how to identify subconscious “undercurrent” stressors to improve your health

In my work with women over the years, I’ve noticed a few trends. Even though clients come to me for nutritional needs, they inevitably start talking about the stressors in their lives — which is why I now offer a separate 3-Month Thyroid Mind-Body Program. I can’t tell you how many women have sat in my office, and upon me merely asking how they’re doing that day (and REALLY listening to their answer), they start crying, start divulging their stresses, fears, insecurities, and after a few minutes of being truly heard, take a big breath, a deep sigh of relief and apologize for crying or “talking too much”. I always make sure to tell them “it’s okay. Crying is good” because usually when someone cries, they get shushed and “comforted” by people telling them, “it’s okay, don’t cry!”. In truth, they get told to stop crying so the observers aren’t uncomfortable or have to process emotions. Crying is a better medicine than learning to not cry.

What I see in my clients is similar to what I have also noticed and experienced through out my life — very often, women have been taught to trivialize their thoughts, feelings, and emotions, because it makes other people uncomfortable when they express their true thoughts. Other people may not know how to process their own emotions so they feel very uncomfortable being asked to experience someone else’s. We are expected to be stoic or appear to have it all together because it makes people uncomfortable at the thought that we could be “dependent” or “needy” or “hysterical”. So we learn to suppress. And suppress and suppress and suppress because we definitely don’t want our mental health to be in question — ever.

Think of stress like a body of water. The sand, shore and blue-green water are a beautiful scene but take a closer look and you’ll notice that every now and then the surface current picks up. We’re suddenly aware of the passing temperament of the water. We often judge our stress level by the “surface current” in our lives — those major stresses like finances, relationships, work, children, an uncleaned house, making sure to get to important meetings on time, unexpected circumstances like a broke down car or water heater, or the unexpected environmental events we can’t control like fires, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes. And addressing those fears and anxieties is important. But the work I prefer to do with my clients is the work of beginning to recognize and address the UNDERCURRENT. 

The “undercurrent” in our lives is the subconscious behaviors and thoughts we have been taught and that cause us intense stress by trying to live up to certain standards, or meet certain expectations, or be a certain way to keep towing the line and being what others demand. The undercurrent is the power play in our relationships that we are scared to upset. It is the way we get subconsciously punished when we don’t stay inside another person’s expectations. It is the pressure we put on ourselves to look and act a certain way in order to get the affirmation we desire. It is the way we walk, hold ourselves, speak, and dress to get positive feedback. Most of the time, we do not even think about doing these things — it is all subconscious choices that we have become accustomed to. It is an inauthentic way to live. And the undercurrent is ultimately what hurts people the most.

Here are “undercurrent” themes I have seen in my work with clients:

  • feeling pressure to look a certain way to keep their spouse’s attention (and getting hurt feelings when they don’t receive their husband’s full sexual attention visually)
  • fears that their spouse will leave (for various reasons — all because of false perceptions of ourselves — “If only I did this better”, “If only I looked more like that”, “He’s going to find someone better”, “I’ll never be good enough”)
  • letting others (often a father figure or other strong figure, like a stern mother or grandmother) take the lead on decisions and daily activities, suppressing your natural desire to lead (it can be something as simple as always letting them drive because you are retaining their rightful place as the leader and you as the follower)
  • diluting your opinions so you don’t rock the boat (minimizing and sugarcoating how you really feel so you don’t face consequences, or straight-up lying so you don’t get “in trouble”)
  • agonizing over your wardrobe choices so you don’t upset anyone or receive unsolicited comments (whether sexual attention from strangers or disapproval from friends/family)
  • feeling ashamed of certain body parts (ex: my eyebrows aren’t thick enough, my skin tone looks horrible without makeup, my feet are disgusting, my hands are manly, my neck is too saggy, my stomach will never be good enough. We can have hundreds of these “subconscious” thoughts every day!)
  • feeling ashamed of eating in front of people, no matter what you are eating or how much
  • trying to hyper-feminize your voice to appear less aggressive or assertive
  • speaking in passive sentences or writing in passive sentences to appear less assertive (ex: “Is there any way you could please help me take out the trash?” versus, “Please help me take out the trash”)
  • apologizing and saying sorry for normal requests so you are not perceived as aggressive or rude (“I’m sorry to ask but could you please cook this burger a little more? I asked for well-done and it’s rare. I apologize — it’s not your fault!”)
  • over-thinking your choice of specific clothing or make-up colors so you will be taken seriously in business encounters
  • feminizing ourselves so we don’t emasculate fathers, spouses, and friends (fear of emasculating because it brings forth anger from others)
  • and so many more!

