The following post is by one of my absolute most beloved health professionals in the paleo scene, Summer Innanen. You can read all about Summer in her bio at the end of the post. Suffice it to say for a brief introduction now, however: I loved this list she drew up. It helped me. Forgive her Canadian spelling. She’s smart. Listen.
One of the most important components of cultivating self-love is changing your self-talk. We do this by censoring the negative criticisms that we so often slander ourselves with, both consciously and subconsciously. However, these negative criticisms can manifest in ways that you may not be aware of.
In our culture, it’s perfectly acceptable to defame yourself in front of others. In fact, it seems totally normal to say something like, “I’m so fat”. However, if you say something like, “I look sexy in this swimsuit”, you are considered conceited or a bitch. [Stefani comment: yikes!] It’s no wonder we are so quick to put ourselves down.
The first step to changing your self-talk is by being aware of when you say these things and eliminating negative statements from your internal and external dialogue. Statements such as “I’m so stupid” or “I look so gross in this outfit” are harsh words of self-hate. When you stop saying them, you begin to stop thinking them and can more easily reprogram the feelings about yourself. We have the power to change our beliefs and thoughts, which is a powerful mechanism when it comes to feeling sexy and confident as the woman you are today.
The second part of this equation is to censor negative judgments and criticisms of others. As a culture, we seem to tolerate and even find humor in shaming other women about their appearance, their habits and the way that they do things (ranging from criticizing a woman’s driving to the way she raises her children). The areas that we are quick to criticize and judge others are usually areas where we feel vulnerable ourselves. We use this as a way to make ourselves feel better, however doing so only feeds our insecurities and feelings of unworthiness.
The judgments we make of ourselves and others can manifest in less obvious ways that you may not be aware of. It’s important to recognize the various things we do that feed our insecurities in order to deconstruct our core issues and foster self-love, while promoting a culture that no longer considers it acceptable to put other women down.
Here are 5 less obvious habits that we have, which prevent us from cultivating self-love:
#1 – Deflecting Compliments
How many times have you deflected a compliment from someone? A friend tells you that you are beautiful or talented and you reply by negating it or blowing it off. We do this because we feel that it conflicts with the way we feel about ourselves or that the person didn’t really mean it because you don’t believe it.
Rather than deflecting a compliment, simply say “thank you”. Then use this as an opportunity to reflect on why your initial urge was to react by denying it. As long as you continue to deflect or deny compliments, you will perpetuate negative feelings about yourself.
#2 – Changing Your Actions
We often change our actions in response to our fear of being judged. We order a different item on the menu when we are out on a date. We set up our yoga mat in the back corner so no one can see us. We put on makeup before going grocery shopping because we want to appear more put together. We put three layers of self-defense over our bathing suit so people can’t see our ‘flaws’.
The reality is that you cannot change or control other people’s perceptions. You also don’t need anyone else’s approval or acceptance in order to love yourself or feel worthy. In fact, if you rely on gaining approval to feel worthy, you will never actually love yourself.
It’s important to practice being more real and owning your uncool self. Be willing to fall over in yoga class, eat a burger and fries with your hands on a date (if that’s what you want to eat) or show up with your hair out of place. Make every effort to show up as yourself and never change your actions based on your fear of being judged.
If you feel yourself resisting this task, then ask yourself why. It’s important to use these moments as a cue to dig deep and think about why you feel this way. Also, know that you are not alone and women feel this way all the time!
#3 – Seeking Validation
Many of us are perfectionists who seek out approval and validation from others in order to feel worthy. However, this prevents us from feeling worthy because we cannot control the way other people view us. We need to love ourselves first before we can receive love from others.
Pay attention to whether your words or actions are the result of a need for validation. Do you put yourself down in order to receive compliments? Do you rely on social media ‘likes’ to feel better about yourself? It’s OK to enjoy being validated and receive compliments, however this should not be used as a primary vehicle for self-love.
#4 – Comparing Down
We look for people who we perceive as ‘worse’ than us in order to feel better about ourselves. For example, we feel better at the beach because we are not the ‘fattest’. We feel better at the gym because we didn’t ‘finish last’. We feel like we have more self-control because we didn’t eat dessert. This is ridiculous!
This only feeds a cultural standard where judgments are acceptable and promotes our reliance on what other people may think in order to grow our self-worth. Work towards eliminating your desire to compare down in order to feel better about yourself.
In addition, practice being more vulnerable and willing to be the person who ‘finishes last’. Celebrate your imperfections and own the person that you are today.
#5 – Creating Excuses And Apologizing For Your Actions
How many times have you apologized for something that you actually could not control? Our apologies act as a buffer that prevents us from thinking that the other person may be judging us negatively. We apologize before they can think something negative about us (which they usually never are).
Stop apologizing for things that you could not control. Unless you legitimately did something wrong (like knock over a kid’s juice box), there is no need to apologize.
We also tend to make excuses before we do something to protect us from other people’s judgments. For example, before we are about to do a presentation at work we say, “I haven’t prepared for this at all” or “I didn’t sleep last night, so I’m not sure how well this is going to go”. We set the bar low to protect us from other people’s scrutiny or to seek validation. Both of these things imply that we are not good enough, which fertilizes the negative feelings we have about ourselves.
As you practice self-love in your everyday life, it is imperative that you begin to bring awareness to the various ways that you continue to hold yourself back.
I challenge you to commit to 7 days of censoring these habits. Bring awareness to your negative self-talk (in all of the aforementioned ways that it can manifest) for one week and you will start to realize how much this permeates in your life. From there, you can start to deconstruct the rationale behind your negative self-talk in order to move forward.
Not only do we need to do this for ourselves, but we also need to shift these types of behaviors and conversations amongst our peers. The reality is that we cannot control other people’s actions or perceptions, but we can make every effort to change our culture by leading by example.
Awesome, right? Let Summer know in the comments!
I’m Summer Innanen, Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Body Image Coach, specializing in emotional eating. More importantly, I’m a diet rebel and food lover on a mission to help you feel hot-damn fearless in your body. I roll with straight-talk, tough love and wicked humour to help women all over the world with my one-on-one and group programs. I empower women to ditch their diet demons, rock their bodies, and start caring about things that actually matter (like grabbing your dreams, spoiling yourself silly, and remembering how holy-powerful sex makes you feel). Check out my podcast Fearless Rebelle Radio and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. If you’re ready to break the rules, grab your sledgehammer and get my free guide here.
The featured image is a photo of Summer, thanks to SarahRamsden.com.
I recently became a bit obsessed with gut flora research via a long story:
I began getting migraines again this winter after eating a lower-potassium diet to help with my electrolyte problem. Low potassium is associated with migraines. It didn’t help that I was visiting my father, who likes to cook with MSG. To help with the migraines, I took Aspirin, which is an NSAID. It worked, so I began taking Aspirin for my regular headaches, and that helped, too. However: NSAID’s are notoriously bad for your gut flora. My skin began breaking out a little bit. This could have been caused by anything (I thought: weight loss, fiber in my diet, increased progesterone, poor sleep, dirty towels… skin is complicated!), but I thought “maybe it’s the NSAIDs depleting my gut flora.”
I went to Whole Foods post haste and got kombucha on tap.
(My favorite brand available both in stores and online is THIS one)
I’m drinking a couple of jars a week.
My skin looks great – I’m not sure if its from the kombucha.
Something I did most definitely notice, however, is that my cravings for food, and particularly sweet food, have somewhat dramatically decreased. After just my first few gulps, I felt a difference. These days I walk around during the day, not even thinking about food, and I stop eating meals without needing willpower, and I wonder: is this how ‘normal’ people feel?
So I asked myself if there was a connection. Could my increased freedom from cravings be a result of kombucha’s notorius bifidobacterium?
Turns out, it most certainly can.
How it works: your gut flora
Gut flora–which are the bacteria that live in your gut and that number in the trillions–are responsible for a whole host of functions in the body. They play a role in digestive comfort, in being constipated or having diarrhea, in immune system health, in depression and anxiety, in insulin resistance, in obesity, and in inflammation. Because these critters are so significant for these issues, they are significant for just about every noncommunicable disease you can imagine.
Why are gut bugs so important? Because your gut is the barrier between you and the outside world. Good gut flora help you process nutrients and protect yourself from toxins. When good gut flora populations decrease (as mine may have with my aspirin use), and/or when bad gut flora infiltrate the gut and outnumber the good guys, health problems ensue.
How it works: gut flora and cravings theory #1
One theory for how gut flora influence your gut – and there seems to be reasonable evidence for this – is that your gut flora condition you to continue to feed their own specific populations. Carrot-loving gut bugs beget carrot-loving gut bugs, for example (if a fair bit oversimplified.)
