Gut, health and wellness
Most likely you’re coming off the holiday highs with a string of New Year’s Resolutions, many of them related to food and diet.
Whether you’ve been thinking about losing weight or just being healthier, eating right lies at the core of it. We at Medicine Box urge you to go with your gut — literally! Because as we’re discovering more and more, a good nutritious diet filled with variety makes all the difference in not just our physical health, but our mental health.
Sadly, most of our physicians and doctors still get precious little training in nutrition, so the news isn’t spreading as fast as it should. That means WE have to fill ourselves in and really learn how important a role instinct and mindfulness play. And of course, a little Happy Belly, too, to maximize the wondrous flora you’ll be fertilizing in your bellies this year. So let’s dive in.
Thinking with your stomach
Ever heard of the vagus nerve? Maybe not, but when the chips are down, and you have to determine which way to go, it kicks in, automatically, and that’s when you FEEL it. It’s all part of the enteric nervous system, our second brain, and the better we treat it, the better it treats us.
Oftentimes, the enteric nervous system is referred to as the “second brain”, since it operates autonomously from the central nervous system. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in this system, and it sends sensory functions to one’s viscera — places like your liver, intestines, and abdomen. It’s also linked to one’s heart, too. So whatever travels through this conduit pretty much reaches all the parts of the body that matter in your day-to-day. It calms the sympathetic nervous system (what accounts for our fight-or-flight reactions) and communicates from your body to your mind. Specialists will probe the deeper connections between our bodies and minds long after we’re gone, but there’s no reason we can’t start exploring them ourselves right now.
Medicine Box’s Happy Belly can work with any diet, but it’s definitely optimized for a plant and grain-heavy one such as the Meditteranean Diet. When it comes to our gut biome, we want to feed it with as much healthy bacteria as we can, which means a variety of fibrous foods, not to mention fermented options like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, or kombucha. (Important to note that even though the bacteria in fermented foods is dead by the time you eat it, even that dead bacteria is ultimately good for you.) As I learned long ago as a cultivator, “feed the soil, not the plant.” Your gut biome works similarly, and if you take care of it, it will take care of you.
But I would urge anyone who’s jumping onto a new diet not to rush into it. I’m a big proponent of “addition and replacement,” which means integrating new elements into your diet over time. Think, for instance, of replacing your coffee with kombucha, topping your salad with kimchi, or adding lentils and beans to your diet. Often, people go back to what they know they like, so it is best to build on what you already eat, and slowly make improvements from there.
Overall, however, I encourage a more mindful approach to eating, which means it’s just as important to watch HOW you eat versus WHAT you eat. Focusing on slowing down your approach to food, and priming your gut to more efficiently digest the food you have, is a lot of what Happy Belly is all about. As Michael Pollan once wrote, human beings can be seen as “bacterial locomotion machines.” Seen in this light, Happy Belly is a “pre-biotic” apertif, designed to fertilize the gut biome and optimize one’s digestion of these brand-new, healing nutrients. It’s as important — and as widely neglected — a component of overall well-being as sleep. And we now have new tools for our sustenance.
So best of luck on that new diet. But before you launch off into that cleanse, just know that true change doesn’t happen overnight. It makes no sense to beat oneself over all the crazy food choices you made over the holidays. We’ve all been there! Now that you’re on the other end, easing oneself into a newer, healthier way of life is best if done step by step. And a little Happy Belly is a great first step.