When we feel stomach pains or abdominal discomfort, it is our body trying to tell us something. We do not always want to listen to these messages and we sometimes continue eating the foods and drinks that do not agree with us because they give us emotional comfort and they become also part of our lifestyle. We all ignore these signals at times but not listening to them can cause longer term health problems.
I have a very sensitive gut and have had to learn to really pay attention to what I put in my body. However, it took me a long time to be able to do so as I had a lot of resistance to changing my eating and drinking habits. For instance, even though I was getting increasingly uncomfortable after eating wheat products, being French, not eating bread or pastries seemed unthinkable! I used to love coffee and could not conceive either of not doing so even though my stomach was upset afterwards.
As it got worse increasingly, I had to do something drastic and had to stop eating a lot of things including gluten, sugar, dairy products, fruits and vegetables with high fructose, and stop drinking coffee and alcohol. It took quite a long time before I was able to reintroduce some of these items. If I had listened to my body signals earlier, I could have avoided feeling so unwell and having to avoid so many items at once. Then I had to deal not only with the difficulties of finding what I could eat and the physical symptoms but also the distress from not being able to continue the same lifestyle that I had and using food or alcohol to find emotional comfort.
Through regular mindfulness practice, I have learned to accept that I needed to listen to my body and that I had to avoid certain foods and drinks. Nowadays, as it is easier to find gluten and dairy free products on the market it is less challenging to find good alternatives. Mindfulness has also helped me deal with difficult emotions and accept myself so that I no longer feel the need to eat to fill a void.
By being more aware of how I felt in my body after eating and drinking, and using probiotics, I have been able to re-incorporate some of the foods that disagreed with me after a certain time and am able to eat some high fructose fruits and vegetables as long as it is in moderation. I do eat the occasional pastry and dark chocolate!, and goat cheese instead of cow’s milk cheese and enjoy one or two glasses of rose or red from time to time. As long as I listen to what my body is telling me I can avoid being unwell for weeks or months at a time.
Here are 5 ways that you can address what your body needs.
- Listen to your body
After eating connect with how you feel, notice any sensations of discomfort, become aware of the foods that seem to disagree with you and experiment by leaving them out to see how different you feel. Maybe your body keeps telling you that you are overeating if you always feel really full after eating a meal.
- Accept that it is happening
It is important to learn to accept that certain foods or drinks may cause problems for you and that you need to change some eating and drinking habits. If you are invested emotionally into these habits it will be more difficult but it does start with acceptance rather than struggling against it or pretending everything is fine. It is also about accepting when there is pain or discomfort that it is there. This does not mean that you have to like it or resign yourself to it but accepting it is there will help you take steps to do things differently. If you feel distress or frustration from not being able to eat and drink in the same way as you have been used to, it is also important to accept it, or you will create more stress and frustration for yourself.
- Ask your body what it needs
By connecting with the sensations in your body when you feel hungry and after your eat, you can become more in tune with what you need. Say if you feel like eating a bag of crisps, ask yourself if this is what your body really needs right now. The more you practice, the easier it will be.
- Find other alternatives
Leave out some of the foods and drinks that do not agree with you and make your body feel uncomfortable. It does not mean that you will never be able to eat these again, you may be able to reintroduce them later on in moderation. Find healthier alternatives that you can eat without discomfort that you can enjoy and you will get used to them after a while. For example, I can no longer drink coffee but I now drink strong flavour herbal teas that I really enjoy and I do not miss coffee anymore.
- Eat Mindfully
By eating more mindfully, you will be able to appreciate the texture, smell, colour and taste of everything that you eat and drink so that it will be easier to avoid or reduce the consumption of foods and drinks that you have been eating on a regular basis.