So gut flora from particular foods may make you continue to crave those particular foods. This is great if you eat a lot of natural, healthy foods. This is less good news if you eat a lot of processed foods. The more processed foods you eat, the more bad bacteria will reproduce. They will hijack your cravings, and you’ll crave even more of the same old bad food.
If you are a processed food / sugar junkie, it may be hard to switch your diet, but being sure to include good, natural, healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, animal products and fermented may help you crave those more and more.
How it works: gut flora and cravings theory #2
The second theory, which is not exclusive but complementary to the first, is that good gut bacteria like bifidobacterium (these are the famous good guys) cause the body to produce satiation hormones.
Glucuagon-like-peptide-1 is one such satiation hormone. It increases in the “colonal mucus” (sexy, right?) of rats fed oligofructose, a laboratory carbohydrate that resembles the carbohydrates found in many fruits and vegetables. PYY and ghrelin, two other satiation hormones, may also increase in response to oligofructose. Rats that consume oligofructose spontaneously eat less, cease creating fat cells, increase insulin sensitivity, and improved glucose tolerance.
As for humans…we already know that probiotics help with obesity. This happens via biochemical modulation of fat metabolism. Yet it also appears to probably happen via increased satiation and spontaneously reduced food intake.
The more bifidobacteria and other good gut flora you have, the more satiation hormones they will create in response to a meal.
Moral of the story
There are a lot of different physical and psychological components of food cravings.
For one – you need to eat food. I talk way too much to women who want to reduce food cravings but are eating 1200 calories a day. So be sure you eat when you are hungry all of the time, probably at least 1800 calories a day (though this varies widely), before you address any other issues.
Second, emotional issues should be dealt with. Is food your mother? Your addiction? Your stress-relief? Your boredom? Your celebration? Or do you eat because you spend so much willpower trying not to eat that you end up overeating in the end? Psychological issues with food are also supremely important.
Third, you may consider physiological approaches. Sometimes the issue cannot be resolved psychologically because there’s an underlying problem. Amino acid therapy — boosting serotonin and dopamine levels by consuming precursors 5HTP and tyrosine — can help regulate appetite if your serotonin and dopamine levels are low.
Gut bugs can also help, as we’ve seen. (They can also boost your serotonin levels! Two birds with one stone!)
Consume fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, or grass-fed yogurt or kefir. If those are not available to you, consider a probiotic supplement that contains at least bifidobacterium, as well as other varieties.
You can also try a probiotic supplement. I prefer whole foods since they provide they provide a high degree of variability of bacterial species. Nonetheless probiotics have been shown to reduce weight loss and support mental health in studies, so if you go this route (like this option or this one) you can also benefit.
You can also support your gut flora population not only by eating the bugs themselves – which is what you do with the fermented foods – but by consuming their preferred foods. Gut flora love to eat fibrous fruits and veggies, particularly those which contain inulin. These are greens, summer squash, onions, garlic, leeks… and jerusalem artichokes are also a particularly good source. This article demonstrates just how effective this strategy is.
Kombucha (linked to my favorite brand on Amazon) is really helping me. I can’t say if it will help you. Really, I cannot. We all have different bodies and we all have our own unique cures. But I love how much more stable my blood sugar feels and my meals are. I no longer feel so much like I must eat a sweet with every meal. I love my gut bugs very, very much. For this reason, as well as for so many others.
Loving your body is one of those things you are supposed to do. You are supposed to cherish it. You are supposed to appreciate it. You are supposed to enjoy looking at it in the mirror. We are all supposed to do these things. Hell, I’ve written a whole book on them.
Right? I’ve worked on body love so much I even know how to help you do it.
From all of that experience, I know that there are good ways to do it, and there are bad.
I (obviously!) do it all the good ways. I love my body because of what it does, and because of gratitude for what it provides to me — like the abilities to breathe, and to laugh, and to be happy. I love my body because it is my home. I love my body because it does its best to make me healthy. I love my body because the number of things it does right far outweigh the number of things it does wrong. I do not love my body based on shallow, transient characteristics like the circumference of my abdomen or the semi-linearity of my almost-white teeth. (I do, admittedly, really enjoy having orange hair.)
I love my body in all the right ways and for all the right reasons.
(there’s got to be a “yet,” right?)
Sometimes I do not love my body.
Sometimes, in fact, I hate it.
Sometimes I fear it.
Sometimes I resent its limitations so fiercely I dig my nails into my mattress and sob until I run out of breath.
Here is why:
My body works, but not the way it is supposed to.
My body sleeps, but never for more than four hours at a time and sometimes not at all.
My kidneys process potassium, but at a much lower rate than other peoples’ do.
My heart beats, but faster and harder than a healthy heart beats.
My skin protects me from the outer world. It looks pretty good these days. But one sweaty workout, one bite of vegetables fried in butter, one handful of nuts, one small period of fasting, one ten-minute exposure to UV rays, and I will most certainly have acne the following morning.
My eyes work, but are photophobic, which means that I get migraines from any lights brighter than a desk lamp. I always wear sunglasses outside, and sometimes I even have to wear them inside. This is not a whole lot of fun in ballet class.
My metabolism burns, but slowly. Just one “off” day and my pants are noticeably tighter. If not careful, I’ll put on five pounds in a week.
My ovaries now work better, thanks to serious efforts and healing on my part, but I also experience weight gain and quite depressing PMS like clockwork every 27 days.
My muscles contract, but those in my back more than other people’s, which means I get headaches if I have poor posture or sit down for too long.
My eardrums are great at detecting quiet sounds. Their sensitivity can be helpful. It can also be opporessive, since loud sounds and pressure from the wind give me headaches. I always have a pair of ear plugs on me in case I need them.
My body works, but is limiting.
My body works, but I cannot necessarily fix it.
My body, in fact, often stops me from being able to visit friends and relatives. It prevents me from enjoying meals that my friends make. It forces me to leave all rooms with fluorescent lights. It doesn’t let me sleep. It makes my heart beat too fast. It gives me anxiety. It makes me chronically exhausted. It erodes my faith in my ability to ever be able to have a stable health and happiness.
In these moments, do I love my body?
Well, deep down, yes. I know that it is my only home. It is my shelter, and my partner. It does many good things. I do know this.
But sometimes its just f*cking impossible to feel it.
It is my firm and loving opinion that it is unrealistic to demand of ourselves that we always feel positively about our bodies. My solution is to stop doing that.
I don’t put any pressure on. I do my best. Life is hard. Health is hard. I no longer need to be perfect, in this as much as in other things. I simply cannot do it. As much as I do genuinely love and appreciate my body, I am a human being who struggles. I have good days and bad days. On bad days, I am so unhappy with my body it physically aches.
And to be honest, since I have accepted the pain and frustrations and patience required for living in my body…
it has all gotten easier. Permitting my negativite feelings space has allowed me to heal. I’ve got at least three degrees of acceptance here working in my favor. I enjoy thinking of myself as intelligent, so let’s call it Meta-Acceptance. It’s 1) okay that my body is so delicate, 2) also okay that I don’t like that my body is so delicate, amd 3) also also okay that I don’t like that I don’t like that my body is so delicate.
These days when I’m scared or pissed off about my body, I let myself be angry. My mom will call me and I’ll say – hang on, I’ve got a big cry to let out, I’ll call you right back. And I do it, and I’m unhappy, but I’m fine, it’s actually all fine. I go back to the tasks and rhythm of my Monday. The more I have accepted these moments and feelings, the easier they flow through me and out of my life.
It’s kind of nice.
…Even though (!) the point of this post has NOT been to teach you a lesson on how to heal.
Sure – yes – acceptance has been powerful. Woooo. Go acceptance!
What I really want to do here more than anything is to “come out” – so to speak. It is to be a blogger who cares about body love, who has literally written the book (one of them) on it – and to still be someone who isn’t always overbrimming with joy and love.
More and more acceptance all the time, sure. Stuff is what it is, and that’s that. But life as a human animal is hard and imperfect, and here I am saying, do your best to be loyal to and embrace your body, but – well. Whatever. If you don’t always feel it, more power to you. You need more than just the easy stuff to make life worth living anyway.
It’s all okay. Good day, bad day, how much you are capable of accepting limitations. Whatever.
Sometimes I don’t feel love for my body.
No big deal.
Off and on for the last several weeks, I’ve been working on prelimary outlines for my tentative forthcoming book, Love is the New Skinny – which I have been calling a “theory of human beauty.” LITNS has been a whole hell of a lot more challenging than I imagined. I have no idea what I want to say or how I want to say it. I am not sure if I am going to go through with it. I can’t — literally, I cannot — publish this book unless I figure out a good way to say good things.
So. I am at square negative six hundred.
The upside of all of this seemingly pointless toil is that I have discovered a few things about beauty that are at least minimally valuable.
So anyway. I’ve got one of those gems of wisdom for you today.