 

Now here’s how those undercurrent themes stress you out physically:

  • shallow breathing (can lead to dizziness and panic attacks)
  • resentment that causes adrenaline rushes and high cortisol (notice next time you get secretly resentful how jittery you feel)
  • tensed stomach (causes improper digestion, gas, bloating, heavy full feeling, ulcers, stomach acid problems. Inhibitory responses also cause low thyroid function)
  • painful lump in throat when suppressing tears or words
  • strained vocal cords and muscles
  • tense neck, shoulder, and back muscles
  • tense jaw muscles and TMJ (you would be amazed how much tension we can hold there!)
  • racing thoughts, fear, anger, resentment, and shame
  • inability to fall asleep (due to racing anxious thoughts and unexpressed desires)
  • low thyroid function (a lifetime of inhibitory responses can cause this. When we inhibit normal breathing, muscle function, and digestive function, it slows thyroid hormone release)
  • adrenal fatigue (low or high cortisol problems)
  • and more!

Have you ever thought about your “undercurrent” stressors? Consider which subconscious thoughts and behaviors are stressing you daily and why (or for whom) you are still choosing them. After you recognize them, you can begin to live more authentically and therefore be less stressed and healthier. 

how generational wounds keep you sick and stressed

I’ve said it before — nutrition may be my number one passion, but the mind-body connection comes in a close second. I’ve written before about how stress will affect you physically — not only because of stress hormone release but also how we learn patterns of tension in the body (trouble breathing, which can lead to anxiety, which can cause the brain to not receive enough oxygen, which can prevent muscles and glands from receiving adequate blood flow, over-production of stomach acid, muscle pain and more.)

Sometimes stress comes in the form of our daily life experiences — difficult relationships, difficult decisions to be made, feeling sick from a diagnosed illness, financial troubles, and more. But I want to challenge you to also recognize that GENERATIONAL WOUNDS can keep us sick. 

What is a generational wound? Well it’s the patterns of thoughts and behavior that we inherit from our family members. We learn how to think about the world and how to behave from our parents (or caregivers). And they learned how to think about the world and how to behave from their parents, and their parents learned from their parents, and so on and on and on. 

The problems is that most often, generational patterns are never broken and we inadvertently inherit them from our family. So the way that your grandmother always worried herself sick (literally), or the fact that your great-great grandfather was an alcoholic, or that your great grandmother was ashamed of her figure and was always putting herself on unreasonable crash diets, or that your father never learned positive communication and instead only knew how to yell, or that your great-great-great grandmother suffered in poverty, are likely all still reflected in your thoughts, actions, and how you feel about yourself even if you don’t know their stories.

Does it sound like a stretch? It’s not. The sum total of the lessons we have learned from our caregivers is a direct result of what they have learned over the course of their lifetime — and what their caregivers taught them. The anger, shame, frustration, poor communication, anxieties, fears get passed down. So although you are not living in poverty, you still feel shame that you are not in a better place financially. Even though you are not an unhealthy weight, you still impose strict calorie restrictions on yourself because no woman in your family has ever been happy with her appearance so what gives you the right? Or, although you don’t want to fight with people, you never learned how to communicate in a clear and healthy way so you aren’t sure why your conversations always end in anger. And, even though you aren’t in an abusive relationship, you still feel like you are always walking on eggshells because you learned that anyone can become angry at you at any moment and for anything.

