By Anya Light
Let’s talk about the foods we put into our mouths and how that relates to healing trauma.
In my own journey of healing PTSD and adrenal fatigue, as well as in my work with traumatized individuals across a variety of therapeutic settings, I have discovered that diet plays an incredibly huge role in how quickly we can recover. Quite simply, diet is one of the key, core elements of healing.
Many of us are familiar with a standard group of recovery modes for healing trauma: talk therapy, energy work, meditation, exercise, hypnotherapy, and somatic practice. Many people do not yet recognize, however, just how powerful diet can be.
In this article, I’ll discuss 3 keys to a trauma recovery diet that promotes swift healing.
Before I proceed, however, here is a quick caveat. I am not a medical doctor. I am not a medical professional. In no way does this article constitute a prescription or official medical advice. Rather, what I am gently suggesting here is simply personal opinion, based upon my own personal experience and research.
Nourish your body with plenty of antioxidant-rich foods.
Antioxidants are natural substances that promote healthy circulation of energy through increased blood flow. Healthy circulation helps the body cleanse itself of toxins as well as reduce out-of-control inflammation.
As you can imagine, getting enough antioxidants is important for every human being… but for PTSD and trauma survivors, antioxidants are especially crucial! Antioxidants help uncoil tension and stuck energy within the body, promoting the peace and relaxation that is so necessary to regaining a sense of safety in the world.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans are rich in antioxidants. Some specific ones that have the highest levels are: blueberries, blackberries, goji berries, pecans, artichokes, elderberries, kidney beans, cranberries, cilantro, basil, and ginger.
Increase your protein intake.
A common symptom of unresolved trauma is a reoccurring sensation of feeling floaty, shaky, dizzy, unbalanced, or ungrounded. Protein helps resolve these symptoms.
The intense experience of trauma forces us to adapt. In response to the trauma, we learn coping mechanisms that allow us to numb or even energetically flee our bodies altogether. In soul healing methods, such as those discussed in the peer-reviewed article “Trauma and Dissociation“, lasting healing happens when there is a reunion between body and spirit.
Increasing your intake of protein will vastly aid in such a reunion. Protein calms the nervous and endocrine systems. On a spiritual/energetic level, protein helps us to connect more solidly with our Mother Earth. Protein helps us come back into our bodies and to feel strong and safe there.
Some foods that are incredibly high in protein are: nuts, seeds, beans, peas, lentils, brown rice, tempe, kefir, mushrooms, and spinach.
The question of whether to eat meat as a protein source is entirely up to your best judgment. Eating meat is your choice and no single rule works for everyone. At certain phases of a person’s healing journey, meat can be beneficial. At other phases, though, it can be destructive. Listen to your body. Eat a bite or two of meat and then observe your body afterwards. Do you feel renewed? Grounded? Calm? Solid? Queasy? Sluggish? Irritated? Angry? Be open to the messages your body is telling you, whether positive or negative.
If you feel that eating meat is a good thing for you at this time in your life, I encourage you to think about what’s easiest for you to digest. Allowing your digestive system the lightest possible amount of “work” frees up more energy that then is available to your body for healing. Typically, red meat and pork are the most difficult for people to digest. Fish is often the easiest type to digest.
Also, if you are going to eat meat, I suggest limiting yourself to eating only “happy meat” is a wonderful choice—meat that comes from grass-fed, free range, organic, humanely-treated animals. As trauma survivors are quite often energetically sensitive souls, it is not advised to consume meat from an animal that has suffered greatly. An animal that has been tortured (what happens in factory farms) will certainly have vibrations of fear, pain, anguish, and terror imprinted into each cell. When a human being then eats the meat from such an animal, they are—quite literally—ingesting those difficult emotions as well.
As we eat increased amounts of protein, in whatever form our bodies are asking for, we connect energetically to the Earth and we re-enter our bodies in a more balanced, grounded way. We have the energy to complete our daily tasks without overwhelm, and we build the functionality of our muscles. We become strong in the world again.
Avoid Toxic, Stressful Foods
It tends to be easier for people to add elements to their diet rather than take them away. The human ego does not like change, and certain foods and drinks are often habitually consumed for reasons other than health—they are consumed as a kind of drug, to bring relief, comfort, and numbing. Thus, please be aware that what I am about to share with you may be triggering to the ego.
When we are healing trauma, it is an absolute necessity that we do everything we can to calm our physical body. To put our body in certain conditions that will promote peace and tranquility. When we are traumatized, our fight-or-flight mechanisms have gone haywire, and our bodies are typically poised at the edge of fear on a consistent basis. Unhealed trauma means an overly-adrenalized endocrine system and an overly-stimulated nervous system.
