Love & guts
In my last blog, I talked about re-imagining our health habits, from the perspective of love.
If we’re guided too much by the ideals of the wellness media, we could easily become anxious and strict (not to mention boring) about our health.
So I want to re-think nutrition as a specifically joyful and relational experience. To move from rules and guilt, to love and nurture.
Love languages of the body
One great way to make this shift towards love, is to gain a deeper understanding of how our bodies really work.
And then to take that understanding as a guide for compassionate (not obligated) action.
After all, when we know how someone ticks, it’s easier to love them well.
I find the Five Love Languages a useful illustration
The premise of ‘love languages’ is that each person has a way they feel particularly loved – a ‘language’ that needs to be learned in order to love them well.
For example, one 'love language' is that of giving and receiving presents, but if I’m not a massive ‘presents person’ myself, I might not think to buy gifts for other people.
But if I discover that my friend feels most loved when he receives presents, then I can set about giving him thoughtful and beautiful gifts – even if it feels counterintuitive. The knowledge empowers me to love effectively.
So: what if we saw our body’s needs as 'a love language to explore’, rather than a burden of ‘sensible rules I probably ought to follow’?
I reckon we might find our general health a little more relaxing.
The body’s love languages
It probably won’t surprise you that one of the body’s top ‘love languages’ is practical care for the gut.
And one of the top ways to care for your gut is to keep it evacuating regularly!
Just as it’s no fun living in a beautiful house without a plumbing system, it’s no fun trying to have a healthy body without looking after its bowel movements.
If this sounds awfully – well, scatalogical – then you’re absolutely right.
Until you look after the grubbier parts of life, benefits in the more presentable parts may well be restricted.
Two benefits to begin with.
The gut is where the neurotransmitter serotonin is mostly made, and serotonin is one of the crucial ‘happy’ chemicals in the body which helps to produce feelings of well-being and joy.
The gut is also where mood-balancing nutrients like vitamins B3 and B6 are absorbed. Thus, anything which impedes vitamin absorption, like constipation, may also affect one’s sense of well-being.
Guts and hormones
For menstruating women, the gut is particularly important as a site of hormone clearance.
This is because when ‘used’ oestrogen needs to be removed from the body, it eventually passes out through the colon.
And if anything impedes the exit of this used oestrogen – such as chronic constipation – the body can re-absorb it from the lower gut, which may then topple the delicate balance of female hormones in the system.
In fact, re-absorption of oestrogen may cause ‘oestrogen dominance’, which in turn may trigger or perpetuate pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), with symptoms like bloating, headaches, breast tenderness, and irritable mood.
Loving our guts
Now, before any non-menstruators think they’re off the hook, please know that bowel regularity is crucial for absolutely everyone.
There are other toxins, and even healthy substances, which become dangerous if they hang around too long - such as histamine, which is especially an issue in hay fever season.
So bowel regularity is a bit like sleep – a foundational plank of health, which no clever supplement can replace.
Thus we have three (out of many) great reasons why our guts need some love:
1. it helps support production of ‘happy’ neurotransmitters
2. it helps absorb mood-calming nutrients, and
3. it supports hormone-balancing and detoxification processes.
Let's consider a few practical ways we can express this love:
First of all: sufficient water is essential to promote daily, healthy bowel movements. (Between one and three bowel movements per day is considered healthy, to ensure good detoxification and reduce the danger of inflammation.)
To hydrate sufficiently, I recommend my clients drink at least two litres of water per day.
If cool weather makes drinking cold water unappealing, you might try drinking non-caffeinated herbal teas, such as peppermint, rooibos, ginger, liquorice, or just add a squeeze of lemon to hot water.
Fibre and fat
You were probably expecting a mention of fibre here – and yes, fibre is crucial. But you might not have expected fat, which works with fibre, to help remove toxins (including old hormones) via the colon.
Healthy fats can be eaten as a condiment, or in cooking, for example in butter, olive oil and coconut oil. It is also found in foods such as oily fish, nuts and avocados.
Fibre is best acquired from a diverse range of vegetables, because they can contain other beneficial nutrients like vitamins C and K. And you also find fibre in whole grains like well-cooked brown rice, in oats, and in seeds.
Be aware, however, that fibre intake and hydration must be attended to equally. Consuming too much fibre with too little water can in fact cause constipation by itself – especially if you’re eating extremely fibrous things like ground flaxseeds.
Love & Guts
So hydration, fibre and healthy fats are all practical ways we can love our guts by keeping them regular, which in turn may help support hormone balance, ‘happy’ serotonin levels and the absorption of mood-balancing B vitamins.
But, as I've said, there’s all the difference in the world between feeling an obligation, or anxiety to support gut health, and, by contrast, feeling compassion for the humbler ways our bodies work, so as to nurture ourselves and those we care for.
One approach is a burdensome to-do list; the other, a gentle expression of love.
And here’s to enjoying all the benefits that result from an approach of love!
Meanwhile, as always, feel free to email me with questions and comments.
To your very best of health,
Clare Backhouse, dipION, Registered Nutritionist MBANT
Registered Nutritional Therapist CNHC
PS - Three wonderful, popular media references for you:
1. Guilia Enders's book, Gut
2. almost anything by Tim Spector
3. the podcast Love & Guts by Lynda Griparic