Ep. 274 Toxic Food Culture: How Our Food Choices Impact Our Health

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I am honored to reconnect with Dr. Will Cole today! The last time we connected was in 2021, on Episode 138. 

Dr. Cole is a leading functional medicine expert who specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach. He is the author of many books, including The New York Times bestseller Intuitive Fasting and most recently, Gut Feelings, a book I think everyone will benefit from reading. 

Today, Dr. Cole and I dive into the impetus for his latest book and discuss the toxic food culture, mixed messages, the psychology of food, finding peace with food, and how to reduce our toxic tribalism. We also talk about inflammatory foods and their impact on our gut microbiome, the role of the vagus nerve, how chronic stress is the ultimate junk food for the body, the effects of adverse childhood events and trauma, and what shame-flammation is.

“Just as much as it is about what we are feeding our bodies with breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it’s what are we feeding our head and our heart.”

– Dr. Will Cole


  • Dr. Cole discusses his latest book, Gut Feelings.
  • The role of mixed messages.
  • What is most important in the wellness world?
  • Types of foods that do not serve the best needs of our bodies.
  • Is it the grain? Or is it what we have done to it?
  • What are we feeding our bodies, and what are we eating in our hearts?
  • How to differentiate between poor vagal tone and dysautonomia.
  • Stress and how it impacts our biochemistry.
  • How stress is implicated in many health problems.
  • Re-negotiating your relationship with life.
  • The role of trauma in weight loss.
  • How shame can be the basis of many physical and emotional health issues.

Bio- Dr. Will Cole:

Dr. Will Cole is a leading functional medicine expert who specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and more. He is the host of The Art of Being Well podcast and author of Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, New York Times bestseller Intuitive Fasting, and now, Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.

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Get a copy of Dr. Will Cole’s new book, Gut Feelings

Ep. 138 – Our Authentic Intuition: What It Can Teach Us About Fasting with Dr. Will Cole


Cynthia Thurlow: Welcome to Everyday Wellness podcast. I’m your host, Nurse Practitioner Cynthia Thurlow. This podcast is designed to educate, empower, and inspire you to achieve your health and wellness goals. My goal and intent is to provide you with the best content and conversations from leaders in the health and wellness industry each week and impact over a million lives.

Today, I had the honor of reconnecting with Dr. Will Cole. We last connected in 2021 on Episode 138. He is a leading functional medicine expert, who specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach. He is the author of many books, including the New York Times bestseller, Intuitive Fasting, and most recently, Gut Feelings. And of all the books that I read on the podcast, and I’m completely transparent about this, this is one of those books that I think is accessible for everyone and one that everyone would garner great benefit from.

Today, we dove deep into the impetus for this book. We spoke at length about the toxic food culture, the role of mixed messages and the psychology of food, finding food peace, reducing our toxic tribalism, the impact of inflammatory foods and their impact on our gut microbiome, the role of the vagus nerve, how chronic stress is the ultimate junk food for the body, the role of adverse childhood events and trauma, and lastly, what is shameflammation? I hope you will enjoy this conversation as much as I did recording it.

Welcome, Dr. Cole. It’s a pleasure to have you back again.

Will Cole: My goodness, thank you so much for having me. It’s always great to catch up.

Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah. We were talking before we started recording about how this book is unique and special to you. I was saying that I’ve read all of your books, but this book, to me, really spoke to a lot that’s not being addressed in the health and wellness space. And you do it in such a way that it’s really accessible and beautiful. But what was the impetus? At a certain point in your career and you feel like all these pieces are starting to make sense. You have individuals that are probably engaging in protocols, and maybe they’re not seeing the results that you want to see for them or they want to see, and you’re realizing there are things we’re not aligning or understanding fully about the human body, and our connection between our brain and our emotions and physiologically, what’s going on.

Will Cole: Yeah. The book is, as with all the books previously, it’s born out of countless conversations that I have with our telehealth patients. That’s still my main focus. My day job is really looking at labs, looking at patient’s cases, the complexities of things, and what influences someone’s biochemistry. There’s both a physiological component to it. Meaning, it’ll impact things like inflammation, and nervous system issues, and endocrine issues. But there’s also a psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual component to those variables impacting someone’s physiology. What I’m talking about in gut feelings are always part of conversations I have with our patients. It’s just a matter of when was I going to have this conversation in book form.