It goes like this:
It is impossible – literally, i-m-p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e – to take in and judge the appearance of a human being without considering her personality.
That’s right. Impossible. Here’s why:
Every single aspect of what you look like is impacted by the story of your life and the choices you make.
Let’s do this via thought experiment.
Say, you see, for example, this photo of me. What do you see?
First, sure, I do see a “little” body. An XS shirt. Size zero pants (when they’re Taiwanese pants, a size zero says something powerfully little). A body of angles and muscles. This body says things. It says “Stefani meets social expectations of slenderness.” It also screams athleticism, litheness, and discipline. Our cultured brains care about body type very much, so these judgments register fast and easy for all of us.
However. It is impossible not to see so much more.
I see a heavy necklace that for this woman in the photo means something deep and important about an old friend, and about which I can infer there is probably a story. I see a lace, translucent shirt — the first of many signals to show how little this woman gives a damn about propriety. I see a collar hanging off of one shoulder – something that signals a loose sense of carelessness and freedom, and maybe even hints at sexual openness.
I see a smile that is simultaneously contemplative, curious, and michevious.
I see a slouch that is graceful and comfortable and confident. Dont’ forget, too, that this is just a picture, and in real life the dimensions of time and space come into play, as well as the rest of your senses.
In real life, you’d see a fair bit of grace and easy, bouncy movement. You’d see erratic hand gestures. You’d see an irritable scowl. You’d hear an odd, Marge Simpson-esque laugh (inherited that one from good old mom). You’d smell something fairly clean but also possibly post-dance and unshowered.
You could apprehend all of these things in an instant, and even while a loud part of your brain would focus on the fact that the body is a particular shape, and the breasts just so, and hips just so, because that’s what society has told you to do, a body without being embodied by something would never be attractive to you. The part of your brain that apprehends personality is strong. It is important. It will never be shut off.
Because you can never confront a human being without it also being a being. Without it having personality. Without it saying something about its inner self. I-m-p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e.
And you can never look at something without understanding in an instant what all of its symbols mean to you.
Small = disciplined. Hunched shoulders = scared. Bright colored clothing = bold. Dark suit = professional. Pink lipstick = playful. Of course none of these “symbols” are hard and fast rules, but the point is that we all have them to varying degrees in our brains, and share them to one degree or another as human beings in a human society. The reason the appearance of things appeal to us is largely that they indicate deeper meaning.
Let’s try something a bit more challenging. Is it actually impossible to avoid deeper meaning when you look at a body?
What about a highly sexualized, objectifying advertisement?
In this advertisement, this woman is literally being turned into an object. Her body is become a beer bottle. If this doesn’t equate women with physicality, I don’t know what does.
If this doesn’t remove a woman’s agency and personhood from the equation, then nothing does. This is about as bad as it gets. And let me be clear about it: objectification is rampant and horrible, and we must put a stop to it.
Nevertheless. When you look at this ad, what else do you see?
You see wildness. Sexual inhibitions. A rough and ready woman.
These are the themes behind the image the advertisers want you to see.
Yet they couldn’t stop you from seeing themes even if they wanted to.
The closest you could come to truly objectifying a woman is to break her up into parts and make those parts a statue Even these statues have character and meaning. What if you saw a statue of a leg? Would it be muscled? Jiggly? Have calluses? Scars? All these aspects of the leg bring character inevitably to mind.
If not in parts — if a whole silhouette — even a woman’s stance says something about who she is.
The way she stands, sits, holds her head, walks. These are the most basic things.
Then your history and your choices come into play. How you dress. The shoes you’re wearing. The way you speak.
All of which is to say…
(right, why am I bothering with saying these perhaps obvious things?)
that what makes a person beautiful, attractive, sexy, whatever-you-want-to-call it, in any singular person’s eyes, will NEVER be (only) the shape of their body.
Body is a part of it. Society has made it so.
But you are ineluctably you.
We might think society has this giant hold on us, making us care first and foremost about a body’s shape.
But the truth of the matter is that body shape is only one small piece of the puzzle. The fact that you cannot absolutely objectify a human being means that it is not just idealistic handwaving all of us bloggers are doing when we tell you that your body shape is secondary to your personality at best. It’s fact.
You might see a size 2 top and size 6 bottom when you look at me. You might see my cup size. You might see how well formed or absent my musculature is. But I am damn certain that far more important for your judgment of me — even if from a great distance, and we never speak — has to do with the other things. The standing. Walking. Moving. Dressing. Expressing.
So what do you see when you look at me?
I think you see a lot of things.
I see a lot of things when I look at you, too.
So far as the best estimates go, upwards of 15 percent of American women develop hypothyroidism during their adult lives.
So far as my best guess can contribute to those numbers, I think perhaps a whole hell of a lot (specific, eh?) of additional women suffer from ‘sub-clinical’ hypothyroidism. Sub-clinical means that your blood test results do not meet the official requirements for a thyroid disorder as determined by the medical community, but you still experience symptoms as a result of thyroid deficiency.
So hypothyroidism is rampant. Another statistic even more striking than those I’ve already discussed is the number of women who SHOULD suspect they’ve got a thyroid problem and/or get treatment for it but do not. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists say the number of women undiagnosed is equal to the number diagnosed. So if 8 million American women know they have hypothyroidism, then 8 million of us also have it, but do not know.
Thyroid function is complex. Your thyroid gland works only after receiving a “green light” signal for production by the pituitary gland, which comes in the form of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). It then makes T4 in high amounts, and then T4 is converted to T3 by the liver. T3 is the final form of thyroid hormone and is responsible for delivering energy to all of the cells in your body.
The consequences of developing a problem somewhere in this production process can be dire. They include extreme fatigue, weight gain, mental disorders, and infertility…for just a few examples.
Rectifying hypothyroidism can be genuinely lifesaving.
So it’s important to know if you’ve got it! Experiencing one of the following symptoms or engaging in one of the practices may not be enough cause for you to leap into concern, butseveral in conjunction may indicate it’s time for you to get a thyroid check-up.
Here are 19 tests for hypothyroidism:
1) You’re tired.
Unfortunately, fatigue is one of the most common complaints for just about every health condition out there. It is particularly strongly associated with thyroid disorders, however. The thyroid system’s entire job is to provide energy to your cells. If you’re extremely tired even though you are well-rested, your thyroid may be to blame.
Because fatigue is so common, it may be best to see if you meet any of the other criteria on this list before proceeding.
2) You suffer menstrual disorders or hormone imbalances such as PMS or PCOS.
The thyroid gland is a part of a delicate team of glands in your body called the HPA (and T, and O) axis. The hypothalamus, pituitary gland, thyroid gland, ovarian tissue, and adrenal glands all work in tandem to produce hormones that run your body. Reproductive hormone irregularities are a big red flag for disruption anywhere in the HPATO axis.
If your estrogen levels are high, then there’s a decent chance your thyroid levels are low. How do you know if estrogen is high? Best of all, get your blood tested. If you cannot do that, you can perhaps infer your estrogen status from your menstrual symptoms. If you suffer from cramps and PMS, there’s a decent change your estrogen levels are high. Estrogen is the primary cause of PMS, cramps, heavy bleeding, and lengthy periods.
Estrogen and thyroid hormone are antagonists to each other in the bloodstream. When one goes up, the other often goes down.
Additionally, if you have Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome, you may also wish to consider hypothyroidism as a cause, as low thyroid levels are one of the easiest ways to cause the reproductive system to slow down.
3) You are constipated
The purpose of thyroid hormone is to deliver energy to cells. If you have insufficient thyroid function, then bodily functions slow down.
Digestion is one of them.
Combined with other symptoms, constipation is a red flag for thyroid disruption.
Another way your gut may be involved in your thyroid health is via an autoimmune disease.
90 percent of hypothyroid cases are actually caused by Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disease originates in an unhealthy gut. Unhealthy guts often have perforations in their lining, which allows toxic particles to pass into the bloodstream. The immune system mounts an attack against these particples. This is generally a good thing, except that your immune system can be so panicked that it accidentally starts attacking your own human cells – like thyroid cells – too.
If your digestion is significantly impaired in any fashion, this may be directly related to your hypothyroid problems. Get tested for this by asking a doctor for a test for Hashimoto’s antibodies. These are the molecules in your blood that mount the immune attack on your thyroid gland. If you have elevated amounts of these antibodies, then your hypothyroid problems are likely from your unhealthy gut.
4) You are cold.
Ever wonder why women are so much colder than men? Thryoid hormone is a furnace, keeping cells firing at the right energetic rate to stay warm. If you are constantly cold, especially relative to the people around you, this may indicate a thyroid issue.
5) You have low blood pressure and/or poor circulation
Because having low thyroid levels slows down most body functions, it makes sense that the blood would slow down a bit, too. Slowed blood movement means low blood pressure, which itself can cause dizziness and fatigue.
