Gut-Brain Connection

Gut Feeling: What Your Gut May Be Telling You About Your Health


Butterflies in the stomach. Feeling nauseous and that your “stomach is dropping into your gut”. Most people can relate to one or both of these experiences. What you may not of asked yourself is “Why is this happening?” The gut has recently been called “The 2nd brain” of the body because of the amount of neural connections and neurotransmitters that reside there. The gut is home to the microbiome, which is a civilization of bacteria that help with the functioning of digestion and fighting off infections. There are 100 times more microbes (bacteria) then there are human genes in the body. Western medicine has begun focusing on the importance of the human microbiome and how it impacts someone’s overall health. As a holistic counselor, my focus with the gut is how it impacts one’s mood and can it lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns.


The microbiome is an incredible place. Each person has their own unique makeup of bacteria and antibodies. Humans have the same types of bacteria but the amount of those different types of bacteria vary from each person. When the microbiome is unbalanced with one type of bacteria (also called dysbiosis) it can lead to infection, illness, and mood changes. Dysbiosis is caused by food, environment, and medicine. If a person dines on fast food for most meals, their gut microbiome will look different than someone who eats a variety of whole foods. Research has also shown that certain types of environments can impact the variety of bacteria in the gut. If someone lives in an environment that is heavily polluted and ingesting pollutants at home, those can lead to certain types of bacteria being unable to thrive in the body. Medications can also cause dysbiosis in the body. Antibiotics kill off both good and bad bacteria in order to heal an infection. This is why some doctors may suggest a probiotic to take while on antibiotics in order to protect the gut microbiome. According to healthline.com, it can take the gut microbiome one year to rebuild after taking one week of antibiotics. Dysbiosis can also lead to feelings of sadness, anxiety, and worry.


Serotonin, the neurochemical responsible for feelings of happiness and contentment,  also resides in the gut. In actuality, 95% of the serotonin in the body resides in the gut. The purpose of serotonin in the gut is to help with the movement of food through the digestive tract. When someone is experiencing sadness, anxiety, panic, or worry, they may also experience digestive issues. Other neurotransmitters reside in the gut, including dopamine. While the research in the West is in its infancy in regards to the impact of food and mood, there is documentation that this theory has been around for some time. In the 19th century, French pathologist Charles Bouchard studied the impact of food on the colon. He found that certain foods in the colon were causing toxins that were “making people sick and crazy”. This theory led to the removal of an individual’s colon (Anderson, Cryan & Dinan, p. 142). Dr. Bouchard was not far off with his theory. Since 95% of the body’s serotonin resides in the gut, the function of the neurotransmitter can be impacted by what one ingests. As a society, Americans  have come to rely on eating on the go. Eating on the go has helped us keep up with a fast-paced lifestyle but has not done us any favors in our mood and physical health. So how can we change this?


Diet and lifestyle changes such as Paleo, Keto, and Whole30 have risen in popularity because people want to go back to eating whole foods. We are becoming aware of how much processed foods and sugar are leading to illnesses we are trying to avoid. Eating processed foods and sugar can also lead to mood changes and instability. Sugar is 8x more addictive than heroin. That is quite alarming given that almost everything has sugar in it. We are trying to do better and live better and that begins with the food we eat. Individuals are also looking at their households and how things in their own environment can impact their overall health. Houseplants are becoming more popular because of their natural detoxifying properties. Some people have also opted for more natural cleaning products to use in their homes. These changes and more can help an individual feel better from the inside out.


So what can you do today to help yourself feel better from the inside out? Below are some things you can try starting today!


  1. Mindfulness/Meditation: Our society’s fast paced lifestyle can keep our bodies on constant alert and pumping chemicals that negatively impact our sleep, digestion, and body’s ability to fight off infection. Mindfulness and meditation are great tools to have and use on a daily basis. Mindfulness doesn’t have to be sitting on a meditation cushion and meditating for 30 minutes. I would encourage you to become mindful during your morning routine. For instance, when you are brushing your teeth, say to yourself “I am brushing my teeth. I notice the bristles feel soft on my gums. I notice how my tongue and teeth feel after I brush.” Doing that each morning can set you up for being present and aware.