When you’re writing a book, can the publishers see what you’re talking about? Can they envision this issue? Luckily Penguin Random House, goop Press, and Rodale, all my publishers really saw it. It’s needed, because we live in such an age where there’s so much great information out there, and I’m such an advocate for the democratization of health information, in many ways, the decentralization of health information, where people don’t have the gatekeepers that once were, when it comes to long-form conversations, podcast articles, reading PubMed for themselves, going and reading the research for themselves, that never happened before. You’d have to really go and seek it out.

With the internet and the way that we are now, I think people are informed now more than ever in many ways, and empowered. But it’s also this double-edged sword. There’s a lot of conflicting information online, and it could be hard to know. It’s not necessarily, “misinformation.” But is that information that’s relevant for your life? Is it something that you need to pick up and actually do? I wanted to have these complex conversations of really teaching people the path of learning what’s right for your body and be your own end of one experiment. You can learn and listen about other people’s paths and honor what’s their path, but it’s not necessarily what you need to be doing. Talking about the gut and the feelings, the physiological and the psychological, and how things like chronic stress and unresolved trauma and shame, how these things impact our biochemistry, because it is something that I see play out in people’s lives all too often.

Cynthia Thurlow: Well, and I think it’s so needed in this space. You speak quite a bit in the book about the role of bio-individuality, which I’m completely aligned with and we talk a lot about on this podcast. You also talk about the toxic food culture. So, well-meaning individuals are putting content out into the space– I want to say, it could start at home, it could start with our interrelationships with our family and our loved ones that can erode into this degree of shame and feeling guilty. You speak to this, the role of mixed messages. So, let’s really start the conversation there, because I think you do such a nice job of addressing the big elephant in the room. A lot of people see these things, but they’re not talking about it enough. I think the more ability we have to open the discussion, so that we’re talking about these things, it will help and alleviate a lot of the pressure that individuals are feeling as they’re on their own journey.

Will Cole: Yeah, it’s something that I really wanted to tackle in the book. I realize that these are big topics and really deserve their own book. But is the book really talking about the psychology of foods and choices that people make? The complexities of the food reasons why people make the food choices they make and anything within wellness, right? Really the past that I teach in the book is this third way, this path of food peace, which is a both end path, because with so much spheres in our culture, this sort of reductive toxic tribalism where it’s us versus them, it’s the other–

I think that a lot of nuance and context is lost when you have that approach. That happens on a governmental standpoint. it happens certainly internationally, and it also can happen in the wellness space, which you think, “Okay, we’re talking about food and nutrition. How could it happen?” Actually, I’ve heard it said years ago, “It’s easier to change someone’s religion than the foods that they eat.” I find that to be the case now more than ever, because people are so entrenched in their ideology, and it could become almost religious for some people. The religions of toxic diet culture, which we can call it that, and then the different spheres of that, whether it’s veganism, or carnivore, or paleo, or high carb, or low carb, or keto, or fasted, or not fasted, all of that stuff. Then I will say, equally toxic anti-diet culture, which is really a part of diet culture really, because they’re in the food wars just as much as any of the vegans and the carnivores. They’re all fighting each other. One side is about eat less, work out more. It’s about following a strict food ideology. It’s all about the rules and dogma.

Then the other side is this anti-diet culture phenomenon is the polar opposite in some ways, but exactly the same in other ways, because it still follows our ideology. If you talk about any food changes, it’s automatically labeled as toxic diet culture. Honestly, some of the, I would say, the vocal ones on social media, some of the most intolerant bullying people on social media, and exactly what they hate in other people as they become this sort of malignant force on social media, where a lot of them are these RDs and they are really intolerant of any viewpoint other than their own. I think that the reality is there are some foods that don’t love humans back, just because if we talk about foods that raise blood sugar or impact digestion negatively, increase fatigue that we know from research, it will contribute to that. Certainly, I can tell you clinically there are some foods that don’t love people back. And avoiding those foods isn’t restrictive. It’s not toxic diet culture. It’s self-respect. So, it’s really a conversation that I wanted to have for both sides of these polar opposite worlds and saying, “Can there be grace? Can there be a lightness? Can there be a complexity? Can there be a spectrum of what where we can have.”

We can realize this path of food peace, where we avoiding foods that don’t love us back isn’t restrictive, it’s self-respect. And continuing to eat foods that don’t love us back is like staying in a toxic relationship and wondering why you’re still miserable. People cling to this. It sounds so good. It sounds so noble of, there’s no such thing as bad food, and body positivity, and all this stuff. It sounds really noble, because we, of course, want to be positive about our bodies. But the truth is, accepting and loving yourself with where you’re at now, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re accepting where you’re at right now. It’s okay to level up, and evolve, and pivot, and find out what loves you back.

