by Ros Kitson
Many people these days seem to have gut problems. Anything from a bit of indigestion and bloating, right up to Crohn’s disease, our guts don’t seem to be coping with life in the way they used to. And before any of you say, these issues aren’t new, I agree, but they do seem to becoming more common.
One of the first thing to look at with gut problems, is what you are eating. It seems obvious, but doctors don’t seem to think it’s important. I know 2 people with Crohn’s disease who have been advised by doctors that their diet is irrelevant to their disease. I’m not an expert in this so I would advise finding a qualified nutritional specialist.
Most people with gut problems will probably have some kind of food intolerance. Gluten is probably the most common, but others such as dairy or yeast can also affect us. There may well be others – we can become intolerant to almost anything. The way to know if you are intolerant to something is to cut it out of your diet and see if your symptoms improve. Simple. However you may want to see someone who tests for them as this will be quicker than randomly cutting out different foodstuffs one by one.
Now, I’m also aware that our food is processed differently from that which our ancestors ate and this will also have an impact on the numbers of people affected by food intolerances. But I’m thinking there is also an emotional element at play.
Biologically, the small intestine is where our food is processed by the body. Individual components are broken down and converted to things the body can use. And then they are absorbed into the blood stream. The large intestine is what eliminates the waste products – the things that are of no use to the body.
Therefore, when these areas of the body have problems, there is often a problem with emotional processing or letting go.
Let’s start with the large intestine. Elimination is when we get rid of things that are of no use to us. How easily do we do this in our lives? Do you keep things from your past because you can’t bear to let them go? Do you keep things because they maybe useful some day? Do you keep things because the effort needed to sort through them seems insurmountable? Whatever the reason, keeping hold of things that are of no use to you is not healthy.
Now, I’m not suggesting we all go minimal in our lives, but it is something to think about. If our homes are cluttered and disorganised to the point where we can’t seem to find things when we need them, then maybe we are not functioning at our best. This might be an indication we need to let some things go.
The same applies to our emotional baggage. Are you holding onto something that happened in your past? Do you frequently go over it in your mind, or regularly mention it to others? While it is normal to do this for a while after anything traumatic occurs as this is part of the way many of us process, it is probably not so healthy if we are still doing it several years later. This could be an indication that we’ve become stuck with the process or we feel we need to keep hold of it for protection.
We can tell when we have let something go because we can think of it without an emotional charge. There are often many layers to an issue, so don’t feel bad if you are still feeling emotion from a past experience. The indication that you are processing is that the feelings change in some way each time you revisit them.
So onto the small intestine. This is where we process our food, so it corresponds to how easily we process our lives and our emotions. Often when we are going through a difficult stage, we find we get gut problems, but they clear up when the stage resolves itself. We get “butterflies” in our stomachs when we are nervous about something. We get a sinking feeling in our gut when we think that something bad is going to happen. These are all examples of how things that are difficult to process have an impact on our small intestines.
Sometimes, we find that we have ongoing problems with our small intestines. If we’ve already sorted out our diet then we need to look at how we process life generally. Do we constantly worry about something? Do we find we can’t cope with what we’re trying to achieve? Are we setting ourselves standards we cannot meet because we’re trying to be someone different from who we truly are? It could also be that we aren’t processing life well for many other reasons: our belief systems, our sense of self esteem, the influence we’re letting others have on us.
Many of us haven’t been taught how to process life as our parents may also have struggled. For some people it’s intuitive, but for many it’s not. On top of this, many of us have been taught unhelpful ways of dealing with stress and trauma. For example, you might have been told “just don’t think about it” or even the opposite of being encouraged to dwell on things. My Mum often said to me “I’ll remember this” – often when I was naughty, but also about other things. I learnt that it was good to remember all the wrongs done to me, so I was somehow prepared if they happened again. Obviously in reality she didn’t remember half of what she said she would because, over time, they stopped being important to her. However she was passing down a pattern of behaviour and we both have gut problems.
It might be that we can’t process our lives after a particular event that has shattered our view of the world. Maybe the world no longer feels safe for us. Maybe it no longer makes sense. It might be that we have spent a long while in a situation that we cannot process but we feel we can’t leave it. Maybe we have a very dysfunctional family relationship but we still love the person. It might be that the world has never made much sense because our brains process differently from the accepted norm. This probably why many autistic people have gut problems. I would suggest their gut problems have less to do with how their brain is wired and more to do with how difficult they find it to fit in with a world that tells them they are dysfunctional.
So we can have problems with our small intestine and our large intestine. The two are linked. If we have blockages in the large intestine, then matter may become backed up in the small intestine. If we are not processing stuff well enough in the small intestine, then the large intestine is going to be presented with matter which should have already been digested and that may cause it problems. Everything is interlinked.
The good news is that the emotional element of any problem can be healed. We can start by bringing greater awareness to the issue and if this is not enough, we can see a therapist who can help us uncover and clear the issue. This removes the effect of the stress on the body. This doesn’t mean we can go and eat an unhealthy diet without ill effects, but does mean that our lives will become easier to manage and we may be able to get away with the odd “naughty” meal. And this has got to be a good thing.