Food & Mood

Gut bacteria…produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood. For example, gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity.

American Psychological Association

Since learning more about all of the wonderful things that my little gut buddies do for me, I have been more inspired than ever to treat my body with respect and compassion. It added a whole new layer to my concerns around my routine eating habits. I wondered what my eating disorder had done to my delicate gut microbiome. Not only that, I wondered how continued disordered eating (i.e. eating my day’s worth of food all within the span of a few hours right before sleep) was affecting them and in turn my overall quality of life. There were days I certainly felt the physical symptoms of this casual self harm.

The correlation between what we eat and how we feel both physically and mentally is difficult to notice unless you are consciously aware of that connection long enough to reveal a pattern. Before learning about this crucial link, I never really thought about how what I ate and when I ate it changed the way I felt mentally and emotionally throughout the course of the day. But now that I know one of the two neurochemicals I’m always joking that my brain won’t give me actually comes from my gut, I knew I had to make some changes.

When we’re lost in our own heads, it is easy to get the impression that this is simply who we are, that these thoughts, feelings, and perceptions are part of our identity, an accurate reflection of our world. If taking Paxil taught me anything, it was that any change in our brain chemistry whether natural or artificial, is enough to completely reshape our inner landscape. The fluctuations in mood I experience throughout the day are no more a part of my essential character than being deathly afraid of social interaction was. Perhaps the most surprising part is that both SSRIs and our eating habits are influencing the same neurochemical, serotonin.

I’ve always loved food and eating, but it wasn’t until I started practicing mindful eating that I noticed what a huge boost in mood I experience after a meal. Now that I’ve been making an effort to eat at regular intervals throughout the day again, it’s much easier to notice the way eating is about a lot more than nutrients and the cessation of hunger pains. As someone who is used to leaning on kratom, coffee, and cannabis to get them through the day, it feels like meals were actually the lift my body was looking for all along. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about all the years I spent resenting my own body for not giving me the chemicals I needed to be happy when I was starving it of the resources it needed to do so. It’s so easy to assume your “broken” because of genetics rather than searching for solutions within your own behavior and lifestyle first.

It’s such a shame that the mental health industry doesn’t seem to acknowledge this new science at all when it comes to caring for clients. Not only would the incorporation of this information into treatment plans help people with common disorders such as depression and anxiety, but I believe it could also play a role in the treatment of eating disorders. I know there is vague talk in the mental health community about “eating healthy” for your mental health, but even I used to write that off as ableist and out of touch. It’s important that we also include the information behind why our eating habits are so crucial to our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Learning about this connection and then taking the steps to discover it within my own body has been amazing. It has completely restructured my relationship with food and my body. It is a joy to rediscover and reconnect with the signals my gut has been trying to send me. I can’t tell you how long it had been since I was able to distinguish my bodies hunger and satiety signals and respond to them. There is such a softness and compassion in the act of listening and tending to your body’s needs. Food and eating no longer seem like an enemy that I’ve got to work with in order to survive. Nor is eating some hobby to indulge in for sheer sensory pleasure. Eating is a beautiful dance that we learn from these physical forms of ours. It’s a push and pull, a give and take, that is so essential to our overall wellbeing. It’s a reminder that everything in this world is inextricably connected. There are no short cuts or cheat codes. But with patience and compassion we can begin to uncover what it really means to take care of ourselves. I promise you, the effort is more than worth it.

Mindful eating: Techniques and tips to get started - CNN

Little Known Benefits of a Vegan Diet

The New Wellness Trend Is . . . Hugging Cows? - 106.1 The River - Classic  Hits

Most people are aware of the various physical health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. You see articles all the time about it’s ability to prevent and treat heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, even cancer. You can lose weight, slow the effects of aging, etc. These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of veganism. There are so many other surprising perks that come along with this change that I never really hear people talking about. Even other vegans I know don’t seem to mention it unless I ask them about it.

One of the most interesting and amazing things I noticed after my first month of a strictly vegan diet is something I have only recently come to understand a bit better. My post yesterday was a very brief synopsis of what I learned about the gut microbiome and how it affects our thinking, decision making, and more broadly, our mental health. Learning this really helped me connect the dots. So that explains it! By “it” I mean the strange mental distinction I felt between eating animal products and eating plants.

