Better & Bolder, the Blog

Nurture: gut intuition


There is an entire science of gut intuition and even what we call a second brain in our belly. This second brain, which isn’t about thinking but feeling and sensing, takes care of digestion so our big brain doesn’t have to (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/). 

Much of what the enteric nervous system does is carry information from our gut to our brain (and not the other way around). This is how important digestion is. We get an entire brain for it!

Intuition is not really an idea formed in the gut, as that system isn’t capable of thoughts. It’s not entirely clear, though, that when we form an idea, we’re not including information from the gut. 

Intuition isn’t mystical or mysterious. It’s really making sense of a whole bunch of different data that coalesces in an “aha!” moment. Intuition is, according to one study, “the result of the way our brains store, process and retrieve information on a subconscious level” (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080305144210.htm). 

I like how Helen Fisher, PhD, explains it here as she starts by noting how our brain “chunks” or groups information, storing related ideas for easier retrieval. This is why intuition is “learned expertise in disguise.” We don’t always know what we know. We make intuitive leaps.

Here’s an example of an intuition I had and couldn’t quite explain.

A few years ago, I stopped eating dairy foods, based on an intuition that dairy makes me crave foods with sugar. It somehow disrupts my overall system, and I end up with cravings or overeating. I can’t really explain it. I don’t have words for it. 

Since I can’t really explain it, I wonder if maybe I’m making it up or just making myself miserable by not eating dairy.  

I needed proof! I got online to find an article that would convince me not to eat dairy. 

One argument says that since I’m not a calf, I shouldn’t drink cow’s milk. That is simply poor argumentation. People eat all sorts of stuff, weird stuff, and most of it seems pretty unnatural to me. 

Lactose-intolerance is the norm. Anyone over two years old develops the intolerance (I guess so the big brother isn’t pushing the baby out of the way to keep drinking the milk). 

Still, certain populations -- primarily Northern Europeans -- developed tolerance. So while it may not be natural to drink cow’s milk, over time, some groups adapted to it. Most people remain lactose-intolerant. One source says 95% of Asians are lactose-intolerant. Swedes, however, adapted to consuming dairy products. 

Keep this in mind whenever someone explains what you should or shouldn’t eat. What one group does is not indicative of what we all should do. There isn’t one natural and right way to eat, though I’d still argue strongly for a whole foods diet with as few processed foods as possible. Exactly what’s in that healthy diet, though, may vary with individuals and vary over an individual’s lifetime. 

Most people know they are lactose-intolerant because of the gas and bloating and stomach aches that follow after they consume dairy. I don’t have those symptoms. It wasn’t a reason for me to stop eating dairy. 

I looked up casein instead, the main protein in milk. That’s where it got interesting. 

It turns out, casein makes us feel good, all relaxed and dopey, a bit like dope. According to some sources, it also makes us crave sugar more. That’s exactly what my intuition told me. I found the science to back up what I had intuited. 

It’s not great science, by the way. Here’s one website http://blog.healthkismet.com/casomorphins-cheese-addiction-diet-health and here’s another http://freefromharm.org/health-nutrition/addicted-to-cheese-heres-why/ . Neither reference good studies or reliable sources. 

This article http://www.dynamicchiropractic.com/mpacms/dc/article.php?id=54571 links dairy to obesity and depression as well as to additional comfort eating. Her sources don’t impress me. 

I found one tiny study that linked increased dairy consumption with increased calorie intake (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17557989). 

I’m not seeing a bunch of studies that explore the addictive nature of dairy. Just because dairy includes casomorphins doesn’t mean that it has the effect on us as morphine does. 

Apparently, mama’s milk makes a baby calm and sleepy, which is a very good thing for a baby to be. We’ve been told to drink milk to help us sleep, though I’ve read it’s due to tryptophan or to calcium. 

Despite the lack of good studies and clear science, I have an intuitive hit that something in dairy reacts with my personal body and brain chemistry in such a way as to make me hungrier and want to eat more simple carbohydrates. 

Despite that I’m not finding science to back up my hunch, I find it interesting that others have had the same hunch that I’ve had. 

Here’s a theory.  Alcohol is addictive, yet most people who consume alcohol do not become addicted. One estimate is that close to 7% of the population are heavy drinkers.  That means that most people consume a substance that’s addictive without becoming addicted. They feel the mind-altering effects, yet those effects are temporary. 