  2. Acknowledge your feelings: It is tough to be present with difficult emotions, especially during a busy day. You have a lot of things on your plate and the last thing you want to do is sit with difficult emotions. However, some of these difficult emotions lead us to engaging in behaviors that we are trying to avoid (i.e. eating the doughnuts in the breakroom). When you notice that you are feeling angry, frustrated, annoyed, or confused, sit down and put your hands over your heart. Breathe and name the feeling that you are feeling. Sit with yourself and allow yourself to calm down. This may take 2 minutes or 10 minutes. Take as much time as you need.

  3. Practice breathing: Most Americans breathe incorrectly. This is because of our fast-paced lifestyles. Most people chest breathe rather than belly breathing. Chest breathing is a type of breathing our body does when we are feeling threatened or in crisis. This usually involves breathing in and out of the mouth. When someone breathes like this, they’re not getting enough oxygen to other parts of the body. Belly breathing is the way to get air to all parts of the body. Begin by sitting in a comfortable position. Place your hands on your belly. Take air in through the nose and try to bring the air down to the belly. It make take a few tries before you can bring air down there. When you bring air down to the belly, your belly will expand. As you release the air, the belly will contract. Practice bringing air in through the nose and releasing it through the mouth. Allow yourself to make noise when you are releasing the air through the mouth. The more noise, the more cathartic it feels.

  4. Try houseplants: Research houseplants that are good for purifying the air. There are many to choose from. If you have pets, make sure the plants are safe to be around pets.

  5. Try whole foods and cut out sugar: Cutting out sugar is one of the most difficult but rewarding thing you can do. Sugar significantly impacts our mood and health in a negative way. Try incorporating whole foods (foods that don’t come packaged) into your daily routine.

  6. Talk to your medical professional about probiotics: Talk to your doctor about probiotics. Ask him/her about what they would recommend and how much to take. Also ask your doctor about probiotics if you are being prescribed an antibiotic to fight off an infection.


Our brains and bodies are not disconnected. What we think, eat, feel, and live in impacts our overall well-being. By trying one of the suggested activities, you are choosing to be in control of your health and wellness. You are opting for a more preventative way of life, rather than fighting things as they come. You are in control of your health and happiness.



Seeing Successes During Difficult Times

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Failure. You may wake up one morning and think “I am a loser” or “I am never going to amount to anything”. You might also think “No matter how hard I try, nothing gets better!” It’s easy to get caught up in the endless tape of negativity. You can have one negative thought in the morning and the negative thoughts can continue throughout the day. By the time the end of the day comes, you are exhausted and emotionally drained. Where did your day go? How did it get this far? It is all about changing your thoughts and moving towards positivity.

 

So what is failure? Merriam Webster defines failure as: 1) Lack of success and an unsuccessful person, enterprise, or thing; 2) The omission of expected or required action; 3) The action or state of not functioning.

Even though the definitions may or may not apply to you, definitions are subjective to the person. It also involves your definition of success. Success is the opposite of failure. Failure cannot be present when there is success. Others may see you as successful but you see yourself as a failure. You hit all your milestones but one and then the focus falls on the failure. Successes and failures are subjective. How can you be positive when you have setbacks?

 

Setbacks are a part of life. You and someone you know may experience a similar setback, but respond to it differently. Setbacks can be painful. Being present in the moment and acknowledging your successes is a way to stay positive. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson states that in order to accept the positive you need to sit in that feeling for 7-10 seconds. For example, if you receive a compliment from a colleague, instead of brushing it off, sit in the positive feeling for 7-10 seconds. You might also repeat the compliment during the 7-10 seconds. This helps to change the neural pathways of your brain (Hanson, 2013, Hardwiring Happiness, Harmony Publications).

 

It is easy to focus on setbacks and “failures”. It is very easy to allow yourself to ruminate and beat yourself up. Instead, focus on your successes. Focus on what you have accomplished thus far. You have already accomplished so much. You are alive. You are breathing. You have today. Start today on a positive note.

