There are few areas as fraught on the female body as our stomachs. Whether it's bloating, "belly fat", waist circumference, or the definition of our abs, when it comes to our stomachs too many women feel that theirs isn't right.
The shame women hold regarding their midsection is harmful for a lot of reasons, and one of them is our gut health. "Many of my female clients have a lot of shame surrounding their stomach area," says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., and author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love. "They tend to equate a 'non-perfect' stomach with being a failure. This all-or-nothing, perfect-or-failure mentality can lead to a host of stress-related issues, including gut health problems."
If you don't love your stomach, it won't love you back.
You've probably heard of the brain-gut connection. When we get nervous, the first place we feel it is our stomachs. The same thing goes for stress (hello, stress eating) and often sadness. And when we feel shame surrounding our stomachs, our brains think we're in danger—and this causes them to cut back on nonessential function, such as digestion, to focus on survival.
"This can contribute to abdominal discomfort as our digestive function drastically slows down," explains Jamie Morea, gut health expert and co-founder of Hyperbiotics. "Additionally, slower digestion due to tension affects the types of beneficial bacteria that live in our gut, reducing our gut’s overall microbial diversity and influencing the microbes’ ability to help us digest and absorb nutrients. From regulating our moods and metabolism to optimizing our immune function, the friendly flora in our gut truly affect every aspect of our health; any decline in their numbers can negatively affect our well-being."
How to let go of the shame surrounding your stomach.
We know having shameful feelings regarding our midsection is detrimental, but what can we do about it? Lombardo recommends practicing body gratitude. "If your body stopped functioning on its own tomorrow, what would you miss most about today? Breathing? Walking? Eating? Focus on the gratitude you have for all your body does," she says.
Fern Olivia, mbg class instructor and founder of Thyroid Yoga, suggests utilizing positive affirmations surrounding your stomach. "Stand naked in front of your full-length mirror and look into your own eyes as you say, 'I see you, you're beautiful,'" she says. "As you look at your body in the mirror, place your hands on your belly and repeat 'I'm sorry. I love you. Please forgive me. Thank you.' Repeat over and over, letting tears come freely. This is a powerful daily practice that will invoke a lasting healing."
Get an abdominal massage.
When you have tons of tension in your back, shoulders, and neck, what's the first thing you do? Get a massage, hopefully. But many of us walk around with even more tension in our bellies, yet we simply grin and bear it and hope it goes away. Here's an idea: Next time that happens, consider getting an abdominal massage.
According to Morea, abdominal massage was utilized in ancient Mayan cultures. It's still an excellent way to get blood flowing and help relax abdominal and pelvic muscles, improve digestion, and optimize organ function, but we rarely do it. "The abdomen is often considered to be one of the main energy and power centers of our body, home to three chakras that influence our health, our energy, and our emotions," she says. "In addition to delivering oxygen and refreshing the blood supply, gentle stomach massage can release blocked energy and feelings that may be contributing to our abdominal and overall tension."
Long story short, it's time to show your stomach how much you love it. Your gut will thank you.
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