So, in many ways, this conversation that I’m having in the book is about healthy boundaries, which people love to have that conversation, but not about food. I feel like if we really come from a place of self-respect, then you really have to realize, there are some foods that don’t love us back. But that doesn’t make you a bad person if you choose to eat that food. It’s not a moral failure, but it is an awareness tool that I want people to have. I don’t know, if it answers your question, but these are things that I think need to be talked about and have a nuanced middle-ground conversation around this where we can acknowledge some foods don’t love us back, but also operating from a place of self-respect.

Cynthia Thurlow: Well, I think it’s a very important conversation. One that we probably haven’t spoken about enough on this podcast about understanding that this kind of rigid dogmatism that we’re seeing in this space can be hugely problematic. I have people, much like I’m sure you and your team are fielding questions almost every day, emails, DMs on social media, people are feeling less than because they ate birthday cake, or they feel less than because they didn’t fast 18 hours out of the day, or they had more than one meal. As I try to explain to my team, I think that we get to a point where we’ve lost focus on what is most important. There’s one quote in this section of the book that I want to read, because it really resonated. “We should not normalize restriction or dieting for the sake of dieting, but neither should we normalize foods that sabotage our physical and mental health.” I think this is such an important distinction to make. What we are advocating for is that you are making choices based on what is best for you, even if your partner, your significant other, your best friend, your mother lives very differently. I think that these kinds of conversations are very powerful and much needed.

Will Cole: I completely agree, and thank you for that. I think that within the wellness world, and specifically, there’s so many of us within the wellness world that realize this nuance, realizes context, and it’s just lost on social media. It’s black or white. So, we lose all of that. It’s so clickbaity. I could think of anything. So many things within wellness. I could think of people that use it for good, that need to use it. They’re doing it in a right way for them, but it needs to be applicable to everyone under the sun. I think people on social media, I think that don’t look at labs for a living, that don’t really immerse themselves in this nuanced context can get they’re almost afraid of the fact that somebody’s path may look different than them.
And that if we’re not making blanket statements saying, everybody has to do this, because if they read anything that I’ve written, I’ve always talked about bio-individuality. Always finding out what works for your body. You can read something or hear something and you don’t have to do all the things. I think that’s where really we need to be empowered as consumers to see what can I pick up from this information and what do I sit down and say, it’s not for me.

I think we don’t give people enough credit. Maybe we have weakened ourselves as a culture where we have to consume everything and take it as gospel. But it may be somebody else’s gospel, but maybe for you, it’s not something you need right now. I think that this is like a lost art of informed consent and a lost art of being empowered as consumers that I think– I don’t know how we get back to it, but hopefully, in my small way, the book really shows people. They don’t have to be afraid about information that may not be right for them. It can actually make them sharper and learn about something different.

Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, and it’s the power of the N of 1. It’s a degree of experimentation. For example, maybe someone tries carnivore after being hospitalized. I’m talking about myself, because that helped me heal, but I don’t do carnivore the rest of the time. I did it for nine months, and that was what was necessary. But then I go back to eating vegetables and I go back to eating fruit, because that’s what makes my body feel good. I’m metabolically healthy and I can actually do really well with that. You mentioned alluded to some of these foods that do not serve us well. From the research, what are the types of foods that you have found through working with thousands and thousands of patients that do not serve the best needs of our bodies? There are some very specific ones. I don’t think these are any surprise to anyone, but I think it goes without saying, when we talk about the role of inflammatory foods, when we talk about the net impact on our brain, our gut, the gut microbiome, our overall health. There are several foods that you talk about in the book that are things that we should really limit and or avoid as much as possible.

Will Cole: Yeah. There’s a lot of bio-individuality, even with these foods, because we know people that can have some levels of these and be fine. Their body can handle some stress, some resilience, and that cliched 80-20 rule can apply for many people. Most of the people that I deal with autoimmune conditions clinically can’t necessarily, in the throes of a flare-up, follow the 80-20 rule. So, again, nuance and context is even applicable here that it depends on who’s hearing this information and how it’s applied in their life. There’s always better for you versions of these things, you’re almost always, right? So, what I would call the Core Four Plus One [chuckles] it doesn’t rhyme, but the five things that are either ingredients or things to look out for that don’t love most humans back in varying degrees, to varying degrees, and in varying amounts of consumption.

