Recently, I have begun exploring the relationship between our physical body and our emotional well-being. Our relationship to our bodies is complex and even more complex is our relationship with food and what we take in to fuel our bodies. In addition to being a Licensed Professional Counselor, I also am a certified massage therapist and personal trainer and deepened my knowledge of the human anatomy and physiology of the body through these experiences as well.
Being that I focus heavily on body-mind-spirit healing in my therapy practice, it only seemed natural to eventually begin to extend my interests into exploring how healing the physical body can also bring about healing for our emotional body as well.
A little bit about me: before becoming a private practice therapist, my background was in physical education and health. I taught pre-school through highschool for many years, which also included coaching a number of different athletic teams in a variety of different sports. A few things that I learned throughout my years as a Phys Ed teacher was that the variety in body type was endless, different body types excelled at different sports and activities (there wasn’t “one” activity or sport that fit for everyone), paying attention to blood type and food choices was worth looking at, and that nutrition played a huge role in both athletic performance as well as mental health.
I will also add that sadly, I learned first hand how pervasive our cultural pressure is to conform to certain body types, for kids even as young as 7 years old! Yikes!
Over time and throughout all these experiences, I have come to learn firsthand how our gastrointestinal track is quite sensitive to our emotions and our feelings (anger, anxiety, sadness, elation, and others) can also trigger symptoms in our gut. I think that I knew this as a little kid when I would struggle with stomach issues, I just didn’t know how it all connected. One of the things that I repeatedly see present day in my practice with clients, is that very often people will experience uncomfortable and noticeable physiological reactions in their body that seem to correlate with emotional reactions happening in their life.
Over the past several years, I had been wanting to begin participating in detox cleanses both from a health standpoint as well as from a place of curiosity about what kind of impact it might have on my health physically and emotionally. In about May of 2017, I purchased my first “detox cleanse”, it was a 7 day program offered through Daily OM and was created by The Decadent Detox. I was excited, ready to go and couldn’t wait to get started! I got a week scheduled on my calendar to commit to doing the program.
Then I cancelled that week and rescheduled it for a later week. I did this for just about a year, the whole time giving myself a hard time about why I wasn’t doing the cleanse yet, every time I cancelled it on my calendar and rescheduled it for another week later in the year.
What I didn’t know at that time was that it would take me just about a year or so to actually get to a place emotionally where I was ready to dive in and give it a try. I only learned this in retrospect after completing my first 7 day cleanse and experiencing the impact that this program had on not only my physical body but more significantly on my emotions.
Some things about food and our bodies. Our relationship with food is formed at birth and becomes primally ingrained inside of us; furthermore, many people’s early relationship with food became attached to reasons beyond just satiation and nutrition. May of you probably know this when you find yourself standing at the counter blindly eating beyond the point of not being hungry any more, yet you cannot stop.
Another fact about food and changes committed to cleaning up our eating, when we change the way that we relate to really anything in our lives (food, behaviors, addictive substances and experiences) it will stir up unconscious emotions and feelings. Every time. That’s why it is so difficult, sometimes, to make changes that we know would be helpful or beneficial for our well-being. Somewhere deep inside, a part of us knows that we are going to have to deal with some pretty tricky feelings and issues that we just don’t have enough internal emotional supports to deal with yet. We aren’t emotionally ready.
And our brain doesn’t determine our “readiness” to make these kinds of changes, our defensive structure does and is primarily unconscious, so we cannot “talk” ourselves into being ready…it just won’t work. We have to have enough internal emotional supports to deal with these mostly unconscious and stirred up emotional issues or else we will “fail” whatever it is that we are trying to attempt (lose weight, stop smoking, quit sugar, etc..
Many people are unsuccessful with their attempts to complete a cleanse or diet, change their food chocies, incorporate a new food plans primarily because they simply are not emotionally ready, despite their brains determining that they are. In many cases, people may even be struggling from a health-perspective and really need to be ready, but if they do not have the emotional supports to drop into the feelings that will be stirred up, it won’t work. I see this all the time in my practice.
What ends up usually happening in these cases is that our self-esteem takes huge hit, we might even feel shame about not being able to complete what we set our mind on doing (this is especially true for Enneagram-3 types) and we end up drowning in a pool of frustration and embarrassment or shame which generally derails all further attempts.
So, the work then becomes about building up the emotional supports internally to deal with what will be brought up when you join a cleanse or a fast, rather than forcing yourself to do the cleanse, start the diet or eat differently. When you can focus on changing your life in this way, you will organically be ready to do the cleanse. Remember: it took me over a year to build up the emotional supports to be ready to participate in my first cleanse. I thought I was just being “lazy” or “scared”- little did I know that there was something else very important happening deep inside, that was preparing me to be ready when it was my time.
Often a skilled counselor or therapist will be far more effective than a doctor or nutritionist at helping people change their life, food choices, navigate problems and failures that emerge in this process and then stick with the changes long term. Changes that we experience through cleanses, fasts, “diets” and food plans often lead to the surfaace of emotional issues that only therapists are trained to deal with and when these, as well as the deeper, underlying issues are not addressed, they usually sabotage change.
So here it is in a nutshell:
- How we were fed as infants sets the neural pathways for a food relationship the rest of our life.
- Our relationship with food mirrors our relationship with ourselves, the world and others.
- If we only literally or figuratively bypass the underlying causes of our food relationship issues, then the same problem often recurs – we regain the weight, go back to eating the old toxic foods, medications have to be taken forever, and this often leads to a sense of failure, a shame spiral and so on.
- When we “fall off the wagon”, we usually blame ourselves. Thus, humiliation, guilt, anger, fear and shame are also companions for many cleanses/fasts and lifestyle programs and these are some of the most toxic emotions.
- This typically happens on any kind of “cleanse” or other similar type of program because the deeper, underlying emotional issues do not get addressed in these programs. Only information around food. Which is a great start but needs a next step.
- It seems kind of silly to help people learn how to detox their bodies and do nothing with their hearts and minds. It’s kind of like “setting them up” but not giving them a next step for detoxification. The overall detoxification is “incomplete”.
- Information is important, but not usually sufficient to motivate lasting changes in diet and lifestyle.
- People are likely to lose weight and keep it off, eat “clean” and healthy for them and begin making a host of other different choices that lead to a greater sense of well-being because lasting weight loss and life changes around food are a by-product of a deeper healing on the emotional level.
I am offering this next step of emotional support for anyone who is interested in losing weight, keeping it off and changing their life in a deep and transformational way. Changing what we put into our bodies is a wonderful first step, now let’s learn how to fundamentally change the way that we support our bodies on an emotional level so we can sustain these changes.
I am offering a way to detox not only physically but emotionally as well. A place where people can begin to live into more of who they really were designed to be in this lifetime, excavate the “real” you and begin to create a more deeply satisfying life. We only get one chance at this in this lifetime.