 

Do you need help implementing some of these steps and live in the Kansas City area? I would love to meet with you to discuss you and your family's specific situation. To make an appointment, you can reach me by email

Loving Your Body Through Pain

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It is hard to love your body through the aches and pains that we humans endure over our lifetime. Especially if you are one that works out and takes good care of your body. You might see posts on social media about how your body's  “A temple” and hear from others that“This is the only body you will have in your lifetime”. But what do you do when your body is in pain and under the weather? How do you manage patience and compassion when your body doesn’t do what you want it to do?

I know this struggle first-hand. I was an athlete starting at the age of 8. I played basketball and wanted to play in college. During my freshman year of high school I injured my shoulder. I continued to play on it until it would dislocate. I had to go to a couple of doctors to figure out what was wrong with it. Finally, a shoulder surgeon repaired my shoulder when I was 16 years old. I endured rehabilitation for 6 months before I was able to be released for normal activities. I never played college basketball but continued to value exercise and being in shape.

I am now 31 years old and my shoulder is in pain. I have no idea what has caused this pain but I am angry about it. I am sore in the morning and in the evening. I don’t feel the same as I did 6 months ago. Instead of being compassionate about my rehabilitated shoulder, I think about all of the things I have done wrong over the years. I think about how I haven’t worked out like I should. I think about how I sit for long periods of time and don’t move my body enough. I tell myself that I am fat. I blame myself for my shoulder hurting. I am mad at my body for not responding the way I want it to. And this tape goes on and on without stopping.

When I pause and breathe, my wise brain kicks in. I realize that my shoulder was never going to be the same after surgery. I think about how my shoulder might be sore after all the years of activity post surgery. I then feel more compassion for my body, particularly my shoulder. I hear my shoulder telling me to stretch and do light yoga. When I do stretch, I listen for cues of release and satisfaction. I image my shoulder going “ahhh” as I stretch it. Instead of taking medication, my shoulder is able to heal on its own. It is able to relax and release the tension it has. I can sense the sensation of pleasure. All is well.

Our bodies are unique and wise. If we listen, we can hear what they have to say. Your body knows what it needs. All it needs is for you to pay attention.

Do you need help implementing some of these ideas and live in the Kansas City area? I would love to meet with you to discuss your specific situation. To make an appointment, you can reach me by email

 

The Power of Forgiving Yourself

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We have all been there. The moment when we realized that we said and/or did something that is out of character. Whether it was that heated discussion with family members about politics that led to name calling or avoiding the friend that just went through a bad break-up, you are not alone. We are only human and by being human, we make mistakes. When we makes mistakes, we either feel shame and/or guilt or put blame on the other person. Either action deserves some forgiveness towards yourself. We tend hold ourselves to unrealistic standards and beat ourselves up when we don’t meet those standards. Our society also teaches us that if we beat ourselves up for our mistakes, we learn from those mistakes and do better. Unfortunately, this is not true. Pioneers in the field of vulnerability, shame, and forgiveness like Brene Brown (“The Gift of Perfection”) have found that beating yourself up only causes you  to feel more shame and less likely to allow yourself  to be vulnerable among others in the future. Forgiving yourself is the key to making lasting changes and being happy.

When you make a mistake or do something you soon regret, follow these steps below towards forgiveness of yourself:

  • State outloud to yourself the mistake you made. Don’t place blame on the other person for your choices

  • Once you admit your mistake, share your acknowledgement of the mistake with the person or persons it affected. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and be present with the person you are talking to

  • After you acknowledge your mistake to the person, apologize. Don’t expect anything in return. Just apologize

  • Lastly, sit with yourself in your favorite chair or in a safe place in your home and allow the emotions to come up with your mistake. You may cry, want to hit a pillow, or yell. Allow yourself to do that. Then place your hands over your heart and say out loud “I forgive myself for _____. I know better and I will do better.” Say this 3x. Once you complete this, breathe deeply while your hands are over your heart. Then, let it go

Holding onto our mistakes only cause us suffering. There is no need to punish yourself. Move on and choose to do better in the future. As Mahatma Gandhi once said “The weak never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Forgive yourself and choose to be happy, rather than right.

