During our 2 week clinic closure at the end of August, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a vacation to Prague, Croatia, and London. As some of you may recall, my last vacation was in 2011 on a trip to Mumbai, India to see my cousin Amrit who was knee deep in launching her fashion line Norblacknorwhite.
Being in school for many years and then trying to start up a clinic, my opportunities for travel were few and far between. But the last few years, I've been able to sneak in a few trips. And each time I have, I find it so fascinating to leave my bubble of Vancouver, and see how others live.
Of course I love the history and architecture and beauty of Europe, however, the undercurrent of how I look at everything is always rooted in health. Or how I perceive "health".
I noted a few things in Europe, sorry to the UK'ers out there, but these observations excluded London.
At most restaurants, mostly everyone had wine and beer with most meals (less so at breakfast, but I did see it!). I never encountered anyone who was out of control, it was all social drinking. There was quite a bit of gluten consumed, with pasta's, baguettes, dumplings, etc. And quite a bit of cigarette smoking. I also noticed walking…there was a lot of walking!
What I didn't see were many fast food places. They were there, but very few and far between. I saw people sitting at meals and sitting for coffee, not a lot of grab and go. I'm sure it is there however! But no where near the degree it happens here.
The gluten (protein in wheat), in Europe is different than North America. It apparently is not a hybrid mix as we have in North America. Meaning the gluten in North American wheat is much larger. Not to go into the entire chemistry, but larger gluten, makes for fluffier bread, and also more of a shelf life in stores, equals more revenues for the companies making these products. However, larger gluten is not something our gut can breakdown very well and digest, and it can be the cause of a whole host of health issues.
I also believe that in many parts of Europe baguettes and breads etc are still largely hand made. This is a HUGE difference for health. Gluten is activated when wheat flour is kneaded. When the flour is put through machines, the gluten is highly activated. Over activated gluten is very difficult to digest, I believe that over 80% of bread we typically consume is machine made. However, kneading by hand can not activate gluten as much as a machine. Huge difference in taste, shelf life, ease of digestion and for overall health.
I have avoided gluten for about 10 years, and when I did have it in Europe, I was very careful how much I had, but I did not have any reaction to it. And the taste was unreal!
I also noticed a few other things. I didn't really notice huge levels of weight issues. One would think with all the bread that I saw being consumed and the alcohol, there would be some issues. However, I can't say I saw many..if at all.
From this I came to my three point theory on metabolism and health and weight. Metabolism is far more than calories in, calories out and exercise. Weight to me always symbolizes an imbalance somewhere in the body.
I can't comment on the amount of smoking I saw, but I am sure there are health stats and issues surrounding this! For the sake of my observations of Europe, I didn't really factor in the smoking.
First theory: Self-Love – I noticed in Europe, people put a huge amount of energy to self-love. I think it's part of the culture and nothing that has to be a task or another job to do. There was always a lot of effort put into appearance, and an overall vibe of putting themselves first. Versus, putting everyone else in the world first, and then me. Which many of us fall into that category. Self-love isn't at all a selfishness, it is a "fill my energy first, then I can give to everyone else". vs. "I'll give and do and do for everyone else, and if I have time, I'll do things for me." Quite the different energy isn't it? Even reading that has quite a different energy. Treating self first, goes with the flow of the body. Giving it all away and waiting to give scraps of energy to yourself at the end, is against the flow of the body. Self-love completely changes the metabolism and the gut health.
Second theory: Not lonely – Going out to eat, seeing different parts of Europe, staying in apartments, also staying in hotels. I saw people eating together all of the time. I saw tables of friends, tables of family including, children, parents, grandparents, etc. I think the culture of eating and sitting and socializing leaves people feeling connected and hearts feeling full. Eating together while feeling connected, completely changes how food is digested, the quantity we eat, and how we metabolize it. This isn't isolated to Europe, this is the same in Asia, India, etc. A huge culture of connected-ness with meals and socializing. I believe here, we are more lonely, more isolated. Many look towards social media and smartphones for their connection, but this is not what the body craves. The body craves human interaction and connection. A happy fulfilled gut, has quite a different metabolism than a lonely one. Small changes could be as simple as having breakfast together as a family; or getting a "for here" cup of coffee with a work colleague; or inviting friends over more often on weekends. A slow metabolism, regardless of the food consumed, could be because of deep rooted loneliness or lack of connection.
Third Theory: Relaxed – I didn't find Europe to be as fast paced high stress as we may be here. Granted I was on vacation, however, I didn't see the "to-go" coffee's and rushing around. When we went to restaurants, we sat for hours and hours and weren't asked to leave, because the table needed to be turned over. Dining out was a totally different experience. Less stress, everyone knows, rev's up the metabolism. High stress increases the stress hormone cortisol and this increases weight gain. There didn't seem to be guilt surrounding having small treats, a few glasses of wine, and taking a few hours to hang out with friends and family was just the norm. I think this all decreases stress levels. I know I get addicted to stress, with so much going on at the clinic and needing to be done, there's times I feel guilty for not working. This, I believe, is an imbalance. I have to make it a priority to remind myself, that I will get everything done, and have time to relax and connect with family and friends.
What these three points all equate to, I believe, is the culture of connection and family and friends. If we have lost this, small incremental changes can re-establish this culture! Start to branch out to family, friends, neighbors, have block parties, bon fires. If English isn't your first language, don't be shy to practice the few phrases you know. Connection is non-verbal communication. Being present is the key!
When I first began my practice in Richmond, I did many talks on Gut Health. It has always been a huge area of interest for me. Upon doing research for the gut, I like to tie in historical text, and historically in writings and plays etc..the gut was known as the seed of love. Not the heart. It was always the gut that symbolized love. I actually think that is very accurate. However, to be more specific, I think the gut symbolizes the above three theories: self-love, being connected, and being relaxed. Doesn't this sound far better to enhance love and metabolism than counting calories?!
This can be a fun challenge. For a month, try to incorporate an element of each of the three theories. Do something for yourself. Connection at meal times. It may mean breakfast as a family for 30 days. And decrease stress, try to add a day or even an hour of enjoying your surroundings and being present – without the aid of smartphones and/or social media!
Let us know how it worked for you. Incorporate your personal challenge for 30 days, and in November, let us know what you noticed!
Oh which was my favorite place, I loved Prague, would love to go back again! Croatia was stunning, I've attached a photo just to give you an example. And I am no photographer…that's just how it looked!
Dr.Neetu Dhiman, ND