If you’ve ever lived with undiagnosed Celiac Disease – chances are you’ve been to a psychologist at one time or another. Perhaps your doctor told you that you had severe depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, or simply that it was “all in your head.” Believe me – I’ve been there, done that. I had even convinced myself as an undergrad in psychology, that with all the knowledge I was gaining, I would not only be able to fix my own problems, but that I’d some day be able to help everyone else fix their problems too. I would become so mentally tough that nothing could conquer me. The problem was -something was wrong … and it wasn’t really in my head. No amount of “positive thinking” could get me out of what I was going through. I didn’t want to be depressed – and yet I had depression. I didn’t want to feel anxiety, didn’t have any reason to be anxious – and yet, I had anxiety all the time. I knew who I was – but when I looked in the mirror, I wasn’t that person. Something else was going on- and it was beyond my control.
During my time as a psych student, I had begun to realize that what I was putting into my body had a direct effect on my mood, energy level, and overall happiness. I started paying close attention to what I was eating and how I would feel afterwards – which eventually led me to walk into my doctors office and ask for a blood test for Celiac Disease. When I finally got some answers – I thought, “Wow, no wonder I felt horrible at school all the time” because I would eat a Gordita or Mexican Pizza just about every day on the way to class at our campus Taco Bell. (Just for the record, Gluten + addicting Taco Bell cheese opiates = not a good combo ;) I began to truly understand that what I was putting into my body had a direct effect on my mind. (The GUT-BRAIN connection).
But it seemed like health still went both ways….it wasn’t just from my gut to my brain –but from my BRAIN to my GUT…..and the great thing about my psych degree was that it helped to put my diagnosis into perspective. Instead of the “woe is me” mentality that many people have when they go Gluten-Free – I was thrilled out of my mind. I didn’t care what food I had to give up – I would give anything up – in order to feel better… because I had hit my own personal “rock bottom.” It could only get better from here -and it did! As I learned to focus on the positive and to feed myself positive thoughts – my belly felt better too!
So – since you’re probably not going to walk into a psychologist’s office and be prescribed a Gluten-Free diet, a fiber supplement, or vitamins – I’ll first give you some basics of optimizing your gut-brain health.
1. VITAMIN D
The more I read up on Vitamin D, the more I am convinced that just about EVERYONE needs more D. It’s a fact too, that most Celiacs have a significant deficiency of Vitamin D. If possible, have your doctor check your levels of this important vitamin. Chances are, if you are deficient, it is partially the cause of some of your depression / anxiety issues. (Especially if you experience more of these issues during the winter months). There have been numerous studies showing that Vitamin D can help improve the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression, and even Bi-Polar disorder. Of course the best way to get Vitamin D is through sun exposure – so whenever possible – soak up some rays and reap the benefits! Vitamin D is also crucial for healthy digestion – so get on it!
I can’t emphasize enough how important healthy gut flora is to our health! We are living with a digestive issue – and so we gotta take good care of our bellies. ;) One of my Celiac Scoopers on Facebook suggested that I drink Keifer -a probiotic drink containing 10 strands of healthy bacteria. I’ve been putting some of this into my morning shakes – and it’s making a huge difference for me. Since many Celiacs have a hard time assimilating nutrients, anything in a liquid form is always good. Probiotics also help with inflammation issues – and less inflammation = mental clarity = HAPPINESS.
I keep stressing this one because it is SO IMPORTANT. Like I’ve mentioned before, a Celiac Diet is usually lacking in fiber. If you are too … um how to put this – “backed up”…. your body is hanging on to TOXINS that will make you feel mentally ill – and physically drained. I laugh when I hear that the definition of constipation is having “less than 3 bowel movements per week” — if you are only having 3 a week you are in trouble! You should be having more like 2-3 per day. Fiber will definitely help. The best way to add fiber to your diet is with vegetables. Lentils, brown rice, and quinoa are also great choices. And don’t forget to stay hydrated!
Of course, many things a psychologist may tell you can also have a huge impact on your health, both physically and mentally. But, I’ll save you the big bucks – here are some things you can put into your brain that will definitely have a positive impact on the gut health as well –>
1. THINK POSITIVE
Although no amount of positive thinking cured my belly at the time – it did get me through school, graduating at the top of my class (even as sick as I was) and in the long run – helped me to see just how strong I really am. Now when I get glutened – as physically uncomfortable as it is – I can sit back, laugh, and enjoy the “daze” I’m in for a few hours until it passes. Find things you can do, funny videos you can watch, spend time with friends who bring you up – anything that will take your mind off of your physical symptoms and into a happier place. Count your blessings. Write a letter…. call your mom, tell someone you love them. Or just take a bubble bath! Life has its ups and downs….. and having Celiac is definitely not the end of world. Many people (in fact, most people, I believe) have to deal with much worse than we do as Celiacs. So – get over it- and accept this is part of your life!
2. GET RID OF TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS
Is there someone in your life who gives you anxiety, who uses you or abuses you – either physically or emotionally? END these relationships. Like- NOW. If you start noticing that you get a pit in your stomach when you’re dealing with someone like this – its obviously not a relationship you should be involved in. I had to admit to myself last year that there were people in my life causing me so much mental stress – that it was actually damaging me physically. Choosing to end these relationships has had a positive impact on my health and well being. Many times these kinds of people have some sort of issue themselves – whether it be an addiction to alcohol, pornography, video games, or anything. You can love these people, be their friend, and try to help them – but there’s got to be a breaking point, and if you can acknowledge that they are not accepting your help – you have to cut the chord FOR YOU and for your own well being. I believe that getting rid of toxic relationships actually rids our bodies of physical toxins. You will find that you have much more energy when you seek out and find healthy relationships. Of course, this means optimizing your own health first – both physically and mentally.
3. SET GOALS
Goal setting is one of the most important things you can do for your own mental health and well-being. If we are striving to do better, become better, to work towards something – we are happy. WRITE down your goals – it makes you more likely to achieve them. Goals take physical and mental exertion – we can’t just sit around and expect something to happen to us or for us – we have to go get it. Figure out what you are truly passionate about – and go for it. It can be something as simple as being a good parent, a good sibling, a good friend…. or as big as becoming a doctor, an advocate for something you believe in, a teacher, or a famous composer (that’s mine;). Try to become the best at what you want to do. Often time this takes humility – and looking outside of ourselves – to those who have accomplished these goals before us. Learn about these people – get to know them, let them teach you and help you. Get out and live life – and be happy along the way. Remember this cliche because it’s true – Happiness is a journey, not a destination. :)
I hope these tips will help you to have a better Gut -Brain and Brain -Gut health! I truly believe that a happy belly and a happy mind go hand in hand… so let’s all work on both this new year!
Have a fabulous Gluten-Free Week!
Author Information: Christie Bessinger, Fresno, CA
Publisher, Celiac Scoop Blog
You can reach Christie via Email