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 |

What Is Self-Love

While enjoying my new favorite hobby, listening to MindLove on Apple Podcasts, one of the comments I heard really struck me. The host, Melissa, was talking about defining self-love. She gave an anecdote about times from her past when she thought she was practicing self love. She was doing all the “right” things, making new healthy habits, eating healthy, etc. The problem was, if she ever didn’t do those things one day or fell out of her new self love routine, her mean inner voice was waiting and ready to criticize and condemn her.

This is a story that really resonates with me. I feel like that is the kind of “self love” I’ve been practicing. She made the point that true self love is loving, accepting, and being kind to yourself even when you may not be at your best. Self love is about being there for yourself with love and compassion during the difficult moments as well as the easy moments. Self love isn’t: I’m a good person and I love myself. I’m healthy and I love myself. I’m beautiful and I love myself. I’m loved by others and I love myself. Self love is: I love myself. Period. Full stop. There are no caveats or exceptions to self love. We must learn to love all of ourselves, every single messy part of us. True healing self love is unconditional. We don’t need to do particular things, look a particular way, or have a certain lifestyle in order to earn our own love. We are inherently worthy of that love.

Self love is also something that can be difficult to fully comprehend at first. For a long time while practicing that somewhat toxic version of self love I mentioned earlier, if I had been asked: do you love yourself? I would have answered yes. I think a lot of us, especially in these trendy self improvement circles practice this type of self love. It’s an outward expression. If I behave and speak in alignment with the self love examples I’ve seen, then I must love myself. I do yoga. I meditate. I exercise. I eat a whole foods plant based diet. Of course I love myself! However, while these are all wonderful, healthy, even loving habits, they aren’t going to be enough to combat the way you truly feel about yourself inside.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a long, painful journey full of trial and error. At least that’s my experience with learning to love myself. I’m still not quite there yet. But I think I’m ready to take the next step. I’ve gotten used to all the outward self love tools. Now it’s time to really focus on that inner work I’ve been avoiding. It’s almost funny now that I think about how often I ask myself why I’m so anxious. It’s so irrational! The mystery has been one of my greatest frustrations each day. But when I step back and really look at the way I treat and talk to myself, I’d be amazed if I wasn’t anxious. If a friend or a partner spoke to me the way I speak to myself, it’d be so easy to recognize it as blatant abuse. I’m anxious because I’m in constant fear of my own abusive inner voice. My ego threatens me all day long. Not only does it tell me that I won’t be loved by others unless I do x, y, and z, it tells me that I won’t be able to love myself either. If I can work to take away that fear, I’m certain my anxiety will lessen. I’m ready to start confronting that inner voice, my ego. It’s simply amazing how much reassuring and reaffirming my own love for myself can open my heart.

One of the most moving parts of the MindLove podcast I listened to today was when the guest speaker said something along the lines of, “I finally decided that I would rather be abandoned by everyone else in my life than keep abandoning myself.” I actually teared up when I heard that. And as someone who is very rarely able to cry, that’s a big deal for me. I felt so in alignment with that brave sentiment. I think I’m finally ready to make that decision too. I hope you’ll do the same.

This weekend, drench yourself in self love by following these 16 golden  rules