Food For Thought
What’s gut health got to do with mental health? Lots! Did you know that over 90% of all the serotonin in your body is produced in your gut? Now you do. It’s no secret that food can be used to heal our bodies, but it seems that many people just don’t realize the power of food. It also seems to me that we’ve forgotten the adage, “you are what you eat.” I think of food as working in three possible ways in the body:
1) as fuel which is its main purpose 2) as medicine and 3) as poison. Figuring out which foods are most helpful in your own body can be challenging but in my experience, well worth the effort. We can probably agree that a banana is a “healthy food”, but in my body it acts like poison. Why banana? I have no idea. It might act like fuel or even medicine in your body. It’s an amazing puzzle is human digestion. What I feel certain in saying is that nutrition plays a vital role in our overall well-being.
I have always been interested in nutrition. This is probably because I love food. The problem was that food has never loved me back. I have struggled with food allergies and intolerances my whole life. I had horrible ecxema as a child and went to numerous doctors for help. As a teenager, I developed migraines and digestive issues. Finally in young adulthood I started working with alternative healing modalities to attempt to feel better. I basically felt like crap all the time and was desperate for health. I looked healthy, I exercised regularly and ate pretty well, but I did not feel well. I saw MD’s, chiropractors, nutritionists, acupuncturists, personal trainers, homeopaths, energy healers, therapists of all kinds, psychologists and even once spent a week on a healing journey with a Shaman. Through a great deal of curiosity & persistence, I have figured out what works for me. I diligently developed a team of practitioners that I currently see to help me stay healthy – I see a Functional Medicine Doc, an LPC that specializes in energy healing along with traditional counseling and a chiropractor. I have been the client for EMDR, Neurofeedback and Hypnotherapy which I thought were all helpful in their own ways. I have a daily practice of mindfulness, meditation, prayer and yoga. I also get massages as often as I can. It is safe to say that I will try just about any kind of healing modality. I greatly appreciate the variety of practitioners here in the United States and around the world. I am one lucky duck to benefit from such wonderful healing experiences.
I became particularly interested in gut health after my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I read research on gut health, digestion and healing cancer. As a qualitative researcher, I was most interested in stories of people who were not only living but living well after such a diagnosis. I found that the people that were thriving (or had reported a good quality of life before dying) had all utilized both conventional treatments along with alternative therapies. Most had changed their diets and took digestive health more seriously than before the diagnosis. I could not convince my father to change but I could take my own nutrition and digestive health to a new level, and so I did. I started everything I wanted him to try (can you say control freak). I tried colonics and eliminated the gut health detractors such as alcohol, dairy and gluten from my diet. My physical health improved, I felt better and lost a few pounds to boot. My father battled in his own way and lived almost three years after his diagnosis. I kept studying gut health after his death because it made sense to me that disease begins with inflammation and a great deal of the inflammation in our bodies is influenced by lifestyle choices & nutrition.
I have become somewhat obsessed with gut health as it relates to the counseling field. I think counseling can be extremely helpful to people and wellness counseling in particular can save lives. I see a future with licensed professional counselors returning to our roots in wellness and guidance. I see many of us embracing a holistic approach and incorporating the many “alternative” therapies in our work. I believe in doing what is most helpful to clients and meditation, mindfulness, breathing techniques, yoga, creative expression (movement, painting, writing, art, sandtray, etc), as well as different healing modalities (EMDR, hypnotherapy, RRT, Brain-spotting, EFT, energy medicine, Heart Math, reiki, etc.) when used properly all help clients heal. Among the other frontier studies, gut health has much to offer us. My feeling is that you can be helpful to a client but if her/his brain is starving and gut is leaky, it will be difficult to see any progress. We can debate what constitutes progress a later date but for now let me just say that the leaky gut causes a host of problems that will look and feel psychological in nature. A whole mind-body-spirit approach makes sense to me as a counselor and counselor educator. Understanding healthy gut function as a professional mental health counselor or counselor in training is important to quality care for our clients. I continue to work towards my own vibrant health and I enjoy life most when I can help others do the same.