Low blood pressure ad poor circulation can also cause numbness or coldness in the extremities. This happens via the simple mechanism of decreased blood flow to the extremities as well as decreased energetic rate.
This is another one of those “womanly” things – have you ever snuggled with a person who was shocked by how terribly cold your feet are? Your circulation and/or thyroid health may be to blame.
6) Your skin, hair, and nails are dry and brittle
The thyroid gland helps skin and hair cells stay connected, lubricated, and being produced at a steady, happy pace. When thyroid levels are low, the quality of your “external” cells decreases.
7) Your voice is hoarse
This is one of the markers of hypothyroidism I personally do my best to forget about, since I often have a hoarse voice – most particularly when I am stressed out or not sleeping well.
The reason your voice becomes hoarse on hypothyroidism is that the thyroid gland is located very close to your vocal chords. The thyroid gland swells and produces excessive “nodules” when under duress, which press on your vocal chords.
8) Your neck is swollen
The medical term for this is “goiter” and is directly related to having a hoarse voice. When unhealthy, the thyroid gland swells. This can be small and only detectable via touch (your doctor is trained to do this), or in massive proportions that can make it quite obvious.
9) You experience mental issues such as brain fog or poor memory retention
Here we have more “slow-down.”
If your thyroid levels are low, your brain gets sluggish. It’s hard to remember things and to focus. More thyroid hormone could make you sharper, more aware, and more appreciative of your surroundings.
10) You experience mood issues, particularly depression
Depression and hypothyroidism are linked via the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is largely responsible for feelings of peace, calm, contentedness, and being happy enough to get out of bed in the morning. Thyroid hormone regulates serotonin production. Less thyroid means less serotonin. It also means less of other good stuff, like dopamine, which is another neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy to be alive.
Depression and thyroid can also be linked via gut permeability, like we discussed earlier. How? If your underlying problem is poor gut health, then serotonin will be impacted, too — as 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is located in the gut (!).
11) You experience relentless weight gain or extreme difficulty maintaining a healthy weight
Given that lots of body processes slow down when you are hypothyroid, it should come as no surprise that fat burning is one of them.
In fact, it is one of the primary systems affected.
Most studies indicate that thyroid hormone levels go up when one becomes overweight. This is because the body is attempting to burn off that fat as quickly as possible. So you may be overweight and have “healthy” thyroid levels.
But you may also be under-, normal-, or over-weight and have hypothyroidism making your weight maintenance difficult. For anyone of any size, decreased thyroid activity directly decreases caloric expenditure.
12) You have a low sex drive
Low libido is another indicator that your hormones simply are not up to snuff. Sex drive is always one of the first things to go when the reproductive system is stressed. Any dysfunction in the HPA axis likely means there’s dysfunction elsewhere, such as in the thyroid gland.
13) You are stressed
If you are psychologically under any kind of duress, your thyroid hormone levels will most likely drop. Your hypothalamus is highly attuned to stress and happiness levels.
If you are physically under any kind of duress, such as by exercising excessively or undereating, your hypothalamus will also know this, and it will detect this as a sign that it needs to shut it all down.
Both psychological and physical stress are major thyroid buzzkills. Know this well, and do your absolute best to reduce stress as much as possible.
14) You eat a very low carbohydrate diet
Very low carbohydrate diets – such as those that only have vegetables as a source of carbohydrate without starchier varieties like potatoes or fruit or rice in the diet – can hinder the conversion from T3 to T4.
Your liver needs carbohydrates in order to produce T3 adequately. So beef up your carb intake if on a VLC diet — up to at very minimum 80 grams a day (about three servings of fruit or starch), and perhaps you may see your thyroid levels tick back up.
15) You do not eat seafood or consume iodized salt
Iodine is necessary for thyroid function.
Goiter was sweeping the nation in the early 20th century. Iodine was added to table salt in 1924, and this helped a lot of Americans. The vast majority of hypothyroid cases worldwide are in fact due to iodine deficiency. This isn’t the case in the states precisely because of the iodized salt, yet iodine deficiency remains a potential threat. Without iodized salt iodine is quite rare in the diet, except for in fish or seaweed.
If you suffer hypothyroid symptoms and also do not consume iodized salt, consider adding some back in to your diet, as this could be hindering your thyroid hormone production. Consuming fish can help, and especially seaweed, if you choose not to go with the iodized salt.
Note: While a diet low in iodine can cause hypothyroidism, supplementing with iodine in the case of a thyroid problem is not always the best idea. Iodine supplementation can aggravate autoimmune disorders associated with the thyroid gland. So nourish your thyroid gland as best you can, and be sure you do not have an autoimmune condition before considering significant iodine consumption. Iodine in natural foods and some salt should be fine for most.
16) You eat a lot of greens
Leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli all contain high levels of a group of molecules called “goitrogens.” Goitrogens are known to cause goiter, largely because they interfere with iodine uptake by the thyroid gland. This makes it impossible for your body to synthesize sufficient levels of thyroid hormone.
In reasonable doses for a healthy human being, goitrogens are not a problem. Yet for someone predisposed to thyroid issues or who eats a high quantity of greens (think: in excess of a few servings every day), these can actually be a problem. This is especially true if you eat them raw. Cooking greens neutralizes the goitrogens, to an extent. But consuming them raw, or fermented (think: kimchi or sauerkraut), then you are in for a hefty dose of goitrogens.
17) You take a lithium-based mood stabilizer
Lithium directly inhibits thyroid hormone production.
Lithium can be salvific for people who suffer from bi-polar and other mood disorders. In this case, it may be worth the trade-off.
The trade-off is not all that clear-cut anyway. The thyroid gland can be supported by iodine supplementation or thyroid hormone dosing if you are also taking lithium. So there’s no saying you must come off of lithium in order to eliminate thyroid symptoms. This is just one known, very real cause of hypothyroidism.
18) The outer third of your eyebrows is unusually thin
This one symptom may seem a bit off the wall. Really? Thin eyebrows?
In fact, I have had vanishingly thin outer eyebrows my entire life. In the last year or so they have grown thicker… and I am not alone in this.
This study found that 24% of hypothyroid patients have thin eyebrows. Hypothyroid patients tend to lose hair generally, as the body just becomes less good at producing it. Eyebrow hair is particularly at risk, so skinny eyebrows are a good if harmless red flag for investigating your thyroid health.
19) You do not have these blood test results
A blood test is one of the best ways to know if you have a thyroid issue. Of course, blood tests aren’t bulletproof, but then again, nothing is.
Here is a list of blood test results where one of my favorite experts Dr Amy Myers and I both believe the healthy ranges are. Ideally, you want:
- TSH 1-2 UIU/ML or lower (If TSH is too high this means the body is trying to get the thyroid gland to make T4 and T3 but it isn’t happening)
- T4 >1.1 NG/DL (High T4 can also signal hypothyroidism if T3 is low)
- T3 > 3.2 PG/ML
- Reverse T3 (something you produce under stress) less than a 10:1 ratio Reverse T3:Free T3
- TPO (these are antibodies) – <9 IU/ML or negative
- TgAb (also antibodies) – < 4 IU/ML or negative
… Which concludes our list! To read more about thyroid disease, stay tuned for more in this series, and be sure to check out Chris Kresser’s articles, which are comprehensive and very, very smart.
Today’s blog post is very special. Its got three secret podcasts.
Which is another way to say:
it’s got three podcasts I recorded at some point in the last few months and forgot to tell you about.
I swear: blogging is harder than it looks.
Okay, anyway: included in this suite are some unique conversations (what is epistemology? why does Stefani obsess over dancing?), some great insights on the relationship between sexuality and sexiness (my answer: well, it’s complicated, go listen), and the first time I talk on air about my next book wooooo.
Here they are, in no particular order:
The Primal Shift
Much like my experiences out in other activities (wink), my first group podcast was an absolute blast.
This isn’t to say it’s the first multi-person chat I’ve done-there have been plenty of those-but this was the first time I’ve been the singular interviewee to three interviewers. That’s 300 percent the normal number of interviewers.
Which, again, I can say from some of my favorite life experiences, is not a degree of attention to let go overlooked.
The Primal Shift is awesome. It’s a group of three Aussie paleo advocates with a passionate, curious, laid-back, delightful approach to wellness. We did a video cast and I seem to remember dancing at one point.
In which I talked about tips for horrible dancers. How to have a good time, still be attractive, and love dancing out in public, no matter your skill.
And then more dancing.
Other things we discuss:
-Why do women cut each other down?
-When did culture start revering thinness?
-How paleo advocates are people, too.
-The difference between sexy and confidence (I actually don’t remember what I said about this… I’m going to have to go back and listen and see if I still agree.)
-Whether Cross-fit is good for women.
-And boatloads more. Lots of Aussie pop references flying over my head.
