There are many paths to wellness, each as unique as the person who is forging it. And just like any other path that we bushwhack ourselves, we must be armed with a number of different tools to do so. Creating a path to wellness means educating ourselves about everything from nutrition and exercise to our family’s health history, if we can, as well as listening to our own bodies.
One great way to gauge our wellness is by listening to our guts, which also means looking at the product of that area. Yes, I’m talking about poop. As Phoebe Lapine puts it in her new book The Wellness Project, “People get squeamish about toilet talk. And yet, our bowel movements remain the best way to gauge how our digestive systems are performing on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis.” In particular, they help us learn how healthy and diverse our microbiome is.
A microbiome is the community of bacteria that inhabit an environment—in this case, it specifically refers to the hundred trillion bacteria in your gut. Microbiome research is a hot topic these days, and one of the things we’ve learned about these bacteria is that the balance of them (or imbalance as the case may be) in our bodies affects everything from our immune systems and memories to our sleep and mental health.
Most of us have been unknowingly messing with our own microbiomes for years in a number of ways. For example, antibiotics are exactly what their name indicates: they are opposing (anti) life (bio). They wipe out bacteria (life)—they don’t sound quite as delightful when broken down that way, do they? When we ingest antibiotics, they end up killing a lot of bacteria, including the good kind that we want in our bodies. And we get antibiotics not just from prescription drugs but also from meat consumption. Lapine points out in The Wellness Project that “80 percent of our country’s antibiotic production goes toward livestock.” Again, that burger doesn’t sound quite as enticing when you consider you may be getting a dose of antibiotics along with it, does it?
Our microbiomes are also negatively affected by pesticides, sugar, our drinking and eating habits, as well as environmental factors and more, and probiotic supplements can’t fill the void on their own. We have to eat probiotics (vegetables as well as the four fermented K foods: kimchi, kefir, kraut, and kombucha) and embrace bacteria. That doesn’t mean you should ignore general hygiene—though there were some recent studies done on how too much showering can wreck your microbiome—but it does mean you should probably lay off the hand sanitizer.
Lapine also suggests
• cutting back on red meat consumption;
• avoiding antacids;
• eating beans, nuts, and seeds;
• consuming raw foods before four in the afternoon and cooked foods later on, to give your digestive system a break as it gets a little weaker throughout the day; and
• focusing on your bowel movements by keeping a poop log and using a stool for your feet while pooping.
It’s true that few of us want to sit around and think about or discuss our bowels, but if anything is going to indicate to us that we need a change in diet, exercise, or a visit to a doctor or other specialist, it’s probably going to be our bowel movement. Instead of avoiding thinking about it, we need to embrace it–figuratively, not literally. After all, as Lapine states: “Wellness is a journey that starts within.” And we can take that both literally and figuratively when it comes to our guts.
You can read about Phoebe Lapine’s wellness journey and all of her suggestions on finding “your own sweet spot between health and hedonism” in
You can read about Phoebe Lapine’s wellness journey and all of her suggestions on finding “your own sweet spot between health and hedonism” in The Wellness Project: How I Learned to Do Right by My Body, Without Giving Up My Life.
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