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Defining Inner Trust - Science & Influences that explain why we feel the way we do



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Defining Inner Trust - Science & Influences That Explain Why We Feel The Way We DoMichelle Benson, MS, CN


January 2024, Harmony Hill Healing Retreat Center


Hey there,


Michelle here and I'm beyond excited to share some incredible insights from the winter retreat we had last weekend at Harmony Hill. It was beautiful, rewarding, delicious, and healing in all the best ways. The journey we embarked on together touched upon the profound connection between our inner trust and the myriad of factors influencing our well-being. We explored a wide range of topics!! As one of the nutritionists on the team, I’m going to focus more on the nutrition and eating psychology aspects we explored during the weekend. So, let's dive into the heart of all that!


Personal Journey


While my personal journey with food started out as a selfish way to heal myself, I’ve continued to learn in my trainings and as a provider that the uniqueness of each individual’s biochemistry and life story is much, much more important than a diagnosis, protocol, or meal plan. This is why, what works for one person, won't work for another. As a provider in Eating Psychology and Functional Medicine Nutrition, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of addressing challenges in food, energy, and mood through a combination of nutrition and psychology. For me, personally, I never could truly move the needle until I addressed both.


Rediscovering Inner Trust


In a lot of ways, inner trust with our bodies, eating, and movement is something we have to learn to re-discover again. A child’s approach to eating is intuitive and playful and the ability to trust ourselves around eating erodes as we age and get exposed to all kinds of societal influences. Messages about body image, societal expectations, nutrition trends, and the constant exposure to overly processed and highly palatable foods contribute to a complicated relationship between body and mind, making it challenging to trust oneself. 


It is a rough climate out there in regards to diet culture, the food systems, and the ever changing discoveries of nutrition science. Consider all the diet trends we’ve witnessed in just the last 70 years. Did you know it takes approximately 17 years for nutrition research to make its way into dietary recommendations? In a lot of ways, the field of nutrition science is still really new, and we discover new information all the time. And the wonderful thing about science is that more discoveries lead to falsifying data we once thought was true. We are seeing now how following certain past diet recommendations has actually led people to be more sick and ill. So while staying up to date on the latest nutrition trends can be helpful, it can also backfire. It can become confusing and lead individuals even farther out of touch with their body’s needs and responses.


Experimentation is great but as we input and implement all the information we’re exposed to daily, we have to remember to also listen to the feedback and messages the body relays back to us. There is an awesome quote by Functional Nutritionist, Erin Holt that says, “Stop leaning on external data points (if you have a habit of doing that) - let this year be the year you use your own body as a compass. You be the evidence. Allow the sacred wisdom of the body to coalesce with the information that you have.” So I’m all about data, and evidence-based medicine, AND, I’m all about trying new things and seeing how the body responds. Try things out but be sure you’re coming back to, “how does this make ME feel?” As I mentioned at the beginning, we are individual people with unique biochemistry and life stories. It makes total sense that our responses will differ. 


 “Stop leaning on external data points (if you have a habit of doing that) - let this year be the year you use your own body as a compass. You be the evidence. Allow the sacred wisdom of the body to coalesce with the information that you have.”

-Erin Holt, Functional Nutritionist



Unraveling Influences on Self-Trust


You Are Not Alone And You Are Not Flawed

Acknowledging common challenges in self-trust, we can explore societal and cultural influences that hinder attunement with our bodies. Examples include the impact of instant gratification, lack of encouragement for self-care (beyond generic social media posts), and conflicting messages about body image. All too often, I have patients come in blaming themselves and faulting themselves for feeling out of touch or out of control with their relationship with food. I always, always want to normalize that this is not uncommon and it is truly nothing wrong or flawed with you.


Positive vs Negative Habits

During the retreat weekend, we explored a lot of the teachings from the wonderful book, Nourishing Wisdom, by Marc David to understand the physical and psychological aspects of imbalances. This encouraged us to explore the physical and biochemical shifts in the brain and body that affect decision-making and behavior. He states, "A negative habit is a behavior that is repeated mechanically and automatically. It drains or disperses our energy, has harmful repercussions on the body or emotions, and goes against what we want most for ourselves." He goes on to say, "Positive habits, on the other hand, generally need to be cultivated, nurtured, and given constant effort to make them mainstays in our life. Positive habits enhance and support the body's functions, serve the mind and emotions, and bring lasting benefits with little or no harmful side effects." In other words, negative habits are easy. Positive habits are hard. But the benefits of positive habits are a gift that keeps on giving. We spent some of the weekend discussing this aspect of health, how to harness that part of our personalities, and how to call that person in when we want to go back to old and un-serving ways of living.


"A negative habit is a behavior that is repeated mechanically and automatically. It drains or disperses our energy, has harmful repercussions on the body or emotions, and goes against what we want most for ourselves."
 "Positive habits, on the other hand, generally need to be cultivated, nurtured, and given constant effort to make them mainstays in our life. Positive habits enhance and support the body's functions, serve the mind and emotions, and bring lasting benefits with little or no harmful side effects."

-Marc David, Nourishing Wisdom pg. 111


Social/Societal Impact

We spent some time reflecting on cultural influences that challenge self-trust. We touched on issues like lack of community, societal expectations, and the imbalance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. 


Food and Nutrition

We also explored the fascinating connection between food and brain chemistry, introducing neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA, catecholamines, and endorphins. It was highlighted how certain foods can over-excite these reward centers of the brain, directly impacting mood and behavior and can be a major source of food cravings and eating drivers. While avoidance of certain foods may be helpful, we also discussed the importance of protein (specific amino acids), and essential nutrients for proper neurotransmitter function. As it turns out, the importance of protein and plants in the diet go beyond just muscle building and fighting inflammation (although they do these amazing things as well). A large portion of the population does not get enough protein or plant-based foods in their diet and this can have some devastating impacts on our mood, energy, and overall health.


Body Image and Dieting

Finally we addressed the polarizing nature of discussions around diet culture and encouraged our participants to find a balanced approach, something we at HartsSpace specialize in. In addition to food, we also emphasize the power of thoughts and beliefs in shaping our relationship with food and body.



Building Self-Trust Through Understanding

At our weekend retreat, we explored a realm of practical suggestions for building self-trust, including mindfulness practices, journaling, setting boundaries, movement, and reflecting on our personal stories in food and body image. We emphasized the need for diversity in food choices to ensure a wide range of essential nutrients and looking at how our thoughts and beliefs can shape our decisions.


Final Thoughts

In unraveling the science and influences behind our feelings, this article aims to empower our readers (and listeners) to navigate the complex relationship between mind and body. By understanding the factors at play, individuals can embark on a journey towards self-trust, attunement, and a balanced approach to health and wellness. 


Stay Tuned

We have a lot of great things coming this year at HartsSpace. This includes more group support, blogs, courses, provider talks, and future retreats. We love our one on one work with patients, and this will always be the heart of what we do, but as we witnessed this weekend, a lot of powerful discoveries and healing happens in community and in group work. If you have topics you’d like us to dive deeper into, we want to know! And if you have thoughts or more to add about this post specifically, also please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.


Thanks! And until next time, take care of yourselves, trust yourselves, and continue to work on putting your health and well-being towards the top of your list.


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