Check out the podcast here.
Born Primal with Kendall Kendrick
I love Kendall. She’s all about positive sexuality. She dares to think outside of boxes in terms of how people should relate to each other and live happily. She believes in the power of meditation for short- and long-term health.
We did this interview way back in April, before even Paleo fx.
What did we talk about?
Well, one thing we did was particularly awesome, which was: make a list of all the reasons Stefani is a Big. Deal. Like Intermittent fasting. Disordered Eating. Men and Women’s health differences. You know.
hahahaha. Big Deal.
We all get to be comedians from time to time.
We also discuss: what is the natural female body like? What do female bodies look like in extant hunter-gatherer and traditional cultures?
Why are Americans obsessed with thinness?
And my own struggles to embrace weight gain and be the jiggly, healthy woman I was born to be.
Check out me and Kendall @ here.
Last month I had the most delightful joy (no pun intended) to talk with Bridgit Danner of the Joyful Mommas blog. They really love nutrition and fertility so we did a lot of talking about PCOS, fertility blockers, fertility enhancers, and how to best nourish a female body.
We also discuss my favorite hacks for losing abdominal fat, overcoming acne, and decreasing stress. I talk about how important it is to have a sense of purpose and to love what you are doing with your life – otherwise, what will your healthy body be able to join with in your quest for a kickass life?
Check us out @ here.
Hooray! Happy Wednesday.
Sooooo. Here’s a confession for you:
I used to be obsessed with being healthy.
Obsessed is an understatement. But there is no better, no stronger, word.
All vitamins needed to be accounted for in perfect measure. I calculated the perfect macronutrient ratio. I ate at the exact perfect times. I fasted because I thought it would turn me into a superhuman. Every second of my spare time was devoted to reading paleo blogs. (Yes, I’m looking at you, audience. )
I’m not sure how much this had to do with my real need for healing. Of course, deep down in my subconscious, I know that my soul trembled. It ached for faith and belief and health. The blissful relief and unbinding I felt when I finally started menstruating again was proof of that.
Yet there was a whole lot more going on other than my quest to overcome health challenges. Even when I was “healthy” I kept making efforts to be “healthier.” I kept reading about health. Better better better better better I wanted to be.
But why? To what end?
What did I used to think health gave me? What do so many of us still pursue?
So far as I can tell, we human beings pursue perfect health primarily for two reasons:
1. Fear of rejection.
I want to be loved.
So as I moved haltingly into adult life, an equation in my head constructed itself via neat little pieces, and went like this:
Good food > Sexy body (health status irrelevant) > Romantic attention > love.
So went my life that swam in self-punishing vanity.
I often I thought or said I wanted to be healthy. In fact what I really meant deep down was that I wanted to be beautiful. I chased the perfect hourglass, perfect skin, perfect hair, nails, and teeth, or what-have-you. I wanted to glow. I wanted to be beautiful. I wanted to be affirmed. I wanted to no longer feel and be so desperately, heart-breakingly, shatteringly alone.
I said “healthy” when I described my aims to others. Who was I kidding? I know (and then did know, too) that even while I professed to pursuing good health I barely gave a passing nod to my fertility or my osteopenia or my PCOS or my hypothalamic amenorrhea, my thyroid function or my anemia. I cared about my skin. I cared about being 15% body fat. Healthy was my mask. Attractive was my goal.
That was a fool’s errand. There was zero chance obsession was going to make me any more beautiful, make me any more worthy, or make anybody love me. Beauty comes from a very different place, and it looks a lot more like inner peace than it does like frenetic lunges before running out the door to work at 5am.
2. Fear of death.
I am a rabid insomniac. If you have sleeping problems or know people who do, there is quite a decent chance that mine are worse. I am not trying to “out-symptom” or “out-sympathy” you. This is a basic fact. I have been having panic attacks while going to sleep since I was 5 years old. I have regularly only gotten 4-6 hours of sleep many nights since starting college. In the last few years, after having taken a kidney and heart- affecting drug, I now sleep no more than four hours at any given time and still at least once a week go a whole night without being able to sleep at all.
So. sleep issues.
I used to have a lot of anxiety about my insomnia. This of course did not make it any easier to fall asleep.
I worked on this with my therapist for months. I work on it still today. I have made some progress. But not much. Here’s why:
Ultimately, I as convinced that my insomnia is going to make me die sooner. My poor sleeping skills meant that I am less healthy…. and, therefore, that my telomeres are going to shorten, my inflammation and hormone imbalance will go wild, and my death will be early and punishing and swift.
Maybe, maybe, maybe this is true. Things that make my less healthy in the short term may possibly decrease my lifespan in the longterm.
Poor sleep, for one. A dessert here or there. A glass of beer. A stressful project. A cigar or a bong hit. A slice of bread, god forbid.
But life is so much more complicated than that.
Health is so much more complicated than that.
I am running – and so, so many of my health-focused peers run, too – towards greater and greater health because I am so overwhelmingly terrified of the abyss on the other side.
If I can eat perfectly, perhaps I won’t die.
This is a joke.
Even if you eat a “perfect” diet, you are still going to die.
Health is an obsession that helps me feel distant from death. It is protection. A buffer. A justification. A sense of safety. A subconscious bid for immortality.
But here’s another thing:
there’s no such thing as a perfect diet.
there’s no such thing as perfect health.
there’s no such thing as perfect looks.
there’s no such thing as immortality.
nor is there any kind of assurance that you will be perfectly safe at any point in time.
Nothing is certain. Nothing is perfect.
My solution? To let go.
When I was seriously unhealthy, with PCOS and an electrolyte imbalance that messed up my heart and migraines and acne and so much more, I had three options.
One was to obsess over my poor health and to search rabidly for a cure.
Another was to let go and say “screw it, I don’t care.”
The third was the obviously best path. It was to accept the frailty of my human body. It was to reconcile myself with my imperfection and my proximity to death. It was to work on my health problems gently and slowly.
If I think deep and hard about what I want from my physical body, this is it:
I want to be healthy enough in order to live well.
I want to eat well enough to have a body that works. I want to be able to go about doing things that make me happy and the world a better place. I want my body to be good enough that I do not worry about it. I need to be healthy so that I can inherently trust that my body will work again when I wake up tomorrow morning.
This means eating well. It does not mean obsessing over how well I eat.
This means listening to my body. It does not mean nitpicking sensations and signals.
This means accepting and embracing less-than perfect food choices. It does not mean forbidding myself pleasure.
Today, I still have a lot wrong with me. I want these things to get better. But I am not obsessed with them being perfect. Not now, not later. I can’t be. There is no perfect – there is only good, and there is only my happiness and peace with existence waiting for me on the other side.
I do not want to be healthy for the sake of healthy. I want to be healthy so that I can do things. So that I can be happy. Purposeful. Adventurous. Loving. That’s what life’s really about, right?
Stay tuned to your body. Listen. Eat well. But don’t obsess. Don’t let fear rule you. Take it from a woman who has spent decades of nights in hell with fear.
Be good, be grateful, be warm, be kind, be happy. Be a mom, a dad, a professional, a dancer, an athlete, a grandparent… we are all much more than our diets.
in conclusion, IMHO,
health is not the end – it is the means to the end.
Whatever your end may be.
Much love to Kaila Prins for being a conversation partner in this.
What follows today is a hell of a monster of a behemoth of a post. It’s nine single-spaced pages in Microsoft word. This bulk amounts to around 5000 words. This is not a number to sneeze at. In fact, it is regarded as a number that screams “don’t go there! You’ll lose all your readers!” to any blogger who knows just about anything about just about anything.
Nonetheless it is one of the best blog posts I have ever read (because I certainly did not write it). I thought I’d roll my eyes a paragraph in, click the little red X in the corner, and be on my happily scheduled productive way. Instead I was sucked in by line 2 and read every single word, a torrent of emotion and insight and stunningly beautiful prose.
I could go on, but I’ll let you see for yourself.
This is the story of Elissa Washuta and her body. It is full of so much love and hate and love and hate and fear and hope. Few stories can show us better (and have shown me better) the visceral truth of what it means to be a human animal in a concrete word.
Stab Wounds: Killing My Gallbladder, Wounding My Brain
An Essay by Elissa Washuta
I was twenty when the nausea came to stay. The feeling coiled around my stomach one morning when I woke up beside my boyfriend, picked my way across our fallen textbooks, and dry-heaved in his moldy bathroom. Every week, as directed, I had pressed a fresh birth control patch onto a blank expanse of skin. We wanted so badly to draw on the patch, but the prescribing instructions had forbidden it, so we sharpied beside it, around it, and all over each other’s torsos. No fetuses, he wrote on me, and drew a tadpole with a line through it. Ever since I was old enough to cover my scrapbooks in stickers of Mr. Yuk and unicorns, I was compelled to coat my life in adhesive badges.
