What is trauma-informed nutrition and how can we use it to support recovery?

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Exploring the complex ways traumatic experiences impact us, and the essential reason why practitioners and clients must be aware of it

What is trauma-informed nutrition and how can we use it to support recovery?

Discussions concerning trauma tend to centre around the mental, emotional, and physical impacts of traumatic events. But in recent years, this has expanded to explore the relationship between nutrition, trauma, and physical and mental health. Let’s take a closer look.

What is trauma?

The charity Mind speaks of emotional or physiological trauma as the result of very stressful, frightening, or distressing events which cause lasting harm, even if the harmful effects are not immediately obvious.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are harmful events that can occur from as early as in the womb through to age 17, and do not have to be remembered by the child to be traumatic. Examples include experiencing violence, abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction, and adversity including bullying, poverty, war, natural disaster, discrimination, pandemics, medical trauma, and involvement with child protective services. According to the California Centre for Public Health, up to six in 10 people have experienced at least one ACE, and one in six have experienced at least four.

Expanding trauma from the individual to the collective experience, Historical Trauma is that which is experienced by ethnic, racial, or cultural groups over generations – such as slavery, the Holocaust, and colonisation. Then there is Systemic Trauma, which refers to the environments and institutions that contribute to traumatic experiences.

Trauma is multilayered, and has the potential to impact our daily lives. The lasting effects are present irrespective of how or when the trauma occurred. So, the question is: how can trauma-informed nutrition support clients more effectively?

Trauma and nutrition

For some, adverse food-related experiences can be a source of trauma. This includes unreliable or unpredictable meals, imposed restriction or control of food,body shaming, and reward or punishment using food. Trauma may also impact food habits and result in eating disorders and disordered eating, food addictions, high fat, salt or sugar diets, an over reliance on convenience food, and poor food budgeting and planning.

According to Mind, people who have experienced trauma have an increased risk of chronic and long-term illness, including severe obesity, heart disease, strokes, and diabetes. To effectively support their clients, nutrition practitioners who aim to address root causes of illness understand that trauma is a contributory root cause for illness and disease.

The gut/brain axis is central to discussions about trauma and nutrition. Through the vagus nerve, there is a two-way communication between the gut and the brain using hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which influence our feelings and mood. It explains why we may feel nervous jitters in our stomach, have looser stools when stressed, or feel nauseous when in distress. Our gut microbiome directly impacts these hormonal messages, so a healthy gut can support this process.

Trauma-informed nutrition

This approach acknowledges the role adversity plays in a person’s life, recognises symptoms of trauma, and promotes resilience. As noted by the California Department for Public Health, trauma-informed nutrition und

Advocate Shaun Flores on how he found a sanctuary in OCD

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It’s a condition that affects 1–2% of the population, but it’s often misunderstood. So what is it like to live with obsessive compulsive disorder? One man shares his story of acceptance and advocacy

Advocate Shaun Flores on how he found a sanctuary in OCD

When we hear the word OCD, many images come to mind: cleanliness, symmetry. Maybe even something comical – “I am so OCD.”

But for those living with OCD, it is the opposite of comical. I use the word ‘living’ and not ‘suffering’, as language is very important. ‘Suffering’ infers a constant state of negativity, trying to survive, whereas ‘living’ suggests a harmony. I live with OCD. So, let me tell you how I remain happy with its existence in my everyday life.

I received my OCD diagnosis on Saturday 4 June, at 27 years old. According to OCDaction, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety condition that causes someone to become stuck in a cycle of distressing obsessions and compulsions. And it’s much more common than originally thought, with estimates of those with the condition suggesting between 1–2% of the population have OCD. That’s anywhere between 600,000 and just over one million people.

Advocate Shaun Flores on how he found a sanctuary in OCD

Even so, OCD is often trivialised, not helped by TV shows like Obsessive-Compulsive Cleaners. First airing in 2013, in this portrayal OCD was shown to be almost desirable. That couldn’t be more wrong. Additionally, the numbers (given by OCD UK) show that “only 26.5% of people with it actually have cleaning compulsions”. Throwaway comments of willful ignorance about OCD perpetuate misconceptions, and do not reflect the torture it can, at times, create.