It’s been a long time since my first vegan month, but I still remember that milestone like it was yesterday, because of how it caught me by surprise. It felt as though the effects came on rather suddenly. One morning I felt like I had every other day of my life, then the next morning it was like I was awake for the first time. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve always described it as a cloud lifting off of my mind. Now I’ve always been an intelligent, quick witted person. Still, all of a sudden my thoughts seemed to come to me more easily, more quickly, more seamlessly. I guess now having learned the term “brain fog” I would describe my pre-vegan brain as being in that muddled state 24/7. When you’ve lived your whole life that way though, you don’t really recognize it as a problem.

For years, this strange phenomenon that occurred in my own mind, and the mind of all the other vegans I asked, really baffled me. I didn’t understand what exactly caused this shift. But when I read about the way our gut directly communicates with our brain, it finally made sense. After a month of consistent plant-based eating, my gut was producing the metabolites that I needed to be my best. My gut and brain were able to communicate efficiently for the first time in my life.

Another benefit of a vegan diet I wanted to address I believe is also due to the complex interactions between our gut microbiome and the rest of our body. You don’t hear about it often, but a vegan diet is the most anti-inflammatory diet out there. In the beginning this statement didn’t mean much to me. I hadn’t even been aware that eating animal products caused a constant state of inflammation in the body, nor did I understand the health implications of that fact. Inflammation is often the cause of many autoimmune diseases as well as other health problems. But apart from that, inflammation in the body also has an impact on our ability to be physically active.

Contrary to the myths about veganism preventing you from achieving physical fitness and building muscle, it actually assists the body in these endeavors. Without subjecting the body to constant inflammation each time we digest a meal, it is able to perform much more efficiently mentally and physically. Not only are my workouts easier and more enjoyable, my recovery time is also greatly reduced.

Finally, as a vegan, I pretty much haven’t been sick in ten years. When I was younger I used to get extremely sick (usually a stomach bug) at least twice each year. For awhile, I thought it was just because I was a kid. Granted, kids do get sick more often because they are still developing their immune systems. However as an adult, I still see a lot of people who seem to be constantly sick in one way or another. Especially in the winter, everyone I know gets at least one lingering cold. All around me people are coughing and sniffling and complaining of headaches and sore throats.

These mild, but chronic health issues are all seen as normal, just like that brain fog I once hadn’t even been able to notice. No one even considers that things could be different. But they can. All it takes is treating your body with kindness and feeding it what it was designed to be fed instead of anti-biotic, cortisol, adrenaline, puss, shit, piss, and virus ridden dead bodies. Looking back it seems obvious that I didn’t feel my best. I’m surprised our bodies are even able to function with the typical American diet. With veganism, everyone wins, the animals, the environment, and us.

So with January fast approaching, I highly encourage anyone reading this to give Veganuary a try. No need to commit to veganism for the rest of your life, just experiment. Take that one month to try something different. Just to see how it feels. One month was all it took for me to notice a life changing mental shift. It is definitely worth it for many reasons, least of which are all the incredible personal benefits. Let me know if you’ve experienced any noticeable physical/mental changes from a vegan diet. Also feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or would like some advice for how to make the switch. I’m more than happy to help any way I can.

Cow Hugging Emerges as Latest Wellness Trend | PEOPLE.com

The Mind-Gut Connection

The Mind-Gut Connection featured in upcoming Lunchtime Learning Presentation

The more I learn about the human body and the world, the more obvious it becomes that every little supposedly insignificant thing matters and everything is inextricably connected. The bad news is there is no cheating your way to health or fitness or happiness. But the good news is, although it may seem harder, the tried and true methods of slowly achieving success are always available to us. If we treat both our bodies and our minds well and show them patience and compassion, health and happiness with inevitably follow. A lot of people will find this obvious and uninteresting, but I’ve never been one to base any of my opinions or actions on good faith alone, I usually require a more thorough knowledge of the mechanisms going on behind the scenes.