Think of generational wounds as the memories we subconsciously pass down to others. And because life can be painful, pain is very often what we pass down and our brains and nervous systems choose to remember most. Remembering pain is a survival technique, after all. It’s the brain’s attempt at avoiding anything that can jeopardize our safety. Unfortunately, these wounds also keep us locked in figurative cages. We hold ourselves back, don’t allow ourselves happiness, choose pain and suffering over joy, recreate our own cycles of shame and anger, and live our lives to please people who are no longer even alive. 

To break this cycle, start by recognizing your own generational wounds. What is the behavior you recognize in your parents that isn’t/wasn’t healthy? Now think back to their parents and try to recognize the wounds and unhealthy patterns that were passed down to them and how it must have affected them as people. We want to have empathy for our ancestors, instead of blaming any one person for how they may have acted in this life. The idea isn’t to point blame, but to see the struggles and events that led up to the dysfunctional behavior. Then we can distance ourselves from the pain of the generational wounds, instead of being triggered by them. We can recognize problems in our own lives that we inherited and work to change them. We can stop the stress patterns and stress hormone release. We also need to identify where in the body we store tension from these generational wounds. Is it a tensed stomach? Tensed muscle or shoulders from fear and stress? Clenched jaw? Shallow breathing? Everyone will have different wounds and different patterns of tension in the body. Identifying them is the best way to start to heal.

Want to do more mind-body work? Check out my 3-Month Thyroid Mind-Body Program. 

increasing breast milk supply with thyroid or autoimmune disease

I gave birth to our daughter Olive at home in October 2012. It was an exhausting experience — I went into labor on a Monday (right at the 42 week mark) and gave birth to her in the early hours of the morning that Friday. She was nearly 9 1/2 pounds! I was in (unmedicated) labor nearly four days! Imagine little to no eating and sleeping during that time. My mind and body were beyond spent and I literally felt like I had nothing more to give. But of course, I had to “give” more because I was handed over a baby to care for, love, and be her sole source of food.

A few days after my daughter was born and my milk came in, my supply dropped dramatically. Miraculously, Olive had actually only ever lost 2 ounces and then went on to gain weight her first week of life (which is rare for breastfed babies — they typically lose several ounces of weight the first week or so before they start putting weight back on). But one day, she was wanting to nurse and root all day and night long, couldn’t be separated from my breast, and was crying out of sheer frustration. It was the most horrible feeling for both of us. The labor had been so intense that my body shut down and went into what felt like a healing phase, and instead of having enough milk for my daughter, my supply became very low. We were referred to a Certified Lactation Consultant who weighed my daughter before and after feedings to determine just how much milk she was transferring (not much at the time). To make up for what I was unable to provide her, we were able to supplement with donor milk from other women we knew who also had young babies.

Though our midwife had tested my thyroid levels through out the pregnancy (at my request) to ensure there were never any problems (there weren’t), we also tested my thyroid levels postpartum to make sure that my Hashimoto’s Disease was still in remission and that the stressful labor had not induced any thyroid problems.  My thyroid disease was still in remission, which was good to hear, but didn’t give us any clues as to what specifically could be causing the lactation problems.

This trying experience allowed me to learn quite a bit about lactation, galactagogues (those substances that increase milk supply), and general tips and tricks for successful breastfeeding. Because so many of my clients are women who are wanting to get pregnant and prepare for a successful pregnancy, this is a pertinent topic! Thyroid disease (and other hormonal problems) and autoimmunity can certainly take a toll on conception, pregnancy, and breastfeeding, which is why having an arsenal of options and knowledge is so important. The following tips aren’t 100% fool proof, but they do help so many women to successfully breastfeed. Ultimately, you’ll need to address the underlying causes of the thyroid or autoimmune disease to achieve optimal health and lactation. But thankfully, with time they also helped me to successfully nurse my daughter — at 6 weeks old, we were able to stop using donor milk and I was able to exclusively breastfeed her, have her gain healthy weight, enjoy our new life together, and even begin donating milk to other moms in need.

