I recently released What the Gut: Eating and Living for a Healthy Gut (and Why it Matters), my 2.5 hour gut workshop as an online self study video. I taught this same lecture about a dozen times over the fall and winter, and saw an interesting thing in some of my live audiences.
In talking about the gut, you have to talk about some of the stuff the gut does. What I noticed is that when I started talking about certain topics like poop or constipation or vaginas, people get noticeably uncomfortable - they tense up, break eye contact, fidget, or even pick up their phone. Talking about this stuff makes us comfortable.
Immediately what comes to mind is the book The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Author Milan Kundera uses the German word “Kitsch” to weave a theme throughout his novel. Kundera states that Kitsch is an ideal "in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist…Kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.”
Even though this novel is over 30 years old and is very politically charged, the concept highlights how we view specific parts of our bodies in our current culture.
I interviewed Dr. Cristin Zaimes on the Funk’tioanl Nutrition Podcast a couple months ago, and she brought up the childhood song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”. She pointed out how absurd the song is — there’s SO MUCH between the shoulders and the knees, but we just gloss right over it.
That’s essentially what we’re taught to do with our bodies. All the stuff in the middle - our guts, our pelvis, our poops, our menstruation - we ignore it. It makes us uncomfortable.
We’re asked to ignore it all the time. Young girls are put on birth control - irrespective of sexual activity - because we’re all conditioned to view menstruation as a bad, yucky thing. God forbid we have a cramp, or a zit, or an emotion. Women who lose their periods are told to “consider themselves lucky”. That very normal, necessary, vital physiological process of menses? We shut it right down. Young girls are encouraged to divorce themselves from their bodies.
But in ignoring our bodies, we fail to notice any dysfunction. Or we get used to the dysfunction because we’re embarrassed to bring it up to other people or to our practitioners. So dysfunction becomes our new norm, and can eventually turn into disease.
As a nutritionist I see this played out a lot in the gut. As a pelvic floor specialist, Dr. Zaimes sees it with pelvic pain. (P.S. the two are very interconnected.)
Other things we’re taught to ignore are our emotions. Unfortunately, this has the same negative health consequences.
When I was 15 years old, I started feeling moody and blue. Instead of someone saying, “it’s normal to experience these emotions, let’s find ways to work through them”, I was put on antidepressants. I received the message loud and clear: we don’t want you to feel that.
We’re taught to ignore the “negative” emotions and to only make space for the positive. We’re allowed - and expected - to feel the good feelings, but not the icky ones. We value rationality over emotionality. We teach children to hold back their big emotions.
When a baby cries, we do everything to hush it.
When a child cries, we tell them to stop.
When a woman cries, we hide it.
When a man cries, well…you know what Robert Smith said.
If we feel anything “bad” - anger, sadness, grief, rage - then we think there is something wrong with us. So we try to ignore it. Because avoidance is easier than feeling.
But is it..?
Brene Brown says, “There’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing. There is a full spectrum of human emotions and when we numb the dark, we numb the light.” In other words, if you want to feel the joy, you have to be able to feel the sadness.
So if we avoid those emotions, we lose our capacity to feel joy and pleasure and elation, and we also increase our risk of disease. Unprocessed emotions play out physically in the body as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, IBS, autoimmunity, fibromyalgia, cancer, diabetes, etc.
As Dr. Gabor Mate explains at length in his book When the Body Says No, unmetabolized emotion is a toxin that creates disorder in the body.
I will be talking so much more about this topic in my upcoming Deep Detox Mini Retreat. If you can relate to any of this, I'D love to have you join me to learn how to start to rebuild your body from the inside out.
Allowing ourselves to experience emotion isn’t always easy. One place to start is by getting reacquainted with that area between the shoulders and the knees. What’s happening there? What do you feel? Begin to value the gut and pelvis as much as the brain.
We might need to unlearn some things we’ve been taught in order to regain body literacy. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor. The more we can become reacquainted with our physical body and emotional body, the better health we’ll have.
We have a responsibility to our bodies. But if we ignore what’s going on within it, if we cut ourselves off at the shoulders, then we lose that ability to respond.