The emerging science of what’s going on backstage in our own bodies is truly stranger than fiction. Most of us know (although we don’t like to think about it) that our bodies contain lots of microscopic organisms in addition to our human cells. Our skin, our hair, our nails, our eyelashes, and of course our guts are teeming with strange little lifeforms, the majority of which are harmless. It may be a bit unsettling to consider, but the bacteria inhabiting our bodies are actually even more than harmless, they are helpful, even necessary for us to be healthy. Before reading The Mind-Gut Connection by Dr. Emeran Mayer, I thought my vague comprehension of that fact was sufficient. Gut microbes are good for us, case closed. Now I’m discovering that the role these little organisms play in our digestion, day to day life, decision making, and ever our personalities are far more complicated than I’d ever imagined.

Apart from all the implications this information sparks curiosity about in the scientific community, my philosophy centered mind goes straight for the larger existential questions we are now faced with. Who is really running the show? Are we this human form shown to the world, or are we actually the bacteria pulling the strings deep inside our guts? Perhaps we’re just the passive hosts without even realizing it. Or maybe it’s not even possible to make a clear distinction between the human and bacteria cells within us. For now it does appear as if we are one in the same.

Whatever we may be, Dr. Mayer’s book is an excellent example of the way looking deeper into the natural world leads only to more marvel and mystery. The complexity and intricacies of this existence are an endless source of fascination that I don’t think we’ll ever truly be able to decode. However, we have now learned at least a bit more about this magical little world within us. So here are a few of what I found to be the most interesting things laid out in this book:

Personality & Decision making

These bacteria in our digestive organs do a lot more than help us break down our food. They are also influencing our mood, disposition, and the decisions “we” make. We all know that our cells communicate and deliver signals and chemicals to the brain, but what I didn’t know was that these bacteria are doing the same. I was shocked to discover that our gut produces the majority of serotonin in our bodies, not the brain. This is one of the reasons we experience that familiar cozy, satisfied feeling after a good meal. This also explains the way our diet affects our mental health. It’s not just a placebo effect. Eating healthy, fibrous, fresh, unprocessed foods really does make us feel better all around.

One of the most incredible things I learned was from a study that showed transplanting the gut microbiome of one rat into the gut of another causes the latter rat to begin expressing a personality and behaviors more similar to the donor rat. For instance, a shy rat given the microbiome of an outgoing rat, will now begin to appear brave. It’s honestly a bit frustrating to realize what a big role the gut microbiome plays in our mental state. Perhaps one of the reasons I’ve faired so well without my paxil is because I’ve been drinking pro & pre-biotics every day since before I began weaning myself off the drug. It makes me wonder what kind of success, if any, I may have had in my battle with social anxiety if I had known this information before starting an SSRI.

Hunger, Satiety, & Weight

The microbes in our guts also have a big part to play when it comes to our appetite. They have a direct line to our brains with the capacity to influence our hunger signals. What I once thought was a definitive sign that my body needed more calories or nutrients, now may very well just mean that my gut bacteria need more fibrous matter and pre-biotics to snack on. These little buddies also have a hand in our sensitivity to our satiety signals, in other words our cue that we are full and want to stop eating. These bacteria are also responsible for how much of the food we eat is absorbed and stored in our bodies.

Just as in the other rat study I mentioned, the same effect can be observed regarding the physical weight of the rats. Give a skinny rat the microbiome of a heavy rat and it will begin to gain weight and vice versa. This is a stunning insight into just how little we actually comprehend about nutrition and how to influence our own body weight. There really is no “one size fits all” diet when it comes to weight loss or gain, and it’s got a lot more to it than just genetics.

The Best Diet for a Healthy Gut Microbiome

This book also gives suggestions about the best foods for us to eat if we want a gut microbiome that keeps us healthy and happy. The author particularly emphasizes that diets high in animal fat lead to a state of constant inflammation and physical and mental health complications. Not surprising. He also says that diets high in fibrous plant foods lead to more helpful strains of bacteria flourishing in our guts. Now it seems obvious to me that the extrapolation of that information points directly to a vegan diet. No animal fat, tons of plant foods. However, this author is clearly attached to his flesh foods, because based on anecdotal evidence of healthy tribal peoples who eat a mediterranean diet (basically vegan, plus fish) he decided to label that the best diet. He gives no explanation on how the fish part is necessary or beneficial. The actual data he provides seems to say the opposite. So I think it’s safe to say eliminating the last “bad gut” food, would be best, don’t you think?

