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Adventures in Mindful Living

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Being Mindful of My Microbiome Healed My Digestive Problems

Understanding how my microbiome works was key to my digestive healing journey

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As the tray of freshly baked almond-flour pumpkin muffins emerges from the oven, the scent of cinnamon, cloves and melted chocolate fills the air in my kitchen.

My daughter walks through the door after getting off the school bus and takes a deep breath, inhaling the aroma that wafts toward her. “Mmmmm, smells yummy, Mommy!”

I’ve always enjoyed sweet treats like this ever since I was a kid, but I also judged myself for enjoying sweets and thought of my sweet-tooth as my “problem” causing blood sugar imbalances, fatigue, digestive problems and inflammation as middle and high-school. 

By the time I was in college, I had developed a prediabetic type blood sugar imbalance, chronic fatigue, skin problems, joint pain, and an insatiable sweet tooth. Not a good combination.

I blamed myself for my health problems, berating myself after overindulging on sweets and comfort foods, oftentimes after eating a single cookie! I also hated my body and the bloat that was visible no matter how I tried to hide it with my clothes. 

As I got older I started developing more tummy troubles and I often felt frustrated and confused about what to eat.

My self-blame and self-loathing only got worse. I’d often hear a voice in my mind shaking its head with disapproval. I felt like I was a hopeless case, that my digestive health, inflammation and blood sugar would only continue to get worse.

“As it turns out, our microbiome is constantly directing our mood, sleep, inflammation, and even food cravings!”

That’s when I began to study all about the microbiome — the living ecosystem that exists within our bodies responsible for producing feel-good chemicals like serotonin and GABA, digesting our food and extracting the nutrients we need, and even reducing inflammation, among so many important things.

The more I learned about the microbiome, the more I understood how our nervous system is intimately connected to our digestive system and immune system.

As it turns out, our microbiome is constantly directing our mood, sleep, inflammation, and even food cravings! It does all of this through our gut-brain-axis which is a communication channel between our brain, our enteric nervous system (located in our gut) and our larger nervous system.

The problem is that our microbiome has relied on very specific foods to thrive for hundreds of thousands of years and in the last hundred years, many of these essential foods have become extinct from our diet.

I also learned that extending kinder feelings towards myself after overindulging or eating a cookie in the middle of the night, could actually help my digestive system to heal — who knew!?

This is because being compassionate towards how our body is feeling (sensations, thoughts and emotions) allows our nervous system to relax and feel safe, which in turn, allows our enteric nervous system and healthy microbes to flourish and do their job of producing more feel-good chemicals.

But one of the most fascinating things I learned, is that our microbiome is one of the major influencers on our food cravings!

It was an upward spiral journey where my mental and physical health flourished together.

How does our microbiome affect our food cravings?

The first thing to know is that microbes line our intestines, helping us digest food. But this intestinal slime is actually made up of good and bad microbes.

Good microbes support our body in crucial ways. They helps us poop every day, for one. They also produce our own internal pharmacy of natural antidepressants – chemicals that make us feel safe and relaxed. One example is serotonin, which makes us feel safe, like everything will be okay, even in the midst of stressors and changes in our lives.

These good microbes also builds essential short-chain fatty acids, which reduces appetite and balance blood sugar. They feed off a plant-based, fiber-rich diet.

Then, there’s the bad microbes. These microbes LIVE off our excess blood sugar, which is why we often crave sweets and carbs when there is an overgrowth. Bad microbes create neurotoxins that cause confusion, inflammation, and gas. By messing with our blood sugar, these microbes give us the feeling that we need to eat more, even when our body has had enough to eat.

Learning to Work With Our Gut-Brain Rather Than Against It

This is the main reason that self-discipline alone fails us when it comes to our diet and overall health. We cannot pin our brain against our body in our attempts to eat better and create better habits, we must learn to work with our gut-brain-axis, rather than against it, because our gut quite LITERALLY has a mind of it’s own. 

Overtime, I figured out a method that worked for me – and eventually for my clients struggling with digestive system imbalances, blood sugar highs and lows, and inflammatory conditions.

This method consists of four parts:

1. Understanding the science behind our gut brain

2. Mindfully reconnecting with our body regularly

3. Creating a food oasis

4. Practicing intuitive, biome-conscious eating, with no foods off-limits

When we learn how to become an ally with our body, rather than seeing it as our enemy, our health and mood can completely transform. Mine did, in ways I never thought possible. 

Back in my kitchen, I place the homemade muffins on the stove and step back to admire my work. They are moist, steaming, and – most importantly to me – medicine for both mine and my children’s bodies.

Join my 7-day Mindful, Intuitive Eating Challenge for the chance to turn inward and kindle your relationship with your body for lasting changes in your health and mood.

Heather Wise, MPH

Health and Wellness Coach
Co-Founder of SkillfulMeans