of the effects of essential oils on your body—I might not even really be able to find the answers through research because I don’t truly comprehend scientific evidence to the same extent that I comprehend art and story.
But I can tell a good story. ;)
Who has ever heard about the Brain-Gut Connection? There seems to be endless talk about the Brain-Gut connection lately, which is cool! It’s awesome that folks are talking about the connection between brain health and gut health when it comes to what we put in our bodies.
But here’s what I get out of the scientific conversation…and here’s why I think that my takeaway is perfectly legitimate:
Takeaway: My brain health is connected to my gut health, so my brain (including my thoughts) has an effect on my gut (my digestion) and vice versa.
And that takeaway is legitimate because I don’t need to know HOW exactly through the physical body and chemistry and physics (does that play a roll? probably not) my brain has an effect on my gut health. It’s enough for me to know that it simply DOES.
And then I can set my own story in that knowledge.
When I was in college, I began to have unbelievably troublesome digestive issues. I’ve discussed my digestive messiness in an earlier blog (click here to read it), so I won’t go into exactly all the details of my unfortunate digestive battles again, but I’ll summarize them:
My digestion was CRAPPY. Poopy. Literally and figuratively.
Here’s how I put it in my earlier post:
I’m talking barely making it to the bathroom in my dorm after eating in the dining hall (and that was only from food poisoning once ;). I’m talking NOT making it to the bathroom one time…and being super thankful no one was around so I could just stuff my underwear into the bottom of the trash can and hide in my room. (YES, I’M BRIGHT RED RIGHT NOW JUST THINKING ABOUT THIS. AHHHH.)
Obviously the first idea I had for fixing said “poopy” issues was to adjust what exactly I was eating. So I did that. I shifted every single piece of food I put in my body. I “cleaned up” my diet. And while I lost weight (which was, honestly, the real goal), my digestive issues hardly changed.
I tried drinking digestive support teas in response to my stomach pain. I was attempting to react as opposed to prevent my digestive issues. I had so much fear surrounding food, like I said in my first digestive post:
It wasn’t long before that shame caused a physical reaction in the form of a painful bowel movement…which then brought on intense FEAR at every single meal.
I remember in college being so hungry…but being so AFRAID to eat because I didn’t want anyone to hear me in the bathroom. Or being so afraid to eat because I would be going somewhere right after and just knew I would have to stop at a gas station (or even along the side of the road) because I would be in such bad shape…
I tried taking probiotics. While this was a slightly more preventative measure, it still did very little to really fix my digestive issues. I visited the chiropractor regularly as well (alignment can play a huge role in digestive health, so I tried that). But neither of those did much good either.
When I started with Young Living, I used the Digest & Cleanse, Peppermint and DiGize oils, and I cut every chemical product out of my home. I then started taking the Life9 probiotic supplement as well from Young Living—which was a more powerful supplement than the other probiotics I was taking before. The products I was taking helped to a certain extent. The chemical free lifestyle helped as well…again, to a certain extent.
I was building a wellness lifestyle that could support healthy digestion…but I was still missing one vitally important piece of my digestive health puzzle.
I left out my FREAKIN BRAIN. Wuuuut.
When I first learned about the brain-gut connection, I thought it was merely a scientific thing in which the food I ate would affect my brain health as well as cause digestive issues. I thought if I ate healthy fats and stayed hydrated, my brain would be healthy, so I would be good to go (or, rather, not go ;)! Nevermind that my increase in water consumption made my body freak out for a while and made me poop evermore. *blushing….
I didn’t think of the brain-gut connection as a two-way street.
I’m 27 years old. It has taken me 27 years to realize how great an effect my thoughts about food have on my digestive health.
I’ve recently realized how incredibly reactive I am as a person. I am overly reactive emotionally to almost everything in my life.
I’m overly reactive to stress.
I’m overly reactive to perceived (or real) threats or disrespect.
I’m overly reactive to sensory stimuli.
I’m overly reactive to foods.
I’m overly reactive to dreams.
I’m overly reactive to movies, books, and all other forms of media.
In the past, my reactiveness has led to some seriously powerful emotional responses. I’ve displayed intense anger, crushing sadness, paralyzing fear, and intense suspicion of others.
And my reactiveness (which I continue to flush out every single day in every single area of life) led to some seriously crappy craps.
So no matter what I put into my body (or didn’t put into my body), my reactions to food were always negative. I would have to use the bathroom immediately after consuming food because my thoughts about food attributed value judgments to food, which caused a physical reaction to it.
Like I wrote in the earlier post:
My digestion has always been reactive. Now, what I’ve figured out about my own body is that 99% of my digestive issues, of the “running to the bathroom prairie dogging” sort, are stress-induced.
It started when I was a kid. I learned that certain foods were “bad” and others were “good,” which quickly correlated to I was “good” if I ate those certain foods that were “good”…and “bad” if I ate the others.
That put a specific relationship in my mind between my goodness and worth and the food I consumed. So as I got older, I would make the choice to eat something that in my childhood was considered “bad” (because I was an ADULT and could make my own damn decisions…damn it), but my sense of shame would kick in and I would instantly feel bad about eating it.
