Pay attention to what your body tells you about the food you eat. Here's a mini-questionnaire to help you be aware:
- Are you more or less energized after eating?
- Do you have good or sluggish digestion?
- Are you more alert or sleepy after a meal?
- Is your mood better or worse after certain foods?
- How does your body feel after eating—any aches, pains, or stiffness?
I once had a patient who came in and announced calmly, "I had a brownie yesterday, and then I felt really suicidal." For a moment, my conventional reaction was to think she was losing touch with reality. While this patient had an extraordinary amount of abuse in her childhood, she was one of my least dramatic, most levelheaded clients. Usually she understated rather than overstated everything.
I took a breath and inquired further. She revealed how she had been managing her anxiety symptoms all these years without medication but with her diet (she had an extreme phobia of drugs). She strongly suspected she was intolerant to gluten. She had noticed that when she ate gluten her blood sugar levels would fluctuate, she would get immediate and extreme fatigue, and her mood would change.
Hearing her observation was a lightbulb moment for me. Nothing in my training had prepared me for the possibility that foods could affect mood (other than the obvious chocolate and caffeine lift).
Sensitivity to Gluten, Wheat Bran & Wheat Germ
In my research I found not only that foods could negatively affect our moods, but that a disorder called celiac disease could be responsible for my client's unusual reaction.
Celiac disease is not contagious. It is a genetic disorder that causes gluten to erode the lining of the intestines, literally flattening the nutrient-absorbing villi (those little bumpy things that look like roller-coaster tracks) and blocking the body from receiving the nutrition needed to function normally.
Researchers have found that almost one percent of the general population is affected, one out of 133 people of all races and nationalities, making it the most common genetic disease in the world! Only 5 percent of people with this disorder have been diagnosed correctly; that means 95 percent of those with this disease are untreated and continue to aggravate their condition (and possibly their mental health) simply by eating foods containing gluten. In people with Swedish or Irish ancestry, the rates of celiac genes reach as high as 30 to 40 percent!
Celiac Disease and Trauma Survivors
Here are some of the latest facts on celiac disease important to trauma survivors:
- Research indicates that eating gluten when you have celiac disease negatively affects your mental health, particularly in the areas of depression and anxiety.
- Celiac disease does not manifest just as a wasting disease. You can be obese and still have it, in which case you absorb calories but not nutrition (and consequently may feel hungry all the time).
- Only 50 percent of undiagnosed people who turned out to have celiac disease had gastrointestinal symptoms!
- There is strong anecdotal evidence linking traumas to the incidence of celiac disease. So far no conclusive research has been done, but the leading researchers acknowledge there are many such stories from patients.
Should You Stop Eating Gluten?
The story with my patient had a happy outcome. She became much more stable and empowered by not eating gluten. As counterintuitive as it may sound, her suicidal feelings clearly receded when she ate gluten free. Currently, many holistic practitioners recommend that people suspend gluten from their diet when they have suffered traumatic stress to see if their symptoms improve.
If you fall into a high-risk group for celiac disease, you may want to get the definitive intestinal-biopsy test, but many just go for a substantial gluten-free trial to see how their bodies respond.
This material was reproduced by permission of Quest Books,
the imprint of The Theosophical Publishing House
(www.questbooks.net) ©2012 by Susan Pease Banitt.
This article was adapted with permission from the book:
The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD from the Inside Out
by Susan Pease Banitt, L.C.S.W.
In twenty years as a therapist, Susan Pease Banitt has treated trauma in patients ranging from autistic children to women with breast cancer; from underage sex slaves to adults incapacitated by early childhood abuse. Doctors she interviewed in New York report that, even before 9/11, most of their patients had experienced such extreme stress that they had suffered physical and mental breakdowns. Those doctors agree with Pease Banitt that stress is the disease of our times. At the 2009 Evolution of Psychotherapy conference Jack Kornfield noted, “We need a trauma tool kit.” Here it is.
About the Author
Susan Pease Banitt, LCSW is a Harvard-trained psychotherapist with over thirty years experience in mental health work. She has worked in a variety of settings including: residential childcare, child abuse prevention, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, medical hospitals and private practice. She spent her late twenties studying yoga and meditation and obtained her certification as a teacher of hatha yoga in her thirties. Over the years, Susan has come to see that traumatic stress and experiences are behind the vast majority of suffering in the mind and body. Susan currently co-chairs the Mental Health Council for the National Association of Social Workers, Oregon chapter and sits on the board of Street Yoga, an organization that brings yoga techniques to disadvantaged youth in a variety of settings. Visit her website at www.suepeasebanitt.com