Let’s posit that casein is a wee bit like that. Most people consume dairy and feel fine. A small percentage of us consume dairy and we’re not fine. 

What seems to happen once I add dairy back into my daily diet is that I notice I  begin to eat more than I want to be eating. I’m not hungry; the food isn’t appealing. I just feel a compulsion to keep eating. 

Or maybe something else is happening in my gut, something my gut brain is communicating. Maybe that protein is in some way irritating and my gut brain communicates that discomfort. I translate that into some kind of story. Maybe no story is needed. My gut says no to this food.

That doesn’t mean I never eat dairy products ever again. It does mean I choose not to make it a part of my daily diet. 

Dairy is one small part of my food story. Our histories, emotions, ideas, the other things we’re eating, how we’re sleeping, our daily activities, all of these play into how we’ll react to a food at any given time. I’m a bit like the Princess and the Pea sometimes. It doesn’t take much to make me feel uncomfortable and not at ease.

It’s important for me to trust my gut. It’s the center of my energy and deserves my respect. It deserves my very best care.

 


Nurture the future


I am trying to figure out who I am. In 2012, I was a badass midlife mama. Now, I don’t feel badass. I am feeling distinctly past my prime.


One way to look at a woman’s life stages is by identifying her as pre-fertile, fertile and post-fertile. They don’t say it like that, though. They say maid, mother, and crone, which sounds all magical and shit; what they mean, though, is fertility. 


Men aren’t defined like that, though I guess men are simply left undefined: they are boys and then they are men, and even when they’re boys, they’re pushed to be men. At some point, they’re called old men, but I think that’s when they're really super old. 

Men feel it, though, at some point when their waists spread or their hair thins or they just aren’t as interested in getting into fights the way they used to. Their knees hurt and they give up playing basketball and life doesn’t feel quite as fun. They get a midlife crisis but no other transition or name. They’re just supposed to tough it  out. 

The best name for an older man is the adjective “distinguished.” He is singular, set apart, and special. 


Here are some synonyms for crone: Medusa. Hag. Battle-ax. Witch. Biddy. Fury. Ugly. Gorgon. Harpy. Shrew.

Thanks, Thesaurus.com. I feel so much better now. 


I want to be distinguished. I want to be important. That’s probably not going to happen. I’m going to be ordinary. Nothing wrong with that but it’s taking some getting used to. I have love and a good job (several!) and family and a great home and I’m in good health. That totally is the jackpot. It is extraordinary even as it is ordinary. I never particularly wanted to be someone or something special. It’s just that I’m getting older and, ooops, I forgot to be special. 


I also don’t know what goals to hit next. In 2012, I was running and adding speed and miles and I started thinking about how great it would be to spend the next few decades running. I loved the idea of running half marathons and traveling to fun cities to run and race. Now I’m not even sure I can eke out a 10 mile week let alone a 10 mile run. 

And I’m alternately bummed and pissed. I was plenty busy in my 30s and 40s. It’s not like I could have done the training necessary. Instead I was learning and dancing Nia, which took a lot of time and energy and was a great way to invest time and energy. I have no regrets there. 

I just want to have a mid40s body for another decade or so. I’m not even asking for mid30s or mid20s, though, ummm, I’d take it if they’re handing those out. I just want that tiny bit more energy. I want that juicy fertile vital energy and that slightly younger body -- the tendons, the muscles. I have a bit more time now and apparently I need that time to rest. I was kind of hoping to play more.


It’s ego, too, big time. I wanted to be badass some more, and in particular I wanted to be physically badass.  I want to feel energetic and vibrant, and I don’t feel that way. I’m still hoping that it’s waiting for me on the other side of this year. I’m hoping 51 marks the point so that I’m less in transition and more in the new place. This year is all transition. I’m not what I was, and I’m not that new place yet either. 

Supposedly Carl Jung called this the “afternoon of life.” Well, I’m tired every afternoon. 

Yes, I’m more patient by a bit. Yes, I appreciate little things more and I’ve slowed down and that’s great. It’s not enough.


In my 20s, I didn’t care what others thought of me. I was really kind of intense. I was totally willing to say “fuck you” to anyone who didn’t think as I did. I was harsh at times and hard-edged. 