Let’s say, start with sugar. I think that looking at sugar and its impact in our culture, specifically the processed, refined sugar in absence of fiber is going to be impacting human physiology in a really negative way to varying degrees. So, I would just really what I’m empowering the reader to do in gut feelings is just to be mindful and do a sugar audit for yourself and see how much grams of added sugar you’re consuming in a day. Even the nicer sounding euphemisms for sugar, when you look at things like agave nectar, it sounds so natural. You’re squeezing this agave in this little cup and you’re just sipping it from the garden. The reality is still high in fructose. The average American consumes too much processed sugar, too much fructose specifically, which can impact insulin resistance, it can impact blood sugar. When you’re looking at the statistics, the vast majority of the human race is insulin resistant. That’s not normal. That’s just common. There’s a difference. It is largely driven by the foods that we eat. So, we have to have a conversation about the foods that we eat when the majority of what’s killing the human race is lifestyle driven. It’s actually an act of love. To be an advocate for someone you care for and saying, “This is hurting you, and let’s have a conversation about this.”

So, look at the grams of added sugar and not to say, you have to avoid at all costs. But just be mindful of the amount that you’re consuming. For your own bio-individuality, look at decreasing that if you’re consuming that too much of something that doesn’t love you back. So, that’s number one. Number two would be gluten-containing grains. Some people have mild reactions, some people have severe reactions. There’s a spectrum there of people that have responses. But is it the grain or is it what we’ve done to it or is it a bit of both? I think it’s probably a bit of both. I think it’s the hybridization, I think it’s what we’re spraying on this grain supply, and it’s the preparation of it. It’s not like fermented sourdough, it’s not necessarily organic, it’s not soaked and sprouted. People are overconsuming and feasting off of a famine food that’s stored well throughout human history, but now we’re consuming it at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s an evolutionary mismatch when it comes to our relationship with grains, I think for most people. And some people, again, the better-for-you versions are out there. Sourdough will break that gluten protein down. It makes it more digestible. Ancient grains are less hybridized. They are organic and not being sprayed with these things. There are better for your versions. But I think we need to look at all the variables for the individual.

Third would be industrial seed oils. Things like canola oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil. Most people that listen to your podcast, I’m sure are aware of this. My position on this is a bit more nuanced too in the sense of, I don’t necessarily think they’re by themselves the worst things in the world, but they are overconsumed. The ratios of omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9, these polyunsaturated fatty acids are just disproportionate. There’s an evolutionary epigenetic genetic mismatch there too, because Americans aren’t having enough long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and too much of the omega-6. So, it’s a pro-inflammatory state when there’s a disruption of these omega fats. If someone’s going to have low levels of these industrial seed oils that are in packaged foods, box foods, something into the world for the average person, but look at the overconsumption of them and look at your underconsumption of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in their whole food form. From an environmental standpoint, these things are not good at all. What’s bad for the planet is bad for us. I think we do need to have a conversation about that as far as the mono-AG growing of things like rape seed, and corn, and soy, and things like that.

Then the next would be dairy. Many people have dairy reactions. It is what we’ve done to the cow. Maybe it’s the cross-breeding of cows. It’s beta A1 casein where there is an ancestral evolutionary mismatch there, where we’re overconsuming a dairy protein casein that our ancestors would not have consumed. So, I take that position on most of those foods. When you see it through the lens of ancestral health perspective– There are better for your versions for that. Organic grass-fed, fermented dairy similarly to grains, it will make it more digestible. The A2 milk will make it more digestible. Even when you get the best version, there are some people that still have sensitivities to it. These exist on a spectrum. The plus one is alcohol. It’s not a food, even though maybe some people treat it as such. It’s a neurotoxin. There’s no way around it and there’s no healthy amount of alcohol. I think that’s another source. So, those are the foods or ingredients of foods or drinks that don’t love the human race back to varying degrees.

Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, I think it’s important, and I love that you are encouraging people to understand that small amounts of these foods may be tolerated. Obviously, if you are metabolically healthy, insulin sensitive, you probably have more wiggle room in terms of consumption, even if it’s occasional. But if the average American right now is not metabolically healthy, you really have to examine your relationship with these foods. I love that you touched on the alcohol piece, because that has started to become a conversation that we’re having more and more on this podcast just to bring awareness. I would say, there’s no judgment if you choose to drink alcohol or you’re choosing to consume dairy, but definitely understanding the interrelationship, the net impact not just on you emotionally, but also on the role of the gut microbiome. Maybe this is the time to pivot and really talk about– At the beginning of the book, you’re really emphasizing this gut-brain connection, and helping people understand that the foods that we eat do impact our neurotransmitters, they impact our mood. There’s so much more to it than just looking at food as fuel.

