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How Rigid Diets Threaten True Digestive Healing

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March 28, 2014

You're meeting a friend for coffee. Every cell in your body is screaming for an almond milk latte, but you know you shouldn't because you're trying to cut back on caffeine. Not only is caffeine contraindicated for your adrenal fatigue, but you know that this particular coffee house uses coffee beans that are not organically sourced. In addition, their almond milk contains carrageenan, a common additive that has raised concerns in the health-conscious online community due its possible inflammatory effects.

Should you bring your own almond milk? Should you just drink tea? But what if their tea isn't organically sourced? And if they used bagged tea, what if their tea bags are bleached? What if they contain gluten?

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Now you're feeling anxious and stressed...Maybe you should just stay home! Does this sound familiar?

Being health-conscious is a wonderful thing, but when you become fully immersed in any health community, there's a real and present danger lurking. This danger is rarely discussed but it has the potential to threaten your progress toward your health goals just as much as eating the "wrong" foods, smoking, or sitting on your bottom all day long can.

I call this danger, RIGIDITY!

Recently, I found that rigidity was starting to rule my life. I have dealt with GI distress and various autoimmune conditions my entire life. Making the switch to a gluten-free diet nearly ten years ago and then adopting a Paleo-like diet approximately two years ago has helped tremendously, but — like many other avid health-seekers — I continue to deal with some lingering health conditions.

Over the last two years I've spent countless hours listening to various health-related podcasts and reading every book I can get my hands on about nutrition and digestive healing. Many of us can relate to voraciously "consuming" our particular area of fascination (whether it be Paleo, or veganism, or Ayurveda, or any other system of health and healing). By nature, systems and theories have "rules," lists of things that are "allowed" and "not allowed." Rules are necessary for the system to be able to differentiate itself from any other way of eating and living.

Rules are important, and some rules need to be strictly followed based on an individual's personal health needs. But when you immerse yourself fully and stringently in any system, an obsessive rigidity can develop which can be detrimental to the health and healing that we so desperately seek.

But then we begin to evaluate every morsel that goes into our mouths, from the type of food, to the quantity, to the quality, to the way and the time and the setting in which it is consumed. We develop rituals and rules that we just KNOW are going to "work" this time around...That will make us lose the weight, heal our gut lining, etc. But what if the very rules we are trying to so ardently follow are causing stress — and ultimately, inflammation — and hindering rather than helping our progress?

"Food rules" are meant to heal, but when diet dogma is taken too seriously, it can ultimately lead to rigidity, anxiety, and health regression.

How's this for rigid: instead of cuddling with my son when he wakes up early, I can't because I need to do my tongue scraping and then my 20 minutes of oil pulling and then my 10 minutes of meditation, all before my healthy breakfast of homemade "Autoimmune Paleo" approved sausage patties and home-fermented sauerkraut. No time for snuggles.

Although it's hard for me to admit, this was becoming my reality. I had become so rigid, so ensconced in "rules" around my food and routines (all of which were meant to be health and happiness inducing) that they had become a cage and ultimately were NOT serving my mind, body, or spirit.

I'm a huge proponent of self-care and finding time for the rituals and practices that support health and healing, but there comes a point when habits, "rules" and routines designed to make our lives better actually create chains that bind us, tie us, and overly restrict us, instead causing us to become unhappy and crave release.

Perhaps the best way to heal any ailment, from a leaky gut to persistent headaches, is to sit and listen to what your body really needs and wants. To have compassion for yourself, and to learn how to "bend the rules" when appropriate.

Some things I will never bend on: I will never (knowingly) consume gluten, as this is a medical necessity for my body. But if I want an almond milk latte the next time I meet my girlfriends at a coffee shop, I'm going to have one ... carrageenan be damned! The health benefits from the laughter and social support — and the good feelings surrounding a highly anticipated and mindfully enjoyed cup of coffee — far outweigh staying at home and stewing about it.

Your mind and body are partners for life. Make sure they check-in on one another and evaluate which rules need to hold fast and which can bend every now and again. You should create mutual trust between these two facets of yourself.

Just like in any long-term relationship, flexibility is important. Don't allow your mind to subject your body to relentless, unbending rules even if you only have its "good" in mind. Sometimes breaking the rules can contribute to a healthy breakthrough.

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