Unfortunately, he goes on to say that even a drastic change in diet isn’t going to have a huge effect on the types of bacteria living in our guts. However, it will change the kinds of metabolites the bacteria we already have produce for our bodies and brains, which is nearly as good.


In summation, the information I’ve learned from this book has completely changed the way I view my body and even my mind. I fluctuate back and forth between being excited and terrified about this new knowledge and what it means. At the very least, this book shows just how important our physical health is when it comes to our mental health. The two are inextricably linked for better or worse. Really all we can do is work with the gut-microbiome we have. They are as unique and diverse as each individual they are house in. Treat them right, give them lots of healthy vegan foods to eat, and they will repay us in kind.

Autism and Intuition

I’ve been reading a book about the gut microbiome that has led me to some very interesting realizations. In this book, the author talks about the possible connection between different gut microbiomes and mental health diagnosis, including autism. I’ve yet to really reach the part that explains the interaction between the two, but just the idea that there might be some interaction got me thinking. This book also discusses the physiology behind our “gut” instincts. Apparently that is more that just a turn of phrase. We really do receive physical signals from our guts that effect our decision making process. Or at least… some of us do.

My curiosity piqued, I decided to look up if there was any correlation between autism and lowered levels of intuition. I was excited to discover that indeed there is! I found many different research articles pointing out this interesting phenomenon. One of which stated: The ASD group produced less intuitive responses, and the degree of ASD-like traits showed a negative correlation with intuitive responses and positive correlation with reflective responses on the CRT. Together, these results are consistent with ASD being associated with reduced intuitive reasoning and greater deductive reasoning.

I was honestly thrilled and relieved to finally have an explanation for my apparent lack of intuition. All my life, the idea of “following your gut” or “trusting your intuition” didn’t make much sense to me. I never quite understood what people were talking about when I heard things like this. Yet it is such a common part of our language, that I kind of just let it go and assumed it was just something people said. One of those things that didn’t really mean anything specific, but had more of a personal interpretation that would mean something slightly different for everyone.

Then in recent years as I got more involved with spiritual practices like yoga, there was that idea of intuition again. Now it seemed to be something more real and tangible that I just wasn’t taping into. I couldn’t understand why I was not receiving any of these gut signals. I honestly can’t recall a single time in my life when I made a “gut decision” on anything. Even then I would hear things insinuating that meant I just wasn’t trusting my intuition. But that never fit me either. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust myself. There was nothing to trust or distrust. It has always been radio silence from my gut. The voice of my intuition has never spoken to me, so how could I learn to trust it?

Understanding that gut instincts and intuition are real things and I simply don’t have them, has changed my entire perception of the world and the way others make decisions. It finally makes sense why many of the people I meet in life make so many decisions that I cannot fathom. They are using an entirely different mechanism than I am. Now I see that while all of my decision are very calculated and logical, because I am solely using my deductive reasoning skills, others have another source of input that is completely alien to me. It makes much more sense now how and why someone could make a decision that, to me, seems utterly nonsensical. They are factoring in information from both their brains and their guts, whereas my brain has always been all I have to go off of.

Not only is this new insight absolutely fascinating to me, it is also rather comforting. Sure, I’m a bit disappointed to know I may never understand this experience, it’s reassuring that it isn’t because I’m not trying hard enough or because I am cut off from myself. People often ask me why I would even want to seek out an autism diagnosis, and this is a perfect example of why. There are so many aspects of myself that I have lived most of my life feeling bad about. I can’t even remember a time where that little voice inside my head wasn’t asking, “what’s wrong with me?” or “why can’t I just be normal?” Understanding the role autism plays in my personality and mental traits, is reassurance that my differences are not personal failings. I don’t have to keep struggling and trying to be like everyone else. I’m not like everyone else. But I am also not alone. There are so many other people out there like me who have the same difficulties. It’s such a comfort to know that there is nothing “wrong” with me. I’m just running on a different operating system. And that’s okay.

