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  • Writer's picturePaige Smathers

If You're Stressed, Your Gut Likely is, Too

If you’re stressed, your gut is too.

Our gut and our brain are connected. In fact, I think we sometimes do ourselves a disservice when we separate our bodies into separate systems like mind and body (although I understand why we do—without separating our bodily systems, it’s very difficult to conceptualize how we work as human beings).

As you can likely imagine, many of the clients I work with suffer from significant GI distress. While I never want to knock evidence-based dietary or pharmacological interventions, in my experience, GI issues are often resolved with working on mindfulness and acceptance-based approaches to food and body. Our minds affect our bodies and vice versa.

We really can’t separate one system from the other because we are interdependent beings. The skeletal system affects our muscular system, the respiratory system is connected to our circulatory system, and our digestive system is connected to our neurological system. We are whole, complex, interdependent beings.

Since the brain and gut are connected, there's a growing interest in how to effectively treat gut-related conditions with psychological interventions. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), specifically has been studied in this way: looking at effective psychological treatments in addition to dietary, lifestyle and pharmacological interventions. With IBS specifically, researchers found that cognitive behavioral therapy was no more effective in treating IBS than placebo. Evidence is mounting for those who treat clients and patients suffering from IBS to veer from mere symptom reduction to relating to symptoms differently, i.e. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

What this means for the person suffering from IBS: can you expose yourself to mindfulness, acceptance, self-compassion and other work in this vein? Can you engage in therapy if it’s accessible to you and/or can you expose yourself to positive messages that could be protective for your physical health? Working on this stuff isn't just frilly if-you-have-time-go-ahead stuff. It really could make the difference between suffering and finding some relief.

What this means for clinicians: can we open our minds to learning about acceptance strategies in the work we do with our clients (like ACT) to possibly more effectively help our clients heal holistically? Can we consider the mind, emotions, thoughts, and feelings as a part of the equation when working with the physical body? Can we do our best to consider the context of a person’s whole self as we do our interventions? Can we take time to get to know the people we are helping as whole people?

Dietitians: I’m putting on a webinar on ACT on May 21 at 10am MST. Everyone who signs up will get access to the live recording as well as the presentation after the live webinar. Dietitians can get 1.5 CPEs. Join me! I can’t wait to share what I’ve been learning about with ACT and its power to help us be more effective, compassionate clinicians.


Sebastian Sanchez B, Gil Roales-Nieto J, Ferreira NB, Gil Luciano B, Sebastian Domingo JJ. New psychological therapies for irritable bowel syndrome: mindfulness, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Rev Esp Enferm Dig. 2017;109(9):648-657.


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