Health begins and ends in the gut.
I’m not sure why people avoid speaking about their bowel health and yet willingly speak about their liver, heart or deltoid muscle. It’s a bit like admiring the beauty of someone’s hair, as long as that hair remains attached to their head. Once that hair has fallen off that head, it’s like a feral animal that needs to be exterminated. Our perceptions of our own bowel health need to be reevaluated.
“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house that you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it”. – Ellen Goodman.
The Agricultural Revolution promised freedom from hours of physical labour, the chance to “evolve” beyond the huntering/gathering lifestyle and the end of world famine. We kid ourselves in thinking that agriculture represents the path of least resistance for people trying to make a living. It’s been established beyond a shadow of doubt that there is an exact correlation between how hard you have to work to stay alive and how great your dependence on agriculture is.
The amount of energy it takes to put a tiny amount of corn in a can of water and salt (not that it’s even nutritious) and then place that on your supermarket shelf is almost beyond belief, as is the amount of time you must work in order to buy that tiny bit of corn. Making food a commodity to be owned is one of the great inventions of our modern culture. Putting food under lock-and-key is the cornerstone of our economy, for if food was freely available to everyone, who would work?
We no longer have tribes, a sure sense of community belonging. This creates stress.
The greatest benefit of ethnic tribal life is that it provides lifelong security. Modern people are rich in clothes, technology and entertainment, but god help them if they lose their job. Going “postal”, becoming violent or suicidal are all possible outcomes of those feeling desperate of security.
“Paleo” or “Caveman” dieting has become the fad of recent years, as we are starting to reject the processed, non-foods that are so prevalent and harmful in today’s modern world.
We all have no time.
- ‘No time’ to eat without simultaneously having to read the iPhone, papers, homework, watch the TV or speak to someone at the dinner table. I think less than 5% of the people reading this will actually concentrate fully on the food they are eating. If they did they would metabolise it better and eat less. That’s a concept – “Focus on your food more and lose weight!”
- ‘No time’ to have a conversation with someone over the phone – text and emails are the preferred norm.
- We have guilt associated with doing nothing. Taking time off work, saying no to housework or rescheduling your career to achieve greater work-life balance is ostracised in today’s fast-paced world as seen as lazy and wasteful. If we have a free day, we do a good job in filling it. We’ll start fixing the car, or finding new clothes, or reading a book, or watching a movie, or catching up with a friend or something else. It’s foreign in our day and age to feel comfortable in just doing nothing. The cry of need in this arena has brought about the western boom of eastern meditation, tai chi and yoga practices, although attending one of these classes is still theoretically doing something. Try actually stopping still in the middle of your day to do nothing or meditate (sleeping or smoking pot doesn’t count), without having scheduled it in with a paid class, and I likely couldn’t even pay you to do it.
How does all this link up to the gut?
Although there are few epidemiological data from developing countries, the incidence and prevalence of inflammatory bowel diseases are increasing with time and in different regions of the world, indicating its emergence as a global disease (Pubmed Gastroenterology 2012 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22001864). We’re living in a physically toxic world but also a psychologically and emotionally toxic world. 80% of your immune system cells line the gut, so to fight a broad range of illnesses and cancers, getting your gut healthy is paramount.
Diet affects bowel, bowel affects mood
You have “gut feelings” because the gastrointestinal tract is loaded with neuron cells that release the same neurotransmitters found in your brain; serotonin, dopamine, GABA and noradrenaline. Anything irritating or harming the gut will send you a message through it’s nervous system contributing to feelings of irritation, anger, anxiety or depression.
Mood affects bowel, bowel affects immunity and biochemistry.
You can eat all the correct things (although nutrition advice seems to change every 5 minutes), exercise well, get enough water, get to bed on time and meditate for 20 min per day, but if your mind keeps feeding you toxic thoughts you’ll probably still find it tough to stay healthy. ‘Butterflies in your tummy’ and ‘sick to the gut’ arise from psychological origins, and affect digestion, motility, immune activity and hormone production. That’s quite a lot just from one fearful thought.
The point of this whole blog post and how it relates to Strength & Conditioning:
Perceived stress affects any goal you’re shooting for – getting faster, stronger, leaner, more consistent with scores, more mentally acute, recovering from injury, having the ability to zone your mind into what your body is doing, and basically every other goal you can think of.
You need to have healthy cells to have healthy muscles, lungs, heart, brain, nerves, (and entire body), to allow you to become the best athlete you can be. Wholesome nutrition, water, exercise, sleep, relaxation and social time will help all this (and your gut), but the presence of toxic thoughts can neutralise all of that.
To allow the realisation of your surfing or health goals, your stress levels must be managed. Too much production of cortisol, having been produced as a result of stress perception leads to a deficiency in progesterone, DHEA, growth hormones and sex hormones. This equals fat around the tummy, chest and back, weaker and slower performance, reduced concentration and a struggle for your efforts in building strong, healthy, lean muscles.
But, in the end…
Your number one concern will ultimately be your health and happiness, not how fast you can run or how ripped you can get. Perception of stress is everything and we have the choice to determine how much a thought will affect our health.