As I sat on the grimy toilet and a phantom python tried to force all intruders out of my empty gut, I worried, transdermal ethinyl estradiol and norelgestromin notwithstanding, that the linty-edged sticker on my ass was no more magical than the neon Lisa Frank teddy bears that covered my fifth grade diary.
Hours before the roommates woke to shuffle off to class, my boyfriend drove me to the pharmacy. I bought three pregnancy tests for good measure. I peed out a negative. The attacks of nausea persisted, soon leading to pains that would break open my right side with an invisible shiv, then swiftly retreat. Over the following weeks, I lost my ability to stomach frozen pizza and box-mix brownies, and my diet moved toward hard liquor and liquid sugar. I was not pregnant, but I felt something inside me alive and howling.
This was 2005, and as a college sophomore and a hypochondriac since puberty, I learned to take my visits to Dr. Google to the next level. Swinging between starving and nauseated, I haunted WebMd and PubMed until my symptoms and family history locked into perfect alignment. Nothing sounded more elegant than porcelain gallbladder. I said cholecystitis over and over, as though a hidden door would slide open and show me a new world of hurt that was a cold, clinical alternate dimension. My own world had flipped from bright to hostile halfway through sophomore year, when my campus turned from brochure-bright to haunted. My bones felt rocked by the constant thuds of big university life: basketball-inspired couch-burning, rabid chants of obscenities upon every Maryland win or loss to Duke, and rows of Mid-Atlantic brick behind unwelcoming white columns. Rage, joy, and thirst seemed to have been written into the college’s charter. There was a time when I saw none of that—when my school was a place for learning.
My mother, a nurse at the county hospital back home, made the arrangements I requested while I kept my focus, as usual, on my grade point average. I traveled home to New Jersey to visit a surgeon. I told him my guts were tangled. By his order, a radiologist shot me up. When I asked about what I was going to feel, she told me, you may experience the same discomfort that brought you to your physician.
Cholecystokinin, meant to send my gallbladder into a panic, spread everywhere, from the crook of my elbow to my eyeballs. A radioactive tracer chemical collected in my liver to light up my hepatobiliary system under the gaze of the gamma camera. Will this stuff make me a superhero? I wanted to know. I needed protective powers of all kinds—self-defense and then some. She wouldn’t answer. Soon enough, I only wanted to save my own gut, empty my veins onto the gray floor. As my gallbladder seized, wrapped by the atomic-radiated python, clenching with ten times its normal strength, I implored the snake, Kill me, kill me here.
I knew the flesh was dead inside me before I had to be told. The surgeon summoned me back to his den. He said that I had no stones, but the organ had ceased to function. He gave it to me in brief, wasting no words: the gallbladder’s job was to release bile into the duodenum as food passed by, emulsifying lipids, but it had gone kaput. He could take it out, the liver’s bile ducts would enlarge, the liver would take over the gallbladder’s job, and everything would be beautiful. There was almost no chance that open surgery would be needed, as the whole shebang would be laparoscopic. There was a ten percent chance it wouldn’t work out. Meaning, what?—my mom wanted to know. I don’t remember what he said—something abstract, I think, about the bile ducts being unable to enlarge to compensate for the loss. I only know that his words weren’t gruesome enough to stop me from telling him that I needed him to cut it out of me.
While I waited to be opened at the end of 2005, some of my college friends mused that nobody really needs a gallbladder anyway. Others asked if I could get a transplant.
Things I don’t need: my kitchen; my eyeglasses; my hands; my lips. I puked thin green chemical spills. I convinced myself that I could live like the saints I venerated throughout my Catholic upbringing: the self-flagellators, the hairshirt enthusiasts, the starvation devotees. I ate nothing but Cheerios and soy milk, read every food label, consumed no fat for weeks. Kill me, kill me here.
As finals week approached, students began leaving their customary offerings to Testudo the terrapin, the bronze idol of our mascot that lives on a pedestal outside the library. The gifts have become more elaborate in recent years, but back then, standard offerings were coins, flowers, votive candles, pints of booze, to-go coffee. I left nothing. I wouldn’t even rub his nose for luck when I passed, the standard turtle greeting. I didn’t want luck, a purposeless force shaping my life without my control. I wanted to put my hands into my own works, broken by the unknown forces of illness and the known force of another person’s venom, and finally set myself right.
The person close to me who had no gallbladder told me not to go through with the surgery. “If I had to do it all over again, I don’t know if I would,” he said. I don’t even remember what else he said, because I couldn’t listen: all I wanted was to be sliced open so that the thing rotting deep inside me could be snipped out. I wanted my innards to be scrubbed clean with antimicrobials. I wanted the team to give me a brand new body. I wanted to tear open the cellophane and start over on my life. I must have told him that I was going to go through with it, because I did.
Right after Christmas, at age twenty-one, I put on a gown, asked for an IV in the back of my fist instead of my perpetually bruised fencing arm, and faced the knife. Nobody told me, in dramatic cinematic fashion, that I could back out anytime. I was Hibiclens-clean, properly foodless, and eager. The dream team was ready for the minor abdominal surgery that would be easier to my surgeon than an application of eyeliner was for me. Right before I went out, as I entered the bright operating theater, I thought, They will take off these clothes they gave me, and then they will open me, and I won’t even know if I die naked.
The women watching over me in the post-op recovery room wanted numbers. Seven, I yelled. Seven, again. I’m sorry, I cried. Seven. They said they’d hit the morphine ceiling. I had no eyeglasses. They silenced me with Demerol. Finally, my frontal lobe had been overtaken.
In the bed they said was mine, I was more nauseous than I knew I could be. My gut looked like an alien pregnancy, big but not happy, marked by four tiny cuts. The nurse called them stab wounds: a hole for the camera, a hole for inflation, a hole for snipping, a hole for yanking out the thing. She said that when they were trying to get the gallbladder out of that tiny hole, my belly would have been stretched so far away from my body it was like a cartoon.
The nurse said I could only leave after peeing, which took half the day. My mom sat with me in the bathroom while I tried to get empty. I went two drops and Mom made the announcement.
I was told not to fence for a month. While the morphine nausea persisted, Mom read me short stories and I hid from the light; after the drug wore off and I beat at the throbbing with vicodin, I busted the stitches on one of my stab wounds as I slipped off the couch after a fallen saltine while watching a 24-hour marathon of 24.
I thought about the flaws in my fencing game, picturing my broken body vertical, functional, flexible. I thought about my sweet boyfriend back in College Park, waiting for me to come back and play house. I spent a lot of time with my laptop sitting hot on my stab wounds as I Googled words I’d been afraid to look at for a year: post traumatic stress rape trauma date rape acquaintance rape college rape statistics denial. My stab wounds began closing over, starting with the smallest one, while the two longer lines refused to swallow their stitches. I couldn’t eat without feeling my insides sloughing off. Was it normal to hand in nausea and receive the runs in return? The photocopies from the hospital said nothing about it—I had been instructed not to make any important business or personal decisions for 24 hours following surgery, not to engage in sports until my physician gave permission. In bold capital letters, I had been told to make arrangements for someone to stay with me for the first night. I had not been told about the achy sojourns between toilet and couch, my incisions screaming. Creeping my way up the stairs, I worried that wide gashes would be torn across my punctured abdominals. At my destination, I’d remember that my wounds were buried deep: my liver sobbed over its loss.
My surgeon was inaccessible during an extended European vacation, so I saw the primary care doctor who had told me, before I left for college, to be careful with my virginity—what would my future children think about a mom who had slept with a bunch of guys? Now, she told me my only recourse was Imodium AD. Until when? I wanted to know. This wasn’t a cure, she told me. This was a treatment: two with food, as long as symptoms persist. How long would symptoms persist? Well—how long did I expect to be gallbladderless?
What’s worse: nausea or the shits? Going to work or being bedridden? Having an organ never work again or never getting it back? A heart full of fear of the imagined first time having sex or a head wracked by memory of the known experience?
After three weeks on the couch, I went back to school. No surgeon was around to tell me not to fence, so I took up my epee a month after surgery; I traveled to a regional tournament, got wasted on Smirnoff Ice in the hotel room, woke up still drunk, stuffed my bloated body into my stiff white knickers and jacket, and fenced all day. By evening, I had my first fencing medal, and my topmost stab wound was losing the ends of its stitches as my overworked abdominals groaned. I accepted my shiny disc, dosed myself with vicodin, and curled up among the gear against the wall. During the dark bus ride back to Maryland, my teammates played “Never have I ever,” increasingly scandalous secrets about sexual dalliances coming out at every turn, while I sanded down my brain with pills and told them nothing.
I didn’t notice that my brain was spoiling. It just started getting mean.
I was standing on the subway platform one day, commuting home from work, when I realized that I had been raped that year before, by that boy who had first penetrated me. My heart was a train and it plowed through my head.