Will Cole: Yeah. The book is just as much as about what we’re feeding our bodies with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s what are we feeding our head and our heart, what are we really nourishing our soul, and what’s the space in which we eat the meal. Clinically, I deal a lot with people that do have food reactions, do have autoimmune issues, do have digestive problems, do have complex health issues that food is a variable. But the space in which they eat that meal, the mindset, and heart set in which they eat that meal will produce a completely different result. If they’re coming into it from a place of fear, and shame, and obsession, and dread, that’s going to produce a completely different outcome than if someone’s eating in more of a parasympathetic nervous system-regulated state, so the gut and the feelings, the physical and the mental, emotional, spiritual.

For every gut tool, for every physical, clinical nutrition tool that I talk about in the book, there’s a feelings tool. Where we’re really looking at the mindset and heart set around life and our relationship with our body, our relationship with food, our relationship with life itself, because it will impact our physiology just as much as the next meal. I even call these feeling things metaphysical meals, like, how is it impacting our biochemistry. So, it’s profoundly important, but it’s very nebulous in the sense of it’s more prescriptive and blacker and white for me to say, these foods have been shown to do X, Y, and Z, and build a protocol around that. We do that. For patients, we obviously do that in the book too. But it’s a lot more of complex and nonlinear when you’re looking at things like feelings. You can’t tell somebody to just not stress right then stressing about not stressing or don’t have fear around that food that caused a flare-up before. That’s a big healing process of healing not only their body, but then healing their relationship with food. Because when you’re talking about autoimmunity and food is a variable, or when you’re talking about digestive problems or metabolic issues where food is a variable for many people, how do you not want to have that trauma that you had around that food, if that food caused a flare-up or something like this.

Those are the people that I wrote gut feelings for to really look at– because many people within wellness can start with the best of intentions, but really lose their way and then they end up fearing all these foods. I meet them via telehealth, and they’re eating three different foods, and they have so much stress and anxiety and orthorexia which is disordered eating around healthy foods around all the rest of them. We have to know, okay, what came first, the chicken or the egg? Because it’s, oftentimes, a bit of both, because the stress and anxiety will end up whittling that list of “foods” that love them back will be shorter and shorter and shorter and shorter. So, you have to really not only heal their body, and improve immune system resilience, gastrointestinal health, gut health, etc., but you also have to heal their relationship with food. Their nervous system is not so hyper-vigilant where it’s really the stress and anxiety that’s creating the reactions, not the food itself.

Cynthia Thurlow: It’s such a good point. For the benefit of listeners who may not be as familiarized with the autonomic nervous system and looking at the sympathetic versus the parasympathetic and the enteric nervous system, can we just briefly address–? So, when you’re talking about people that are hyper-vigilant stressed, that’s when they’re sympathetic dominant, but understanding that our bodies are really designed to be optimized in the parasympathetic where we can rest, and digest, and secrete adequate amounts of bile and break down and detoxify. Maybe explaining that a little bit in terms of context will help many listeners, because on almost a daily basis, again, as I’m sure it is for you as well, we get questions from people saying, “I did a histamine diet or I did this kind of diet, and I’m still having symptoms.” To your point, so much anxiety, so much shame, so much distress around food which should really be something that we savor and enjoy.

Will Cole: Yeah, again, what are we feeding our head and our heart, that’s influencing our physiology. I think the important ingredient to the outcome of how that meal made you feel. When you’re talking about the nervous system, there’s two main branches that sympathetic, parasympathetic. It’s like a seesaw in some ways. You can think of it like that. The sympathetic, everybody has heard the phrase fight or flight or flee. It’s that more stress response, but it’s needed. It’s not inherently bad. It’s needed to protect us. It’s needed when we are in a state of threat or danger, we need these mechanisms to be in play, sort of the neuroendocrine aspect of our body, the interconnection between the nervous system and our hormonal endocrine system. We could say a neuro immune endocrine system access, the way the impact of inflammation even is not inherently bad. It’s just this crosstalk between the nervous system, the immune system, and the endocrine system that’s there for our survival.