Do you need help implementing some of these ideas and live in the Kansas City area? I would love to meet with you to discuss your specific situation. To make an appointment, you can reach me by email

Raising an Empowered Daughter

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My heart goes out to all of the mothers of young daughters in the current society we live in. As more stories break about women being sexually assaulted and raped in our culture, it is hard to believe that we can keep ourselves safe, let alone our daughters. You may be asking yourself “How can I teach my daughter to keep herself safe and to stand up for herself?” You might get on Google or ask some of your friends. The advice I have is different than what you might find on Google or from a friend. I invite you to look at yourself and ask “Am I empowered?”

We women are role models for the young women in our lives. How we carry ourselves and present ourselves in the world are mimicked by the young women we come into contact with. If you are not a mother, you will most likely come into contact with a little girl or young adolescent in your life. Non-verbals are very important. Children and adolescents are more in tune with what is not said then we give them credit for. If you want to raise an empowered daughter or young girl, you have to look at yourself and pay attention to the areas in your life where you don’t feel empowered. Below are some tips to help with this process.

  1. Identify the areas in which you feel your power has or is being taken away. This can be a journaling prompt or a question you can meditate on.

  2. Think about the communication you have with your female friends. Are the conversations around diets, foods, and/or physical appearance? If so, I invite you to direct the conversation to moments of inspiration, rather than moments of disappointment around physical appearance.

  3. Engage in Self-Care. Most women, especially mothers, put self-care on the back burner. They think “When everyone else’s needs are met, I can rest.” Unfortunately, this is an unrealistic goal and will set you up to fail. In order to take care of your family, you have to take care of yourself. Also, the young girls and women in your life will see the benefits of including self-care in your routine.

  4. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. We women believe that we have to do it all. When we can’t do it all, we blame ourselves and tell ourselves that we are not good enough. The young girls and women in our lives take note of this and make perfection a priority. Ask for help when you need it. Allow yourself to cry and share how tired you are. It will strengthen your relationships.

  5. Have honest conversations about body image and worthiness with your daughter. Share moments when you felt like your value was how you looked, rather than who you are as a person. Share what you learned and the growth that came with it.

  6. Pursue your dreams. Your daughter may find you to be a hypocrite if you tell her to follow her dreams but you verbalize every day how you can’t. Start out with following through with a small dream, such as running a 5k or starting a blog. You are showing your daughter that dreams can become a reality.

The change really starts with us.

Do you need help implementing some of these steps and live in the Kansas City area? I would love to meet with you to discuss you and your daughter's specific situation. To make an appointment, you can reach me by email

My Body Rocks

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I know the feeling of dread when you are trying on clothes in the dressing room with all the mirrors. You poke and prod at all your "flaws" and feel defeated. By the time you get done trying on that swimsuit or pair of jeans, you want to crawl into a hole and cry. Or go to your nearest pizza shop and pig out.

I am no different. I don't even own a pair of jeans because of prior dread in thinking about going shopping. Instead I wear lots of dresses. I felt exposed for the world to see when trying on clothes. In reality, I was becoming exposed for my true self to be seen.

Today I am celebrating my love for my body. I think about my curves, cellulite, broad shoulders, stomach, and legs and I think about how beautiful I am. I have done so much work in extracting the negative beliefs around worthiness and body size and replaced them with realistic and body loving beliefs. "I am beautiful no matter what size." "Who says being over a size 10 isn't sexy?" "I am perfection, cellulite and all."

It's all about challenging those beliefs. It's all about knowing your worthiness, regardless of your size. Stop believing society's idea of beauty. Know that you are a child of the universe, so therefore you are worthy and beautiful!

Do you need help implementing some of these ideas and live in the Kansas City area? I would love to meet with you to discuss your specific situation. To make an appointment, you can reach me by email

Mindful Eating is Sexy

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When I became single for the first time in my young adult life, I feared eating alone. I was concerned that people would stare at me and wonder why I was by myself. I imagined the older women on a business lunch seeing me in my booth all alone and whispering how sorry they felt for me. "Poor girl, all alone for lunch" is what they would think.

Well how naive was I? Eating lunch alone is fantastic! You get to be on your own without having hold a conversation with someone else. As a therapist, this does not come very often in my usual work week. A mistake that people can make when they dine alone is to be glued to their phones. Well, stop it already! Below are things you can do instead of playing on your phone when dining alone.