OCD popped up in my life around three years ago in the form of a sexually intrusive thought, triggered by being given chlamydia three times by people I dated and trusted. Thoughts like “You still have chlamydia,” “You must have HIV,” and “I need to go to the sexual health clinic,” ran through my mind like a never-ending marathon. Whenever I tried to remove the thought, like the Whac-A-Mole game, it kept popping up. OCD migrated to obsessional thoughts of sexual assault, with the intrusive thought of “rape” popping into my head constantly. Due to these thoughts, I incessantly and illogically believed that I was a rapist. My intrusive thoughts then moved to suicide.

As you would expect, depression hit me like a freight train. Why was I having such detestable thoughts? Thoughts so against who I was as a person?

I was unaware that sexually intrusive thoughts were a part of OCD. But now, since learning that OCD manifests itself through thoughts, urges, and images, I am able to differentiate between my own thoughts and OCD thoughts. It has been a relief. OCD remains a part of my life, but it is not all Shaun Flores is.

People often talk about triggers, what about glimmers? Glimmers are those positive moments that change our pain, turning it into something heartwarming. The glimmers for me are the things I took for granted. OCD taught me to live every day and to stop simply existing. My first glimmer was when I contacted Emma Ga

What is sleep syncing, and how can you try it?

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Try the wellbeing trick that could transform the quality of your sleep

What is sleep syncing, and how can you try it?

When the quality of our sleep plays such an important role in our overall wellbeing – as well as our ability to successfully navigate our jobs, relationships, and responsibilities – it makes sense that we want to get it right.

That said, finding what’s right for us may take some time, and is likely to require a bit of trial and error. For one person, it may be playing sleep sounds as they fall asleep, for another it could be about changing their diet, or perhaps beginning a journaling practice in order to let go of the worries that usually keep them up at night.

But now, there’s a new option that could be the answer for you: sleep syncing. All about tuning into your body's natural circadian rhythm, sleep syncing requires you to think about, and adapt, your daily routine to line-up with what your body naturally wants to do.

“Your circadian rhythm, otherwise known as your sleep-wake cycle, is your internal body clock which follows a 24 hour cycle and is influenced by many internal and external factors as well as light and dark,” Martin Seeley, sleep expert and CEO of Mattress Next Day explains. “It works to control hormone release such as melatonin and helps keep your body in a good routine.

“Sleep syncing is when you create a routine that ensures your body is sleeping and waking when it should be, giving your internal clock a gentle nudge. Sleep syncing can help improve sleep quality, increase energy levels, and help to maintain a healthy body.”

How do I sleep sync?

Let’s be honest for a minute, most of us have a routine that we have to abide by to some extent – whether that means sleeping around work, caring responsibilities, or anything else. But that doesn’t mean that sleep syncing won’t work for us. Instead, it’s about gradually aligning our lifestyle with our biological rhythms in order to wake up feeling refreshed and energised. So, how do we do it?

1. Work out what your schedule should be

As Martin points out, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (yes, even on weekends and days off work) is a great way to regulate your body’s internal clock – which will, in turn, make it easier for you to fall asleep and wake up. So, have a think about what times work for you. The average adult needs eight hours of sleep each night to feel refreshed and energised, but you may find that you need more or less. Experiment with different lengths, perhaps noting how you feel in a journal or sleep tracker. Once you’ve got a good idea of how long you need to be asleep, you can then plan for what time you should go to bed, and when you should set your alarm for in the morning.

You may also want to think about establishing a calming bedtime routine. Perhaps incorporating some self-care, journaling, reading, or light yoga.

2. Try to get natural sunlight in the morning

Don’t underestimate the power of the sun in regulating our bodies.

“Waking up to natural light can be a great way to wake up,” Martin explains. “This notifies our circadian rhythm that it's time to get up.”

When you wake up in the morni

Uncover the reading habit bringing joy to our lives and improving our wellbeing

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Join us on a fascinating adventure through the rich history of reading aloud, and meet us in the present day, when we’ve never needed the wellbeing benefits more

Uncover the reading habit bringing joy to our lives and improving our wellbeing

Reading aloud is an activity we might assume is just for young children who can’t read themselves. However, when my 10-year-old daughter recently asked me to read a book to her one evening, I realised that there is something more to it.

She has an Audible library packed with books to choose from, and a bookshelf full of her own books. But, that night, she chose me. She likes the way I do the voices, and we both enjoyed the time bonding and connecting together.

In a world where we have access to an infinite amount of audiobooks at the click of a button, the idea of reading to each other might seem incredibly old-fashioned, and it is! In fact, it has a very rich history. In philosopher St Augustine’s Confessions, written around 400 AD, he reflects on the reading habits of Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan.