In trauma recovery, there is a core group of substances that need to be gradually released for a full healing process to occur. In general, the core group of foods to avoid are: processed sugars, processed flours, foods laden with artificial chemicals, foods with pesticides, GMOs, alcohol, and caffeine.
The last two on this list—alcohol and caffeine—are the most toxic, stressful substances of all.
The damaging effects of alcohol
Why is alcohol important to avoid? The ethanol content found within alcohol causes blood pressure and heart rate to increase. This puts the body into a kind of heightened state that negatively impacts the ability to get a good night’s sleep. For traumatized individuals, getting plenty of deep, rejuvenating sleep is utterly crucial to the healing process. Sleep is the time when the body is most able to clear and cleanse the negative effects of trauma.
Let’s not beat around the bush. Alcohol is a poison. True, it may help us temporarily relax, but only through sending toxins to the brain that dull our senses. Even a single alcoholic drink can do considerable damage because it puts strain on our liver and immune system. For traumatized individuals, our systems are already severely strained. Adding alcohol into the mix is only going to delay our full healing.
The damaging effects of caffeine
When I finally gave up caffeine a few years ago (and this included chocolate), my body made a rapid shift. In the short space of a few months, my panic attacks were greatly reduced and my sleep was vastly improved. I found that I was able to have greater concentration, focus, and balance during the day, because now I was free of the roller-coaster of caffeine highs and crashes.
Caffeine triggers a release of adrenaline and cortisol. For those in trauma recovery, this is the last thing we want to do! Instead, soothing caffeine-free herbal teas are what will heal us: chamomile, lavender, bergamot, dandelion, and ginger are some of my favorites.
Contrary to popular belief, caffeine is not a harmless substance. Just like alcohol, caffeine is a poison. It is a toxin. It hurts not only trauma survivors, but everyone. It’s a substance that puts undue stress on the endocrine and nervous systems. It is incredibly difficult for the body to digest. And it also is quite physically and emotionally addictive.
I often talk to my friends, family, and clients about the devastating effects of caffeine. In fact, I often discuss the parallels in mindset between our over-worked, stressed out, highly-caffeinated culture (with a Starbucks on every corner) to our big pharma culture, where we so often turn to quick fixes like pills to “fix” us. Simply put, a cup of coffee, caffeinated tea, or a bar of chocolate appears like a quick, easy fix for feeling sleepy. And yet, the long-term effects on the body are horrendous.
In truth, caffeine does not heal or fix or aid us at all! In fact, when we ingest caffeine, what is truly happening is that the body is being triggered into an artificial fight-or-flight mode. Thus, we are over-stressing our bodies and addicting ourselves to ever-present feelings of unease and anxiety.
I know from personal experience how difficult it is to release caffeine. I remember when I was sitting nervously in the office of my new holistic doctor, back in 2011. I was sipping a latté. After scanning my test results, she announced that I had an endocrine system that was functioning at levels normal for a 70-year old person (I was 30 at the time). She looked at me in the eye, concerned and grave. She said, “If you really want to heal, the first thing you must do is give up caffeine.”
I remember wanting to burst into tears right in her office. Give up caffeine? How in the world would I get through grad school? For the past three years, I had been surviving each day only by drinking two or three lattés from Starbucks. How would I make it through each day? As my mind raced with these questions, the full impact of my addiction became clear. I had, somehow, begun to equate caffeine with having the energy to live.
It was at that moment that a quiet voice came into my mind. The voice said, “Don’t worry. You can do this.”
And I did. Giving up caffeine was one of the best things I ever did for my health.
Dear friends, as you walk this beautiful path to wellness and to a vibrant, peaceful life, please know that you are not alone. There are countless others who walk this path, too. I have walked this path, and now I’m here to tell you that you can do this. You can heal.
As you make choices about what’s most nourishing for your body, remember that the comfortable or easy choice might not always be the best choice. Sometimes making changes can require a certain amount of discipline. However, making changes is a day-by-day, often step-by-tiny-step process. Healing from trauma, PTSD, stress, or chronic fatigue doesn’t just happen overnight. Healing takes time.
Ultimately, when we set the intention to heal our body, mind, and soul from trauma, we choose a life where the most important thing is self-compassion. Through listening for what is the most compassionate choice, then we naturally and organically begin to make better choices that promote our long-term health and vitality.
Through compassion, we listen for the voice that says, “Yes, yes, dear one. You can do this.”