  1. Galactagogues are your friend. Galactagogues are substances that increase milk supply. Well-known galactagogues include: fennel, fenugreek, blessed thistle, alfalfa, nettle, Goat’s rue, marshmallow root, and red raspberry leaf. Many women are advised to take just one from this list (usually in tea or supplement form). However, I did not want to put all of my eggs in one basket, so to speak, so I took many at once. You will need to check with your lactation consultant about which will be best for you. I also found that tea was not the best source of galactagogues for my situation. If you think about it, herbal teas can be great because they are encouraging you to drink water (which you need to produce milk), but they don’t seem very concentrated. I took tinctures with great results (Mother Love carries several, as well as Maxi Milk). I also bought fenugreek and fennel seeds and ground them in my spice grinder, and then took a few teaspoons of that powder daily. I also cooked with fennel seeds on a weekly basis. I tried to get the most potent sources of galactagogues in my system. I took these every few hours through out the day. After about 3 months, I was able to stop using these altogether. Though if you need them, you can continue to take them. (Note that fenugreek is related to the peanut, and is therefore considered goitrogenic).
  2. Avoid anti-lactogenic herbs. These are substances that are known to decrease milk supply (which is great for when you’re trying to wean a child, but not so great when you need to increase supply). Avoid parsley, mint, and sage. Cabbage is also sometimes considered anti-lactogenic. I noticed decreases in milk supply any time I over-indulged in mint chutney at our favorite Indian restaurant! Others include: rosemary, thyme, and lemonbalm. Be sure to check all sources of exposure — toothpaste, shampoo, lotions, aromatherapy, etc — not just the foods you’re eating.
  3. Add electrolytes. Our lactation consultant mentioned that some women have anecdotally observed that electrolyte water helps to increase their supply. After drinking myself up to my neck in electrolyte water I got from Whole Foods, I had a thought: just what is in this water that i could be taking more potent doses of? The answer of course was potassium, calcium, and magnesium. I began using a magnesium oil spray with great results — this seemed to increase my supply way beyond what herbs alone could. Magnesium is also a supplement I typically recommend to my clients and I knew that stressful situations can induce magnesium deficiency (hello labor and delivery!).
  4. Enjoy lactation cookies. You don’t need a better excuse to eat cookies than breastfeeding. Lactation cookies actually seem to work very well for many women. They include a mixture of galactagogues (in food form) that usually do the trick. The magical food combination usually includes oats, flax seeds, and brewer’s yeast. While these three ingredients aren’t generally the best for thyroid and autoimmune disease, they do help with lactation, which gives them the green light in my book. I’ve made these gluten-free by buying gluten-free oats and brewer’s yeast. However, one thing I teach my clients is that proper preparation of grains is essential to thyroid and immune health. So, simply pouring oats out of a bag and baking them in cookies is not a good idea. But in the case of lactation cookies, I find that soaking oats ahead of time reduces the galactagogue properties. Therefore, if you are in a dire situation and really need these cookies, just bake them without soaking the oats. Also, many recipes call for peanut butter (which is yeasty and goitrogenic), so feel free to use another nut butter in its place.
  5. Invest in a breast pump. I had no idea I would need an electric high-powered breast pump. I just though having a manual pump would be a good idea in the event that I needed to leave my daughter for a few hours and needed to have someone feed her milk from a bottle. However, renting, and then buying a breast pump was a life-saver! The more stimulation you receive, the more milk your body is told to make. The idea that your breasts need time to “fill” with milk before you can feed the baby is false. Your body manufactures milk according to “request”. Therefore, to increase your supply, nurse your baby and pump several times through out the day. The more demand, the more supply. A lactation consultant can prescribe how much pumping per day is right for your situation and also give other guidance (like flange size, pump brand, etc.). Also do not mistake the amount of milk you pump for how much milk your baby is transferring while nursing. No pump can ever replicate the sucking action of a baby and therefore, many women do not get the same amount of milk as their nursing baby receives. Some women barely respond to a pump at all.