For some women, turning 50 is permission to be themselves. They don’t care what others think of them and they’re learning to say no or even “fuck you.” Sigh. I have been there and done that. I’d rather be kind. My 50s don’t feel like empowerment or wisdom or freedom or that I’m coming into my own. Being 50 -- at least so far -- feels like a big invitation to slow down. That makes me crabby. 


I am experiencing the realization that, hey, I’m getting closer to the end of this ride. Even if I have another 3 decades or maybe 4 decades to play (and 40 years is a very long time), I’m going to be less healthy and robust. I am going to have limits on what I can do not because I don’t have the time but because I don’t have the energy. 


Here are some key words for Baby Boomers hitting midlife. Loss. Regret. Self-absorption. Sense of entitlement. Need for control. http://www.creativecounselors.com/articles/midlife.htm

Thanks, creativecounselors.com, for the encouragement. 


I like who I am for the most part. I don’t have a ton of regrets. I don’t see that I missed opportunities. I took care of business, too, and I’m deeply happy that I earned my masters, settled into a decent job, married, and raised a family. I can’t imagine that there is anything better I could have been doing the past two decades. The problem is that I don’t know what to do for the next two decades. 

I don’t have a bucket list. I don’t wish I could do X, Y, and Z. It's possible, too, that I haven't quite figured out how I will be of service. I feel a bit world-weary, as if there's nothing I can do to effect positive change in the world, and I'm hoping that's a phase I'm going through. Nothing right now feels possible. 


And I’m afraid of dying. Not afraid of dying one day, some day, but this weird creepy moan, as if, oh, man, I’m not gonna make it through this year. I tell myself there is a certain death, the death of who I’ve been, the death of myself as a fertile woman. I am still in that transition, still feeling the flush of warm waves (rather than the more terrible hot flash or the misnamed power surge). I’m not quite post-fertile. I’m not yet done mothering, though I suspect that never ends, just shifts in responsibility and intensity. 


I got pulled over by the cops again this morning. I apparently rolled through a stop sign instead of coming to a full stop. Whatever. Last week, I turned right on red, which isn’t allowed at this particular light, which I know, and apparently I wasn’t paying attention and turned anyway. 

Clearly, the universe would like me to slow down and pay attention. Slow down and be attentive to what I’m doing. Slow down, be patient, and pay attention. Stop thinking about where I’m going next and what is my final destination. Just drive. While I’m driving, focus on driving, and pay attention, patiently. 

The universe is telling me I really need to be someone who I simply am not. I am not a patient person paying attention. Going too fast and too hard and focusing too far in the future, though, is starting to hurt in all sorts of ways. 

Would it really be so bad if I was a little less like I used to be? I just need to see that person. I need to be able to see me, at the end of the decade, and know where I’m going, so I can pull my gaze back to the present and be patient. 


Over the phone last week, I told my daughter that I’d met the author Audre Lorde when I was in college. When I heard her speak, I knew that she was who I wanted to be when I grew up. She was so self-possessed. She had a great sense of humor. She radiated an energy that felt powerful, calm, clear, and joyful, one that felt wholly herself and confident. 

Lorde has described herself as black, lesbian, a mother, a warrior, a poet.  Below I have copied what she wrote about speaking out. But before that, I want to leave you (no, really, me) with this other line she wrote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” 

There may be nothing more radical or important that I do in this year of being 50 than nurture myself, at whatever pace I need, and stop worrying about whether I still appear to be a badass. Who I am becoming is still emerging. My possibilities and limitations are still undefined. 


from Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals


“I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.

What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language."

I began to ask each time: "What's the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?" Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, "disappeared" or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.

Next time, ask: What's the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it's personal. And the world won't end.

And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don't miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." And at last you'll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.” 

Nurture: Eat more, sleep more


So, don’t go on a diet. I know it’s tempting. It’s also winter. Your body has no interest in losing weight. Here's an article that explains some of the reasons why.

If you really feel you must lose weight, wait for spring. 

There are some good reasons to lose weight. I’m not knocking it. Recently I wrote about the impact that 10 pounds has on our knees, for instance; it adds 40 pounds of force. Even if your weight is fine, sometimes losing five or ten can help you move with more ease. Go ahead and lose weight if that will make you feel better, but don’t do it yet.


Here’s what to do while you’re waiting to lose weight.


