The following is an actual excerpt from a recent session with a client. Certain details have been altered to protect my client’s confidentiality. I’m sharing this moment to illustrate how our very love for a food/beverage can cause us to have a blind eye to body wisdom even when our body provides strong, loud messages including pain and discomfort. And, mind you, this particular client is one who prides herself on being in tuned with her body.
As some background, this client is going through several big stressors simultaneously in her life, (some of which are new and others which are ongoing), including financial challenges, selling her coop where she's lived for 30 years and needing to find a new home, producing a 1-woman show, marital ups and downs, and career malaise. I'm listening to her from an Eating Psychology perspective.
Client: “I have such gas! I can feel the bloating! (Rubs her hand over her entire belly.) I’ve never had it like this before! My doctor prescribed me something for the gas but the medication gave me terrible abdominal pain. (She couldn't remember the name of the med.) I’m going to go to the health food store on the corner after this and buy some supplements. Milk thistle and some other things I can't remember now. I'll ask at the store what else to take. They're good in there giving advice. I don’t know what else to do.”
Me: (I'm aware that while a medication prescribed by a doctor may be helpful - in this case not - and supplements/herbs, etc. also may certainly bring relief, the client and her providers seem to be focused on treating symptoms and not the root issue(s) that may be causing her gas and general IBS.)
"I'm really sorry that you're so uncomfortable! In past sessions, you've connected your abdominal pain to your stress levels. I know deep breathing and walking helped relieve some of the pelvic tightness you've felt. But, this sounds different."
She: "It is different. (Rubs her belly again.) I've never been like this. (Grabs some "fat" from her waist area.) I've put on weight in the past but always in my thighs, hips, butt. Never like this before."
Me: "From what you just said, this doesn't sound like weight gain though. You're abdomen is distended due to gas, not extra body fat." (I'm noting a shift the client just made from gas to fat as the cause for her abdominal distention.)
She: "I know but I'm just so uncomfortable. I don't know what to do."
Me: "Have you changed anything in how or what you're eating?"
She: "No. I mean I eat fast and I know I should slow down. And I've heard about people swallowing a lot of air when they eat, but that's not me. Maybe I should cut out dairy and gluten again. That helped bring down my bloat in the past."
Me: (By incorporating the client's life stressors and now food consumption into the discussion, I'm sensing we're getting more to the heart of the issue vs. exclusively treating the symptoms of her acute gastric distress.)
"That might not be a bad idea. We could even talk about an Elimination Diet if you feel up to it. I know you're under a lot of stress so now might not be the best time. But, at some point you may want to experiment for a few weeks to see what food(s) might be bothering you or not. You familiar with this? Wheat and gluten in general, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, and even citrus are the biggest culprits. With the Elimination Diet, you cut out those foods for a few weeks. When the foods are re-introduced one-by-one, you look to see if you have any reaction(s). Gas or other digestive distress, headaches, skin rashes, congestion, anything."
She: "It comes to a point where you can't eat anything. (Laughs.) But I may try this. At least with gluten and dairy. And I love drinking my seltzer! Glen and I just bought a whole case. I drink it non-stop."
Me: (My ears just perked up!) "Seltzer? You hadn't mentioned this before. You know by drinking a carbonated beverage you're directly adding air to your insides?"
She: "Yea, I know. But, I love it."
Me: "Mmmmm. I wonder. You know if you want to stop gluten and dairy that would be great. But, it might be even more helpful to keep eating what you're eating and give up seltzer for 2 weeks to see if that brings any relief. In other words, if you stop drinking seltzer but don't change anything else, and you feel better, you'll know that the seltzer is at least 1 factor causing your abdomen to distend."
She: "Oh, yea, you're right. But, I love seltzer." (Makes a sad face.)
Me: "Sounds like you really enjoy your seltzer! Would you consider not drinking it with every meal? One meal you have it and the next meal you don't. It would be interesting to see if you experience even a bit of relief from the gas pains and bloating doing it that way. We can touch base next week."
She: "Okay, I'll try. Oh, seltzer."
The client seems a bit disheartened but also aware that drinking a lot of a beverage that contains gas could likely be aggravating if not causing her gas pains and abdominal distention. I'm fascinated that despite her great discomfort and her desire to feel better she avoided mentioning her very large consumption of seltzer until the very end of the session. My client certainly expressed a willingness to take actions to alleviate her symptoms, (visited her doctor, took medication, wanted to buy unknown supplements/herbs, considered going gluten and dairy-free), but she avoided mentioning and looking at her beloved seltzer.
Post Session Thoughts: It could be with all the stressful life situations going on, that my client's consumption of seltzer has increased. But, most importantly to note is how she was "protecting" her relationship with seltzer by being willing to look at any other possible culprit first, and withholding any mention of drinking large amounts of seltzer until the last moments of our session. Certainly she was/is hoping to find other reasons for her bodily distress.
There is a great lesson here for all of us. When we're in any kind of pain, (physical, emotional, etc.), we may have a tendency to look away from or past the very factor, (person, place, thing), that is causing our distress. In this case, it would be helpful for my client to continue to practice slowing down living and eating, staying embodied, and drinking less seltzer.
Final message: Our bodies offer us great wisdom all the time. Listening to and connecting their inner messages to what is going in our outside world can be a terrifically, effective way towards healing. There most likely will be times when our bodies' messages lead us to places we won't want to go. Those perhaps are the areas we most need to visit.
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