In attributing those value judgments to food (and to myself as the person who ate said food), I created a toxic thought pattern about food that continued to plague my digestive system as my reactionary-self responded to those thought patterns with digestive awfulness.
I’m sure a scientist would be able to tell you exactly why that happened, but it is enough for me to have been able to identify what was happening so that I could begin to retrain my thoughts and rebuild my belief system about food as I worked to become less reactive.
It is enough that I identified my own experience of the brain-gut connection and could take steps to improve both my brain health and my gut health simultaneously.
My relearning process began with this experience, which I wrote about in my earlier post:
I realized this was going on when I was out to eat with someone and they said something offhand about the fact that I was eating chips at a Mexican restaurant. They didn’t mean anything by it. But I created a whole story about what that person said that meant I was a worthless piece of crap for eating chips…and guess what happened? Instant stomach ache, instant bathroom issues.
The next time that person was around, I happened to be eating something…and my negative self-talk put me back in the bathroom…and this time in bed too with stomach cramps that were unbearable.
As I laid there feeling sick, I thought about why that person’s presence had caused me to have such a reaction. It wasn’t because of the type of food I was eating this time. It was because of the person that was there who I was certain was judging me for eating food.
But it wasn’t that person. It was the voice in my own head that had equated my worth with the food I ate and the size clothes I wore, and I realized I had been punishing myself with bathroom visits.
I didn’t recognize that this was a form of food disorder because I wasn’t making myself purge. But I had trained my body to purge in another way with the systematically abusive thoughts I had about food.
Once I realized what was happening, I grabbed the bottle of SARA, opened the lid, and smelled it right out of the bottle. I inhaled it gently while I sat on my bed and started to offer myself small statements of forgiveness for how I treated myself for so many years.
And you know what happened? My stomach ache disappeared almost instantly.
And that relearning continues today. Here are the products and habits that have aided me on my daily journey to a healthy, mutually-productive brain-gut connection:
1. Infused7 Oils and positive affirmations
As you may know, every morning I open the Infused7 oils (which were inspired by Oola) and say positive affirmations aloud. These affirmations help me retain a positive mindset throughout the day and they retrain my subconscious mind to believe positive, affirming things about myself. Retraining my subconscious mind helps to retrain my thought patterns because what my mind believes to be true comes out in my thoughts and therefore my actions and reactions.
2. Blends: Infused7, Sacred Mountain, SARA, Christmas Spirit, and Stress Away
My stress tends to be themed. What I mean is that when I experience stress, it is generally around one particular theme: family stress, not feeling grounded, work stress, fitness and health stress, sleep stress, past emotional pain stress, etc. As I become more and more mindful of my emotional reactions, I am better able to identify that theme in my own emotional experience, and when I identify the theme in a particular instance of stress, I reach for an oil that can help me release and rethink that stress.
For example, I’ve only been living in my home for about 6 months, and before I lived here, I moved a million and a half times (yes, I exaggerate). I often struggle with feeling ungrounded and transient. When I identify that theme in my stress response, I reach for Sacred Mountain blend. I breathe it in from the bottle or diffuse it and I think about where my roots run deep. I take stock of my base—of what I have to feel grounded in. This blend and that process helps me release that stress.
I’ll be totally honest here: I am not yet a master meditator. I’m not even a consistent meditator. I didn’t meditate this morning even. But when I do meditate, I find that it helps me to think through my reactive nature and to pause more often. Meditation helps me remember to pause my thoughts when they become reactionary and value-judgement based about food. I am able to ask myself why I have that thought about food. I can simply observe that thought and let it go instead of it taking root in my mind until my reactionary response takes over and I have to run to the bathroom again. I use the Calm app to meditate (and I’m currently planning on digging into the Calm series titled “Non-Judgement.” I’ll let you know how it goes!).
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As a writer, I am drawn to journaling as a source of release and relearning. Joan Didion said something like, “I don’t know what I think about something until I write about it.” That is absolutely true for me. Many of my journal pages are filled with thoughts about my health and wellness and about my relationship with food. I don’t generally use a prompt of any kind to get me writing in the morning…probably because I have so much pent up emotion and reactiveness that I need no help getting something out on the page. It comes bursting forth when I finally give it the option to do so.
5. Deep Breathing
This one is so simple and so very powerful. When I start to go into a state of fear-based value judgments about food, I pause and take a few deep breaths. Sometimes I’ll grab an oil blend to aid me in my mindset shift, but sometimes I simply breathe. Taking a deep breath can pause the cycle of negative thoughts, and the deep breath disrupts the reactionary process. You can’t react if you are focused on your breathing.
So as you can see, none of these are super “scientific” approaches to retraining or healing the brain-gut connection…but they take the truth of the brain-gut connection and make practical changes to positively affect the health of both my brain and my gut.
I would love to chat with you about this brain-gut connection thing! Comment below!
What daily practices do you use to improve your brain-gut health and wellness?
How are you Living Well (On Purpose) today and every day?
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