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When I was struggling with interstitial cystitis in my early twenties, I tried everything under the sun to get better. I took at least a million different supplements, tried anything and everything I read on the internet, and went to multiple doctors for many different treatments. I was so afraid I would have interstitial cystitis symptoms forever that I was willing to do anything to heal.

I went on several different magical detox diets that were supposed to cure IC, but to no avail. Finally, I attempted a candida cleanse, as I was convinced I had systemic candida. The reason that sticks out in my memory is not the terribly restrictive and limited diet (I was used to that by then), but the incredibly disgusting digestive experiences I endured while on the “cleanse.” I am putting “cleanse” in quotation marks, because I am now highly suspicious and skeptical whenever I see that word. I did not feel any better after that dubious cleanse, and in fact ended up with vulvodynia, a whole new pain syndrome, while still on it.

Eventually, I wised up, having read about Tension Myositis Syndrome/Mind Body Syndrome in Dr. John Sarno’s The Mindbody Prescription. I realized that my symptoms had nothing to do with my diet, supposed “toxins” in my body, or any other such theory. After applying the mind-body tools from Sarno and other resources to my own life, I was able to free myself from symptoms and horrible detox diets. I could eat any food and felt fine. I learned to turn inward and ask myself what I was feeling emotionally, not suppress emotions, and to see obsession around symptoms or food as the mind’s way of avoiding emotions.

What was going on in my mind when I went on those diets was not rational, aware, or even sane. I was frozen with fear, caught in the trap made by my own mind. As soon as I read anywhere that a certain food caused symptoms, pain, or was “toxic,” my mind made that true. If I ate a certain food before or during pain, I assumed it was the cause and cut it out of my diet. I was terrified all the time, madly creating a smaller and smaller box in which I could live.

In truth, I wasn’t on the IC Diet, the Candida Diet, or the many other this-or-that diets. (You name it, I tried it.) I was on the Fear Diet. I was afraid, and hoping that food would be the magic bullet answer. Focusing on the food became an easy obsession, which took me even further away from any awareness of my internal world, my emotions, and my thoughts. Not only that, but the fear kept my nervous system on high-alert all the time. I lived in a perpetual fight-or-flight response, which had a much more damaging effect on the body than, say, eating one donut.

The brilliance of John Sarno’s work saved me from myself.

I was able to see that not only was my pain syndrome a giant distraction from my inner emotional world, but my food fear was as well.

I discovered that Hebb’s Law, which states that what fires together wires together in the brain, was the reason so many foods seemed to cause symptoms. In other words, if I ate a certain food and pain was present, my brain connected the two experiences as though one caused the other. Once I practiced eating foods while telling myself they did not cause symptoms, I was able to eat those foods and be symptom-free. This makes sense, as I had basically told myself they caused symptoms in the first place. The power of the mind is truly amazing.

I now believe that TMS or Mind Body Syndrome (the two descriptors are used interchangeably) can manifest not just as pain or symptoms in the body, but as detox diet obsession. Whether a person’s desire is weight loss or health, the siren song of the detox (or any other) diet is sung loudly across the internet and hard to ignore. The mind is almost always much more willing to believe in a magical diet that gets rid of pesky “toxins” or hidden allergies, no matter how hard to apply and follow, than an emotional awareness healing process.

If you’re in the midst of a Mind Body Syndrome, you don’t have to stop your detox diet cold turkey. You can, however, slowly return to a balanced way of eating and release symptoms as well.  Pick one food at a time to work with, and add it back into your diet. Before, during, and after eating it, remind yourself that it does not cause symptoms. No matter what happens with your symptoms, keep repeating that to yourself. Your mind simply has an association between that food and your symptom. Over time (usually not too long!) you will be free of that association and eating that food will no longer seem to cause symptoms to occur. Using this technique, along with allowing yourself to feel emotions instead of suppressing them, you’ll return to health and food freedom. When you make a food choice, let it be from inner wisdom and delight, not fear.

When I look back on those years of restrictive eating, I am amazed by the sheer number of different diet plans I tried. All of them were endorsed by well-meaning people who want to help others, but I find it extremely hard to believe that cutting out food groups is really healthy or “detoxifying.” I realize that what I’m saying flies in the face of much of what is currently trending in the nutrition world. I’m pretty delighted to be free from all of those trending beliefs and happily enjoy my well-being.

Nowadays, I enjoy regular old gluten bread, food with sugar in it, fruit of all kinds, grains of all kinds, legumes of all kinds, dairy, vegetables, and meats. I look for organic whenever I can, but that is the only thing I pay attention to regarding food labels. I eat a balanced mix of foods, and I don’t label any food as “good” or “bad.” Instead, I ask my body what it truly wants to eat. Sometimes, sneaky food rules will appear in my head, and I’ll have to spend time reminding myself that just because someone says one food is bad doesn’t mean it’s true.

The only source of food wisdom I really need is my own body.

I feel healthy, am physically active, and don’t have pain or symptoms. After being on all those crazy diets and seeing no improvements, I’m sold on the mind-body healing process. Food freedom and health make a pretty amazing combination. I’ll take it!

P.S. If you want more help learning how Hebb’s Law works and how you can be free of so-called pain or symptom triggers, join me for this month’s Kindness Community class! As a Kindness Community member, you’ll get to join the live class around dealing with pain/symptoms (it’s today!) and have access to the class recording if you can’t make the class live.