Go to sleep. Get a good 8 hours a night. When you get less than that, several things happen. One, your cortisol (a stress hormone) rises, and your body doesn’t like that and responds by -- you guessed it -- sending out cravings for carbohydrates and holding on for dear life to the body fat you already have. A second thing that happens when we don’t get enough sleep is that our ability to deal with stress is lessened. Our self-discipline and will power is lessened. Get really practiced and very disciplined (religious even) about nurturing yourself with eight hours of sleep every night. Then, if you still really want to lose some weight this spring, you’ll have that helpful and healthy habit already in place. 

Do you need 8 hours? Probably. Sometimes 7 will do. But it’s a real outlier who functions optimally on fewer than 7 hours a night. You also might need 9 hours. Check out this article or this one if you need convincing or motivation. 


Here’s the second thing to do while you’re waiting to lose weight. Get really good at drinking water. When we’re adequately hydrated, we feel so much better. Before anything else goes in your mouth each day, down a glass of water. Get used to satisfying your need for water before you satisfy anything else.


Now I’m going to tell you what to add to your daily nutrition. Diets often are about subtracting, usually calories though sometimes also certain foods. January and February are good times to add.

Divide your plate in half and put green veggies on one half. Put whatever you like on the other half, but get really good at making half your meal green vegetables. Purple, yellow, and red vegetables are fine, too, as are some of the whites (bok choy, cauliflower, or onions, for instance). The orange ones (squash, carrots, sweet potatoes) are divine, and I definitely recommend them. But they go on the other side of the plate. 

If you’re not ready for half a plate, start with a quarter plate and work your way up. This should keep you plenty occupied while you wait to lose weight. It also will make you exceptionally well-nourished.

One of my very favorite sources for ideas about nutrition and nurturing is the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. Recently they posted this gem to their FB page: “A need to overeat may result from the lack of proper rhythm, lack of slow relaxed eating, a macronutrient imbalance, a nutrient deficiency, and lack of quality food in diet.” Before you start taking things out of your diet, focus on what you can add to your diet. 


Make January and February about eating really delicious and supportive food. Have fun enjoying your food. Use these months to listen to your body, and get to know what your body likes best.

Nurture


This is not a new year’s message. I am not going to tell you how to make or keep resolutions. This is not a “new year, new you!” post. Really, feel free to keep being the same you that you’ve been. Being you is pretty awesome, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

 

I am going to invite you to be awfully kind to yourself. I am going to remind you about the importance of nurturing ourselves. 

 

To nurture means to care for or encourage the growth or development of something or someone. 

 

What in your life will you nurture this month? What today have you done already to nurture yourself? 

 

Recently I was talking with a friend about ways we nurture ourselves. I was remembering a time in my twenties when I was doing a lot of intense and upsetting therapy. This was in the early 90s when taking care of one’s inner child was a big thing. There were lots of books on the topic of caring for one’s inner child. The idea was that even once we’re grown, there’s a part of us that still feels like the child we once were. I could really identify with this because in doing this therapy, I alternatively found myself feeling alienated from myself as a child (I was actually kind of mad at my younger self and really judgmental) and at other times, I felt as vulnerable and helpless as a kid. 

 

I found a beautiful stuffed velvet bunny in a shop in Nob Hill. I wanted that bunny. I bought it, took it home, left it on my bed, and slept with my stuffed bunny for I don’t know how long. And you know what? It helped. It felt good. There, now y’all know. After a while, I didn’t need or want the bunny and I let her go, and that felt good, too. 

 

Sometimes I take care of myself by wearing really warm clothes or sitting by my space heater because I hate being cold and winter bums me out. This year, instead of a bunny, I bought myself a super-warm and super-soft down-filled long coat. No one needs to know that wearing that jacket is as comforting to me as a velvet bunny. 

 

Sometimes I take care of myself by getting enough sleep or by eating lots of green veggies. Taking care of myself might mean doing something I love. When I feel overwhelmed, I know it’s time to do more to take care of myself. 

 

There’s no down side to this. To nurture means to care for the growth or development of something or someone. Be unafraid to give yourself what comforts you, delights you, or inspires you. If you’ve been doing a lot of taking care of others, put on your life mask first. All the other things you need and want in life will follow from this, from nurturing your own growth, from nurturing your very being.