Intuition and sixth sense: How to train your gut feeling

The Brain-Gut Connection

By now, most people know about the gut microbiome. Maybe not the term, but we have a vague understanding of things such as probiotics and antibiotics. It’s very trendy to drink kombucha and eat fermented foods like kimchi in an effort to nurture our gut bacteria. I mentioned in another post how wild it is to find out we are nearly equal parts human tissue cells and germ/bacteria cells. On my way to work this morning as I listened to a podcast episode all about the brain-gut connection, I found out some even more startling and fascinating information.

Every day science is learning more about the helpful bacteria in our digestive systems. It’s quite the complex subject, far more complicated than simply pro and anti biotics. I learned today that there are also things called prebiotics and postbiotics. Prebiotics are the fibrous material that the gut bacteria eats, and postbiotics are the waste materials that the bacteria excrete, which actually ends up being beneficial to our physical as well as our mental health.

I was shocked to discover what a huge role our gut microbiome plays in our mental health. Further research may even uncover that this is the root of all our mental illnesses. Of course, as a vegan, I was intrigued to learn what kind of a difference a plant based diet would have on all of this. I know that farmed animals are routinely given antibiotics to keep them “healthy” even in atrocious conditions. My initial instinct was to feel even more sorry for the animals themselves. Not only are they physically suffering, but god only know what those conditions, PLUS an obliterated gut biome is doing to them mentally. I hadn’t even considered the implications of this on human health. Not only does consuming meat fill us with carcinogens, growth and stress hormones, and cholesterol, it is also destroying our gut biome with the antibiotics absorbed in the flesh of the animals we consume.

Initially, I felt pretty smug about this. Just another reason veganism is the only healthy diet. However, I knew that my mental health, while much improved by a vegan diet, wasn’t completely cured by it. As the podcast continued on, it explained that while meat contains antibiotics, so do the fruit, vegetables, and grains that we eat. Apparently Raid was originally patented as an antibiotic! Raid is also something that, despite all the awful things we know about this poison, is still used on virtually all the crops commercially grown. I suppose organic crops may avoid this, but honestly I don’t know. Call me a skeptic, but I never believe things labeled as “organic” are actually grown organically.

Many of you may take away from this information that we need to balance out our antibiotic ridden diet with lots of healthy probiotics. However, it’s not so simple. Apparently probiotics, though still good for us, are not actually helpful in the ways we intend them to be. Instead, it’s more important for us to focus on consuming foods that are rich in prebiotics. This provides our gut bacteria with the fibers they need to flourish. These foods include things like chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, and bananas.

Perhaps even more interesting than all of that information is the link between the gut microbiome and hunger/cravings. Hunger seems pretty simple. When our stomachs are empty, this space sends a signal to the brain that we need to eat, right? Wrong. It’s actually the small friends (and foes) in our guts that are giving us these signals. In a study, subjects were told to fast for 14 days, only consuming water and a prebiotic solution. Despite consuming no actual food, the subjects reported having no hunger pains or cravings throughout the 14 day period. The gut bacteria was well-fed by the prebiotic solution, therefore no hunger signals were being sent to the brain.

In addition to this, what kinds of foods we crave can also be linked to our gut bacteria. Some bacteria like to eat very sugary, fatty foods. Rather than having anything to do with “willpower,” our ability to choose healthy foods has a lot to do with what types of bacteria we have in our gut. The good news is, that if we can manage to resist these impulses to eat sugary, processed foods for a few days, those pesky bacteria will die out, taking the cravings along with them.

I was so blown away by all of this information, that I’ve been sharing it with anyone who will listen. Of course that means I had to make a post about it. Considering I only heard about this stuff a few hours ago, I wouldn’t recommend you simply take my word for it. But I do encourage all of you to look into it for yourselves. I certainly plan to do lots more research on this topic myself. I may even order the book The Energy Paradox by Dr. Steven Grundy, who was the guest on the podcast I listened to today. I absolutely adore learning new, helpful information like this. The implications of this knowledge are potentially life-changing.

A scientist explores the mysteries of the gut-brain connection |