Missing the Forest for the Trees
For anyone suffering from gut pain, abdominal bloating, diarrhea, constipation, excessive belching, or a host of other digestive system symptoms, seeking help to alleviate and manage those symptoms instead of focusing on getting better sleep or learning to meditate makes perfect sense…or does it?
When we take a symptom-focused perspective, looking past the bigger picture of what affects our health is natural. Unfortunately, all too often, taking a symptom-focused perspective can prolong our suffering needlessly. Vigorous health is the result of a huge number of interacting biological, psychological, and social systems within which we function each day. Getting too narrowly focused on one narrow slice of that system, such as whether you effectively digest gluten, can be like “missing the forest for the trees.” Yes. Gluten sensitivity may be part of the overall “forest” of interconnected parts that impact health, but it isn’t the whole picture.
I’ve learned to adopt a holistic view through meeting with hundreds of clients who come to me stating various permutations of the following:
- I’ve tried many diets, like a low FODMAP diet. It works for a while and then the symptoms return.
- I’ve been prescribed supplements to correct my leaky gut syndrome or my problem with small intestine bacterial overgrowth syndrome (SIBO), and still, I suffer, and I’m out $350 dollars per month!
- I don’t sleep well due to gut pain.
- I’m exhausted much of the time and have trouble concentrating.
- My social life is a mess because I can’t trust what my gut will do, what I can eat safely, or whether I’ll embarrass myself with a bowel accident if I am out with others.
- I’ve seen gastroenterologists and other specialists. The tests they’ve done show nothing definitive that is wrong.
- I’ve been told to take anti-spasmodics, anti-depressants, antacids, and anti-anxiety medications.
- I don’t know what to do anymore. I just know I don’t want to live this way for the rest of my life.
Heading for DIATA
Surprisingly, this litany of complaints holds a key for obtaining lasting relief. That key involves recognizing that we are ALWAYS functioning as a complex living system of billions of pieces and parts. The social anxiety and resulting isolation are as much of the problem as is the amount of fiber or processed sugars you consume.
The pacing of your days, the quality of your sleep, and the lingering memories of past emotional wounds weigh as heavily in achieving stable gut health as is attention to systemic inflammation stemming from compromised gut lumen integrity. Harnessing and channeling runaway worries and fears, or addressing the quality of your intimate relationship, is as important to gut health and overall well-being as is assessing whether fresh fruit and vegetable consumption currently functions as a path to comfort or a path to increased symptom activation.
You may find yourself overwhelmed by the prospect of having to pay attention to all the different dimensions of health I outlined when you shift from a narrow symptom focus to what I call a DIATA-based focus. Diata is a word that orients to the elements of our lifestyle – literally, how we live – as it determines our daily health and functioning. The good news is that adopting a Diata-based focus allows the enormously complex components of our mind, brain, and body to fall into place more easily.
Assembling the Pieces of a Healthy Puzzle
Think for a moment about a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. Taking any two pieces and hoping they fit would be futile and overwhelming. Most people begin by assembling the border to the puzzle. This provides a framework that makes it easier to locate, at least in a general sense, where the remaining pieces fall. Also, most people place the top of the puzzle box within easy reach, where it can serve as a guide to the overall goal and further guides where the individual pieces of the big picture best fit.
Similarly, when pursuing a Diata-based orientation, maintaining a focus on lifestyle is like focusing on building out the framing border and having the puzzle box cover to orient to what the healthy goal looks like. That is why higher level practices, such as a focus on sleep restoration, lifestyle pacing - including the pacing of your eating habits, anxiety management, and empathic social connections are so important. When they are in place, it is as though the whole body breathes a deep sigh of relief. In turn, when these dimensions of your bodymind are attended to, the digestive pressures on your gut are reduced and your ability to metabolize what you eat with greater comfort and ease are easier to achieve.
All the pieces and parts that make up you and me exist together in a complex web of inter-dependent interconnections. I encourage you to explore what adopting a Diata-based perspective means for you. To get a taste of what is possible for you, I invite you to explore my free, 3-session sample of my gut health program. Also, if you have further questions about how this orientation and approach can work for you, drop me an email. Together, let’s help you get the pieces of your health puzzle to fit together well.