I called the campus peer counseling and crisis line and a grown man answered. I told him I thought I had been raped approximately one year ago, by a boy I was just beginning to date, and he said that in his professional experience, women who are raped or sexually assaulted are usually beaten within an inch of their lives, usually have their clothes torn off, usually they’re in pretty bad and bloody shape. I hung up and tried to eat my own mouth so it wouldn’t tell anyone else what I’d divulged.
I began showering at least twice a day. I showered whenever my insides shed while I cried on porcelain, begging kill me, kill me now, a secret held more deeply than any other, because no college student can ever tell the authorities that she wants to die, even if it’s not a true wish to die, but a wish to be physically reborn with new guts, new skin, new hymen stretched like a tarp, like a whip.
I don’t know what lobe of my brain said it, but someone inside my head told my boyfriend, “I need to know what it’s like to be with other people,” and he said he didn’t want to lose me. At the moment of crisis, my boyfriend coming in through the window and my heart flaccid, I knew that, despite the sad scene I had set up so I might rewrite my memory, another boy’s small hand was not the body part I was missing.
I developed a fixation upon a slightly younger boy who had no intention of dating me, preferred World of Warcraft over sex, and hadn’t dropped his baby fat. I left the boyfriend with whom I had psychic conversations and built love forts. I still didn’t eat. My back was the back of my bony fist and I wanted to curl up and bloody the face of the world.
I sat down with my surgeon and told him about the runs. He told me he wished I would’ve come in sooner. This thing had a name, postcholecystectomy syndrome, and if he could name it, he could smite it. He prescribed packets of Questran, a bile acid sequestrant once used to treat hypercholesterolemia, for my bile acid malabsoroption. How long will I have to take this? I asked. It’s cheap, he said. Mixed in some water, you can barely taste it.
Postcholecystectomy syndrome is the name for a bundle of symptoms after surgery, either a continuation of the pre-operative symptoms or the development of new ones. The problems are caused by changes in bile flow into the GI tract.
PCS is found in 5-30% of patients, with 10-15% being the most reasonable range. [. . .]
If the procedure is performed for stones, 10-25% of patients develop PCS. If no stones are present, 29% of patients develop PCS. [. . .]
Freud found age and sex differences.Patients aged 20-29 years had an incidence of 43%; those aged 30-39 years, 27%; 40-49 years, 21%; 50-59 years, 26%; and, 60-69 years, 31%. Patients older than 70 years did not develop PCS. Females had a 28% incidence of PCS, and males had a 15% incidence. [. . .]
Note that half of patients with a preoperative psychiatric disorder have an organic cause of PCS, whereas only 23% of patients without a psychiatric disorder have an organic cause. [SOURCE]
I became certain that I was addicted to love, or romance, or attention, or crushes, or being around magnetic people, or not going to work. My boss at my part-time federal government job said, “You had a major organ taken out. That’s a big adjustment for your brain.” I used all my sick days. I quit the job. I started working all night at the 24-hour service desk in the apartment lobby and then went home and drank alone.
One day, walking in my high heels to the liquor store in the suspended sweat of a Maryland summer, I realized that I might be one of those girls in the glossy magazines—not the ones with concave bellies and hips like dolphin backs, but the ones whose brains are horror stories, cautionary tales about the brinkwomanship of pressing against the edge of institutionalization.
I cut off all my hair. Then I did it again and again and again, daring someone to want me without it.
Until my boss mentioned the connection between my gallbladder and brain, I hadn’t thought they were related. Bipolar disorder may be associated with immune system dysfunction and pro-inflammatory cytokines, though results in individual studies are conflicted, according to a recent meta-analysis. Cholecystectomy has been found to result in cytokine release. I’m not a scientist; I’m a writer. I can’t prove that, when my surgeon cut into my gut, a phantom twin scalpel scored my brain. But the connection between the gut and the brain is coming into clear focus, and I know that when the surgeon took my gallbladder, he performed a lobotomy of the belly.
At the beginning of senior year, in 2006, I saw a psychiatrist at the university health center. According to my questionnaire responses, he found me depressed and prescribed Lexapro. Over the next few months, I would get all the drugs whose names had titillated me as a straight-edge kid in New Jersey: Wellbutrin, Ritalin, Ativan, lithium, and others I’d never heard of. I would break out in a rash signaling a potentially fatal reaction. I would get so depressed my doctor would write notes requesting assignment extensions. I would get so manic I would leap on my bed and think my ribs were god’s xylophone. Almost every day, I drank beer or Grey Goose screwdrivers. When the scale reported the number that was, by BMI, underweight for my height, I jumped up and down.
I gained forty pounds after moving to Seattle and going on a new antipsychotic drug. I would’ve tried to yank all my flesh off my body if the mania hadn’t been sanded down by the Seroquel and the depression by the intense endorphins of all the avocado-hummus-provolone sandwiches I was eating. Seroquel is thought to cause insulin resistance. My new doctor didn’t tell me that; she told me it would be a good drug, and it has been. Years later, she added Topamax, and twenty pounds dropped off. I figured out, through paleo—thank you, Level 4 CrossFit Seattle and Dave Werner—that I had celiac disease, and once I cut out gluten, the diarrhea stopped. Just like that.
The crazy never stopped. I found the right medication cocktail and got better at letting my hair grow out, but I’ll always be bipolar. I’ve seen practitioners who suggest I consider going off my meds. I think about the old days when I’d sit on a pile of high heels in my closet, wondering if I could get away with never coming out again, hoping if I starved for long enough my exhausted hepatobiliary system might reset and sprout new buds, wishing I could tweeze the pain from my skull. None of that happened. I spent seven medicated years writing a book about my body and my brain, and the regular wringing-out mechanism wore out every nerve until the shock of my brain’s tangle had worn off. I wrote the word rape, once as off-limits as a secret password, until it didn’t look like a word anymore, and rebuilt it as something I could begin to understand.
The only thing to do is find the wound and rub in the salve.
There’s a lot of talk in the paleo community about the over-prescription of psych drugs, but my meds keep me functional. Maybe I wasn’t born broken, but I’ve been broken into, and someone walked away with my treasures. There is too much at stake to try to disavow the chemicals that have patched my world back together. I hear, too often, that we should all be able to mend ourselves with the right food, the right movement, and sunshine. It’s easy to tell people they don’t need drugs when you don’t know what it’s like to need drugs, to wander around all night hoping you’ll find the end of the earth, to pummel the floor with another panic attack, to self-medicate with another handle of vodka because the right medication still hasn’t appeared. Maybe I could find the right combination of foods and movements that could replace the meds, but I could lose my mind while searching. This much is irreversible: I needed to get some dense nodule of hurt out of me, and so I agreed to that surgeon’s swift medicine and made wreckage of myself. I am no longer the intact human who arrived on this earth in 1984. I will do what I need to keep my brain from taking me down.
My moods are fairly stable now, the bipolar peaks and valleys having been evened out by medication and good practices. I still have a fat gut on my skinny, flamingo-legged frame. I still have keratosis pilaris—chicken skin—on my upper arms and thighs, signaling possible nutrient absorption problems. A couple of years into paleo, I developed dramatic cystic acne that comes and goes, seemingly related to a mysterious family of food intolerances (possibly, it seems, as broad as all salicylates). I have other symptoms. I still have a gut feeling that I am a destruction site, and now, it’s informed by too much knowledge: bad choices, genetic mutations. Regularly, I take 5-MTHF, fermented cod liver oil, offal, chicken foot broth, gelatin, butyrate, l-glutamine, ox bile, and so many other talismans to charm the snakes inside me. The most terrifying part is that nobody really seems to know how to make my snakes sleep—I try and I err and I eliminate foods until almost nothing remains. Humans are resilient, but we are not unbreakable, and the mending process is consuming me.
Almost ten years have passed since I was raped in my campus apartment by a boy who had my consent for kissing, for more than kissing, but not for the breaking of an emotional seal I feared more than anything: first-time sex. I suppose I could say I have “healed” in that I no longer act out in direct response to my tangled emotions. But it’s hard to say I’ll ever really get over being raped when I know I had my gut mutilated because I wanted to scalpel out my own crawling brain, my own dark heart. I thought I loved my illness, once it arrived. But in truth, I loved that it gave me the power to point to a part of myself and order its execution.
Last week, my friends and I went to the mystical bookstore. I don’t usually go for the new age stuff, being an actual Native person, but I like a good field trip. I went right for the table covered in stones: pink stones, green stones, crystals, stones with high polish. While Claire examined the pendulums, Catherine read from a book about the stones that could give me power, the stones that could heal me. I found a strand for my left wrist, a strand for my right, and a ring. This stone provides energy and protects from bad vibrations; this stone makes one invincible in battle. I know, in truth, as I put my hands into these stones, that they move nothing but my mind. Maybe, now, I need to stop shunning luck, start rubbing the terrapin’s nose and asking for intercession. I am tired. Keep my tissues untouched. Give me no other cure.