“When Ambrose used to read, his eyes were drawn through the pages, while his heart searched for its meaning; however, his voice and tongue were quiet. Often when we were present – for anyone could approach him and it was not his habit that visitors be announced to him – we saw him reading in this fashion, silently and never otherwise.”

The Bishop’s silent habits were considered an unusual anomaly. In Saint Augustine’s era, reading aloud was the way to do it.

While silent reading gradually caught on as time went by, reading aloud was still common. Prior to a world of television, radio, and internet, reading aloud was a source of entertainment, particularly when not everyone was literate. It was part of daily life, in people’s homes, or at the local pub. In the diary of Samuel Pepys, written in the 1660s, Pepys recalls his domestic life, reading aloud to his wife in the evenings, and laughing together about a book that was ‘sillily writ’. On one occasion, he befriends a woman in a carriage and persuades her to read to him. When his wife was upset with him, talking, listening, and reading aloud were how they made up.

Uncover the reading habit bringing joy to our lives and improving our wellbeing

Today, in an age of distraction, we might put on an audiobook while loading the dishwasher, or to pass the time while driving. In these moments our attention is split, the clatter of dirty dishes interrupting the voices, or the honking of horns, a red light, and the frustration we feel during drives. There’s a whole cornucopia of sensory input demanding our attention.

But when we listen to a loved one, it’s not just that we get to hear their voice. We see their mannerisms and facial expressions as they read the story. It is a multi-sensory experience that involves sight, sound, and even touch if we snuggle close together. This allows us to truly rest in the moment, our attention on a single point of focus rather than being called in dozens of different directions.

While researching this article, I heard from many adults who enjoy reading aloud to their adult loved ones. They reported enjoying spending time together, sharing what they are reading with each other, and that it was a more intimate activity than simply watching

Emotional invalidation: what are the signs and what can I do about it?

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Have you ever opened up, only to be met with dismissal? This one’s for you

Emotional invalidation: what are the signs and what can I do about it?

Imagine you’re having a really tough time, so you decide to turn to a friend. You lay out all your emotions over a cuppa, explaining how totally deflated, frustrated, and overwhelmed you feel, hoping your pal will relate.

You wait for some soothing words of encouragement or an affirmative – “I know exactly how you feel.” Instead, your friend minimises and dismisses your emotions, telling you you’re being oversensitive, insisting that you shouldn’t feel the way you do, or informing you that your problems are too small and insignificant to even worry about.

To add insult to injury, they might even offer up unsolicited advice that seems to suggest you’re the one at fault. Their comments don’t make you feel soothed, heard, and understood, but stifled, frustrated, and silenced. In fact, you feel worse than you did before, and silly for even bringing the problem up.

This is emotional invalidation in action: the process of ignoring, denying or minimising another person’s feelings. It happens when we turn to other people for support and understanding and instead find our feelings aren’t taken seriously. And, in a society that always encourages us to speak up about our mental health, it can be incredibly damaging.

“When someone invalidates your experiences, they dismiss, deny, or reject your thoughts and feelings, and often, this can leave you feeling undervalued, and ignored,” says Rachel Vora, psychotherapist and founder of CYP Wellbeing.

Emotional invalidation: what are the signs and what can I do about it?

So, why do they do it?

Ever wondered why friends and family react in this way? As hurtful as having your experiences invalidated may be, it may be helpful to know that it’s not always intentional. “People can unintentionally minimise or make light of our emotions for several reasons,” Rachel points out. “It’s often people who are uncomfortable dealing with their own emotions that unintentionally invalidate the emotions of others.

“For example, people who find sitting with their emotions difficult often adopt unhealthy strategies such as distraction, denial, and avoidance.” Rachel says these people are then likely to employ the same strategies with you.

Other times, your friend really does want to make you feel better, and so their immediate reaction is to try and make your problem seem smaller. Have you ever desperately wanted to help a friend in need and scrambled to find the right thing to say, and instead of saying you understand how they’re feeling, you told them not to worry? It’s that.

No one likes to see the people they love in pain and most of us will do anything to make that pain go away. Often, that means dismissing it or trying to make it appear smaller. But, even if your loved ones have your best interests at heart, having your emotions invalidated can really sting. Speaking up isn’t always easy, and so you might feel disappointed, discouraged, and even embarrassed if your feelings aren’t taken seriously. We all have a human need to feel heard and understood, particularly if we’re going through something tough.

“Emotional invalidation can leave you feeling as though