  6. Nurse as often as baby wants to. Scheduling feedings for your baby is counterproductive to a high breast milk supply. This goes back to demand and supply. If your baby is hungry every hour-and-a-half but you won’t allow him to feed until every 2 or 3 hours, you will be decreasing the demand for your milk and therefore decreasing your supply. Also, not all babies are hungry every 2-3 hours. Some babies (many babies when allowed, I suspect) will nurse as often as every 45 minutes or so in the first weeks even if the mother’s milk supply is adequate. There were some days after my milk supply became stable that I was literally nursing my daughter every hour. I felt okay about this because we had worked with a lactation consultant who measured how much milk she was transferring and while I knew she was getting enough, I also knew that if she was hungry, I was going to feed her and not limit her intake at all. This nursing on demand increased my supply and kept her happy and healthy.
  7. Don’t try to get baby to sleep through the night. Sleep training is right for some families, but in the early months, it can sabotage breastfeeding. This goes right back to demand and supply. If you don’t let baby nurse for hours on end, your body will think it doesn’t need to manufacture so much milk. Now that my daughter is a little over 6 months old, I can say with certainty that I have been her on-call everything for the last 6 months, but it gets better! This is a short phase in your child’s life and while your needs and health are important, realizing that being on-call for your child, especially for feedings, is biologically normal, helps us cope. At first, I got very little sleep but as my daughter has gotten older, she has naturally fell into better and longer sleep cycles and requires less frequent nursing. But waking up every hour or two or three to feed baby those first few months of life helps establish a milk supply. I would also suggest co-sleeping to make those nighttime feedings easier on both of you.
  8. See a Certified Lactation Consultant. This person will be able to determine just how much milk your baby is receiving at the breast (via a very sensitive scale). But they will also be able to identify any other potential problems that are common (and that I haven’t mentioned here): tongue tie, lip tie, forceful letdown, delayed letdown, shallow latch, etc and etc. This person should never push formula on you, but should instead offer solutions for your situation. Beware of LCs who are slow to offer support and ideas and are quick to just suggest formula as a “solution” to the problem.
  9. Get real information, don’t believe misconceptions. Resources like KellyMom.com are great places to commiserate with other nursing moms and get solid information on biological norms for breastfeeding. Don’t allow friends or family to pressure you into giving up with comments like, “he’s nursing again?”, “that’s all you pumped?”, “if you gave him formula, he would sleep through the night”, “you don’t have to breastfeed to be a good mom”, “breastfeeding is gross”, etc.
  10. Relax. I feel like my biggest challenge in successful breastfeeding was being able to relax. My labor was very tiring and feeling like I couldn’t properly feed my baby was traumatic. I had a very difficult time relaxing and enjoying those first few weeks. I had to get a change of scenery (leave the house!), spend time with other people (other moms who had babies around the same time, friends, family who came to help), and do things that I enjoyed (listening to music, watching something funny on TV, talking about something other than breastfeeding, etc.). Stress hormones will wreak havoc on your nursing relationship. De-stressing is essential!
  11. Don’t forget that breastfeeding isn’t all-or-nothing! If you and your care provider/LC come to the conclusion that your baby needs supplementation due to low supply, do not panic. Do not feel like a failure. Breastfeeding does not have to be all-or-nothing. If your baby gets several bottles of donor milk or formula everyday but still gets even a tiny amount of breast milk from you, it is worth it. The immunological properties and emotional connection your baby receives will make all of the effort worth it. You can still nurse even if you cannot provide your baby with 100% of its nourishment. Any amount you can provide is a blessing.
  12. Look into donor milk if you cannot exclusively breastfeed. We used donor milk for the first few weeks of my daughter’s life while my body healed from my intense labor. Do not be afraid to rely on donor milk if you cannot meet your baby’s food needs at the moment. Donor milk is a wonderful and healthy alternative to formula. If you don’t know anyone personally who is able to donate, see resources like Eats on Feets and Human Milk 4 Human Babies (check their Facebook pages for local chapters and locals offering donor milk in your area!). It may seem risky or strange at first — to accept milk from a person you may not know — but there is alot of trust and integrity in the milk donation community. Women who donate are generally very proud of the fact that they do so and are willing to explain their health history (any possible health concerns), medication use, and food intake, with great transparency. Offering milk bags to your donor mom is always a nice touch too.
  13. Remember that breastfeeding is natural but it doesn’t always come naturally. This will save you lots of frustration and tears as bumps in the road may appear. Think of them as things to work through and that usually there is always a solution. This way, your nursing relationship won’t come to an end at the slightest problem.