1. Read a book: Yes, a book with paper pages and a cover. It is a great way to enjoy your time while waiting for your food.

2. Do some writing: Yep, going back to paper and ink people! Instead of texting, why not write the person a note? It is more personal.

3. Practice breathing: As you sit in your chair, you can bring awareness to your breath. You may even notice that you seem to feel anxious, hyper, lethargic, etc..doing some belly breathing can help. Practice bringing air down to your abdomen by your belly button. Notice if it is easier to take in air or release. No judgment is very important!

4. Give gratitude for your meal: When you receive your food, take a moment to thank the people and places/things that were involved in preparing this meal. Think about the soil, fertilizer,  water, seeds, animals, farmers, chefs, etc..This gratitude allows for the food to fully nourish your body, mind, and soul.

5. Practice mindful chewing: What? I am supposed to chew my bites 25-30 times before swallowing? The answer is yes. This allows you to really savor your food and nourish your body. Practice it!

See, eating alone is sexy! Healthy alone time is not only sexy but healing! I hope you feel inspired to eat alone and practice these things.

Namaste

Do you need help implementing some of these ideas and live in the Kansas City area? I would love to meet with you to discuss your specific situation. To make an appointment, you can reach me by email

Loving Yourself, One Day At A Time

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I am not sure if it is because the world feels chaotic currently, but insecurities are coming to the surface all of a sudden. Insecurities that I have worked through for many years. An insecurity I have become fully aware of is the dreaded body image insecurity. As a recovering bulimic, body image has been a large part of my young life. I would poke and prod at my body, making sure to acknowledge every flaw I have. I would engage in discussions with my friends where I would look for holes in the conversation to ask if I look fat. Of course, my friends would tell me that I look great or that I look like I've lost weight. To be honest, it didn't matter what they said because I would continue to believe that I'm fat and ugly. No amount of validation outside of myself would be enough.

When I began to heal from my body image insecurity, many beliefs needed to be reassessed and challenged. My idea of beauty had to be recreated. My beliefs around worthiness had to be changed. What I have now is an open mind and heart to what is beautiful. I don't seek validation from my friends and family. I accept that I am beautiful and worthy no matter what size I am.

With that being said, here I am, after all this work, and I feel like I am starting over. It is normal and natural for this to occur. In order to get back in a place of body love, I need the activities that helped me get there before. Below are those body love activities I use. I hope they help you find the love your body needs.

1. Putting lotion on after the shower: I am guilty of skipping this if I'm in a hurry. But it's what your body needs, especially in the winter months.  When you do this, make sure to pay special attention to the areas that you "don't like" and spend longer on those areas. Tell those areas that you love and appreciate them.

2. Eat Healthy: There is no better way to show your body love than to feed it good food. When I say good food I mean fruits, vegetables, nuts, antibiotic free meat, and other natural food. Staying away from processed food is the best. Go for a smoothie packed with fruits, veggies, protein powder, and nut milk. Yum yum.

3. Write down your negative thoughts: Writing down your negative thoughts is a good way to see them on paper. Once you do that, rip them up and throw them in the trash. Burning those negative thoughts are also an option. Just practice fire safety and remember only you can prevent forest fires :)

4. Don't engage in negative body talks with friends as family: I can only speak from the perspective of a woman, but women are notorious for sitting around and engaging in fat-shaming dialogue.  When I hear discussions like this, I call it out. I tell my friends that we are beautiful and have better things to discuss.  It's amazing how powerful this exchange feels. It also helps others recognize what this dialogue does for one's self esteem.

5. Write love notes to yourself: Who doesn't want a love note? I enjoy writing love notes to myself and telling myself how sexy and intelligent and awesome I am. This way I'm not seeking out validation from others, but rather giving it to myself.

We are all on this journey towards loving ourselves and knowing our worth. No journey is without rough paths and rocky waters. Coming back to these body love activities give a person what they need in that moment.

Know that you are enough. You are an incredible being here on this earth to know love and learn about yourself. I end with a quote from the Buddha:

You yourself, as much as anyone else, deserves your love and affection. 

Namaste.

Do you need help implementing some of these ideas and live in the Kansas City area? I would love to meet with you to discuss your specific situation. To make an appointment, you can reach me by email