Sarah Ballantyne, author of the groundbreaking Autoimmune Protocol book The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body, is one of the most brilliant people I know. She writes at ThePaleoMom.com, and at that site as well as in her book, she outlines a very specific, very effective, and therefore necessarily very limited approach to paleo eating. If broken, it heals your gut.
By healing your gut, you heal a lot of other things, too.
It’s remarkable. Sarah has had had success with… I’m going to guess, and correctly, I believe, hundreds of thousands of people.
So short story is: the autoimmune protocol Sarah (and others, like one of my favorite women, Eileen Laird) outlines and advocates is the. bomb. digs.
But I’ve always been wary.
For two reasons. 1) People without autoimmune diseases often eat an AIP for the sake of “better health.” But this is silly, because I and AIP advocates alike think it’s unnecessary, and doesn’t even benefit your health really, necessarily, unless you’re autoimmune. 2) People use this as an excuse to eat a controlled way of eating. 3) People sometimes feel unduly restricted on AIP and develop disordered behaviors. 4) People have a hard time transitioning out of AIP. 5) Obviously there are more than two reasons.
(And no, to answer my title’s question, the AIP doesn’t always beget disordered eating. But there’s definitely a “but” that belongs, hanging, at that end of that statement. ”The AIP doesn’t beget disordered eating, but…”)
So anyway. I did an interview talking about these things with an AIP advocate named Eileen Laird, who writes at Phoenix Helix.com (what an amazing brand name, holy hell), who’s brilliant and lovely. There’s a lot of psychological stuff that swirls around AIP: fear of death, fear of illness, fear of freedom..
Finding Strength After the Stage, a guest post by former fitness competitor and rabid body lover Madelyn Moon
The following post is written by a lovely and powerful new voice in the body love scene. Her name is Madelyn, and she used to be a body builder.
I first came across Madelyn’s work I believe at some point in 2013. To be honest, I wasn’t a fan. I was perhaps even appalled. A bit horrified, maybe. Sad. Angry. I mean – it was okay. But what she was selling on her website, more or less, was herself as a muscle-glorified sex object.
If you go to her site today, you’ll see a lot of the same photos. These kinds of photos sell appearances more than health, which isn’t my favorite way to inspire people.
Yet with a keen eye, you’ll see, too, a woman on a hell of a journey of change, and a set of photos that tell a story.
Because while so many of the photos are the same, the language is different. Madelyn talks about “health” and “inner strength” and “acceptance.” Those photos are old, and she and doesn’t compete any more. Her invitation to join her mailing list reads like this:
“Ready to love your body? Sign up for the FREE eCourse “Mind Body Satisfaction, Sacrifice-Free” and learn how to fall in love with yourself exactly how you are. “
but anyway. It’s so powerful to witness someone coming through these changes and rocking them out. Madelyn now loves her body because of the way it feels far more than the way it looks.
Madelyn is over body building. And in love.
She recorded a hell of a youtube video about her journey -
- and if you’ve got ten minutes it’s definitely worth the watch.
Here she is, in her own words. You can find more of Madelyn (and her kickass podcast, which I was just recorded for last night) @ moonfitness.net.
The following story generally rings true for many people, which is why I’m such an open book in regards to my food and body issues growing up. Nobody is alone in this battle and there is most definitely a solution just waiting to be discovered. I am so glad I can now share my discovery of that solution.
I started my food obsession, body shaming, and negative self-worth at a really young age. When I was about 15 years old I watched a television show that warned against the dangers of anorexia, bulimia and the likes. Even though it warned against the tragic habit, it was the first time I had really heard about eating disorders and it stuck in my head as something to try out later and see what happened.
I wouldn’t say that I suffered from one specific eating “disorder” but I’ve had disordered eating most of my life. My relationship with food always depended on my relationship with my weight. And my relationship with weight depended on how “in control” I was of everything else. It was a terrible cycle that I seemed to never get out of.
I started the cycle as a vegetarian, mostly for animal rights, but it eventually turned into a weight control practice. I then realized I wanted the body of a fitness model and physique competitor, so I switched over to the meat eating clan and began to eat like a bodybuilder AKA six meals a day, every three hours, no salt, no fruit, everything had to be weighed and measured and eaten out of Tupperware. Soon enough, getting my body fat pinched every weekend was a typical activity, as well as my hour-long cardio sessions in the morning paired with lifting sessions in the evening. Amidst this loveless, foodless, deprived life, I was starting to become addicted to seeing my body transform. As the body fat melted off, my self-esteem skyrocketed. As my butt got rounder, my smile got larger.
After hitting the stage for my first and even second fitness competition, I gained a little weight back and returned to my average size. In fact, I was much stronger, healthier, happier, and fuller (physically and emotionally) but less toned. Womp, womp. The psychological struggles continued. I loathed my lack of leanness, I hated my distorted body image and I still measured and weighed my food in attempt to create that perfect body again.
Soon enough I discovered paleo after receiving a book to review for my blog, and then again, when a friend told me how awesome the “diet” had been for him. I became really interested and really involved in the community, where I met many people who taught me to love myself no matter what. Though this is easier said than done, after extreme commitment, positive affirmation, journaling, getting a dog, and moving states (not necessarily because of my body image struggles but it certainly didn’t hurt), I finally found something deep inside of me that was dying to come out.
Not just physical strength but emotional strength. I developed the strength to challenge social norms and to decide for myself what I think “beautiful” really means. In the end, I decided beautiful means life. It means coffee in bed on a Sunday morning. It means an extra spoonful of peanut butter just because. It means going four wheeling or boating whenever I want, because I no longer have to worry about bringing Tupperware meals. Last but not least, it means being able to tell myself “it’s okay” to not work out when I don’t feel like it. It’s okay to put family and friends FIRST before the gym and bulk cooking. It’s okay. Why? Because I’m already beautiful.
As many people say, paleo is not just a diet. It’s a lifestyle. It means to live organically, stress-free, happy and healthy. Healthy can be subjective but for most people, it means to live a life that promotes your version of optimal health. It means to live in a way that promotes mind-body satisfaction, without the sacrifices.
When I first discovered paleo, I went the strictest route. I basically did a Whole30 but for four months. I became too rigid and decided that wasn’t the healthiest for me, personally. I even discovered I have no allergies to gluten, dairy, beans or grains. While that’s kind of cool, I didn’t go crazy on eating them because as I listened to my body, I discovered those foods don’t necessarily make me feel optimal energy.
Truthfully, I rarely eat gluten or legumes by choice because they don’t make me the best version of myself. Dairy on the other hand makes me feel like a rock star.
So I make it work for me. Paleo has allowed me to find the best version of myself by helping me realize what makes me feel best, inside and out.
There are no meal plans, no food scales, no body fat pinchers, no tiny swimsuits hanging on my “inspiration wall” and certainly no sports-bra and spandex clad photo shoots in my near future.
I’m so excited to now have the “Madelyn Moon Diet” and nothing else. And more than just the diet aspect, I now live a much more minimalistic life. I try to keep my household minimalistic, as well as my face (less is more, ladies) and even my workouts!
The people I have met in the paleo community have literally changed my life in every aspect. I could name you ten people right now that have impacted me in some way or another and have brought me to tears from their support and generosity.
I am in no way exactly where I want to be in terms of body image and my relationship with food, but I am much farther in my journey than where I started. I have come incredibly far in all actuality, and as long as I remember to keep up the self-love and acceptance, I will be in the best “shape” of my life (possibly literally, but that one is more metaphorically).
Because I wanted to share how I’ve learned to retrain my brain into loving my body just the way it is, as well as block out all of the lean body fitness fluff, I created an eCourse that guides readers step by step on how to do exactly that. The course is called Mind Body Satisfaction, Sacrifice-Free. The eCourse is completely free, and you will receive a lesson every four days. My goal with the course is to give you small, easily implemented changes you can make every day that will eventually lead you into non-negotiable self-love and body acceptance. To sign up for my eCourse simple go to my website here and type in your email address in the box at the top.
Lastly, I wanted to further share my passion for the ever-so-important mind body relationship by creating a podcast, called Mind Body Musings. The podcast features various guests that are well-known in the fitness industry who share their stories, theories, research and knowledge with us so that we can all better understand our bodies and brains. The podcast can be found on iTunes here, or you can go to my website here for the direct download links.
A big thank you to Stefani for letting me share my story with you today. Stay tuned for this story to be published in The Paleo Miracle 2 as well, along with many other inspirational mind body strengthening stories.
I hope you enjoy any newfound insight you learn from these two tools and further develop your own strength, beauty and self-love.