How has your breastfeeding experience been?

anti-candida diet menu ideas

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Systemic yeast infections are a hallmark of autoimmune and thyroid disease — the two often go hand in hand with yeast overgrowth or fungal infections. In order to improve your thyroid numbers and immune function, eliminating the yeast in your body — and the foods that feed yeast — is essential.

Anti-candida (ie: yeast) diets vary in severity, but the most important points to remember on any anti-yeast elimination diet are:

  1. avoid sugars — even natural ones (like honey or maple syrup), high-sugar fruits, and also artificial sweeteners
  2. avoid anything that is inherently moldy or a mushroom itself (ie: moldy food, mushrooms, truffles, pistachios, cashews, peanuts, old spices)
  3. avoid vinegar and condiments made with vinegar (mustard, mayo, ketchup)
  4. avoid food allergens — most commonly gluten and dairy, but also avoid any other allergens you react to
  5. avoid high starch foods — grains, beans, legumes
  6. avoid processed meats and low-quality proteins — choose organic, wild-caught, pastured, grass-fed proteins
  7. avoid refined fats and oils (ie: canola, soy, sunflower)
  8. add probiotic foods
  9. avoid chemicals in your food, water, and beauty/hygiene routine
  10. usually there is an underlying food sensitivity that needs to be addressed. “untreated” food intolerances can and will feed yeast in the body. common examples: gluten intolerance, egg or airy intolerance, oxalate sensitivity, phenol sensitivity, histamine intolerance, etc. so yes, elimination of known allergens is important, but consider which foods you may also be sensitive to and eliminate those. 

Keep in mind that going too low-carb can actually slow your thyroid, so a strictly ketogenic diet (no carbs, even in the form of low-sugar fruits and root vegetables) is not ideal or the goal. Candida takes time to eliminate and chances are, if it’s causing you trouble (ie: thyroid or autoimmune symptoms) it’s already pathogenic and will need months or years to get rid of. Be patient and don’t rush the process. Stress can and will give yeast a better opportunity to proliferate. Shorter “cleanses” — where the diet is followed for a month or two — can be useful as well if you don’t feel comfortable committing to a long-term diet upfront.

anti-candida meal ideas:

  • B: smoked salmon and fried egg with sauteed zucchini and bell peppers, or cucumber slices
  • B: bacon (high quality with no additives) and roasted sweet potato with toppings you like (coconut butter or ghee, caramelized onions and spinach)
  • B: sausage (high quality with no additives) and eggs with a low-glycemic fruit and coconut flour bread
  • B: chia seed pudding with unsweetened coconut milk, cinnamon, and berries of your choice (or also use coconut butter to make it more rich)
  • L: leftover salmon with plantain chips and salsa and guacamole
  • L: simple tuna salad (lemon, fresh herbs, water-packed olives, olive oil) over lettuce and veggies
  • L: homemade beef chili (meat, veggies, fat, broth, and spices) topped with green onion and zucchini “pasta” if you like
  • L: homemade baba ghanouj (roasted eggplant, garlic, onion, pureed with lemon, olive oil, sea salt, and tahini if you like) with veggie chips and roasted chicken
  • D: middle eastern meatballs (ground pork, onion, cilantro and basil, curry powder) with roasted beets, and raw vegetable sticks and garlic-hemp seed dipping sauce
  • D: grain-free salmon cakes with water-packed olives and roasted red peppers served over a salad, with roasted spaghetti squash
  • D: seared scallops  or shrimp with roasted carrots, parsnips and onions, served with sauerkraut
  • D: lettuce wraps of bacon, roasted chicken, tomato, onion, leftover baba ghanouj on romaine lettuce leaves with sweet potato chips