The parasympathetic is the other branch of that. It’s the resting digesting hormone, balanced hormone regulated state where we need that to be operating appropriately as well. Problem is imbalance in some ways. When we say, a nervous system that’s dysregulated, what we’re actually talking about– For most people, it’s a hypervigilant sympathetic response that fight or flight flee is overactive in tonality and underactive is parasympathetic, that resting digesting hormone balance is under active or more specifically oftentimes what we’re talking about is poor vagal tone. The vagus nerve is the largest cranial nerve in the body, and it’s connecting the gut and the brain in many ways. The gut’s, the second brain people have heard of that. The gut and brain are formed from the same fetal tissue, 95% of serotonin, our happy neurotransmitter is made in the gut. 50% of dopamine, our pleasure neurotransmitter is made in the gut. These don’t pass through the blood-brain barrier, but what they seem to do is improve or support GI motility, GI movement which works upon that vagus nerve, which is really innovating that resting digesting state.

A lot of people, to varying degrees in our culture today, have poor or weak vagal tone, which their sympathetic is overactive, they’re parasympathetic, resting, digesting is underactive. So, they’re dealing with things like different inflammatory problems, different mental health issues like anxiety and depression, chronic fatigue syndrome or just somewhere on that fatigue spectrum. They’re in a hyper-vigilant state. They’re anxious and exhausted, wired and tired. That’s, sadly, the majority of the human race. So, that’s the mechanism of action. That’s what’s going on here. Where we need to help modulating the immune system and the nervous system in a positive way, which really is what gut feelings is all about.

Cynthia Thurlow: How does this differentiate between low vagal tone and dysautonomia, which I know is starting to become a terminology that more people are familiarized with? When you’re trying to differentiate between poor vagal tone, sympathetic dominance, and dysautonomia, how do these differentiate?

Will Cole: Yeah, so, I talk about dysautonomia in the book. It’s something that we see clinically, but it’s just one end of a larger spectrum. Dysautonomia is the diagnosable labeled term in conventional medicine, which certainly, it is problematic and it is a growing problem, because we’re dealing with these variables that I’m talking about. When the nervous system is stuck in a hypervigilant state all the time and they have things like panic attacks, heart palpitations, they’re never able to calm down, and the nervous system is really dysregulated to a very extreme level. But I would say that it exists on a spectrum just like a lot of health issues.

There’s a lot of nervous system dysregulation spectrum issues, where they would not be going and being officially labeled as dysautonomia, but they’re having a lot of the symptoms. If you run labs, you’re going to see a lot of these issues. You’re going to see cortisol dysregulation going on, you’re going to see estrogen, progesterone, testosterone levels being impacted by this neuro immune endocrine issue, you’re going to see higher inflammation issues, blood sugar issues, and a lot of symptoms that are associated with this dysregulated nervous system phenomenon that we’re facing, because of backing up just a little bit. We keep talking about with food. It’s this epigenetic, genetic mismatch. The majority of our genetics haven’t changed in 10,000 plus years. But the way that we’re doing life is very different and has changed very much. Our genes are living in this brave new world, which we’re paying the price of it, and how we feel in our health from a human health standpoint.

Cynthia Thurlow: Right. I think that it really brings up a good point that you can exist on this spectrum. Certainly, in cardiology, we saw the worst manifestation of dysautonomia. We saw POTS, so this postural orthostatic hypotension, which was extreme. And so, as I’ve relearned in the functional medicine space more about dysautonomia, it can be very mild. It might be people who need more electrolytes. They may have some degree of hypermobile joints and not even realize that they have this hyper vigilant sympathetic system. So, in the book, you discuss the role of chronic stress. This is a nice segue into that conversation, how chronic stress is actually the ultimate junk food for the body. Can you explain this a little bit more because this section in the book to me was really just made so much sense? As I stated to you before, putting all these pieces together that I don’t see a lot of other individuals putting together is going to have such a huge impact on listeners and followers as well.

Will Cole: Thank you. Yeah, it’s a lot to unpack. When you’re talking about stress and its impact on our biochemistry, you have to give people tools that are actually realistic, that are sustainable, but you also have to educate people on the cause of what stress actually doing. Because people inherently know it’s not good for them. But many people will normalize it for themselves. If you ask them to rate their stress 0 out of 10, they’ll say like a 3 or 5, something like moderately high, but it’s really an 8 out of 10. It’s so relative and subjective compared to some people, just because it’s common. They normalize it for them. Just because something’s common for many of these issues, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s normal. Just because something’s your every day, just because you’re used to that go, go, go, hustle culture, and burnout as a badge of honor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s actually normal at all.

When you look at the statistics, the majority of reasons why people go to their doctor, for health complaints. The majority of health problems that are really impacting our society. When you’re looking at type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, autoimmune issues. Stress is implicated in pretty much everything. When you’re looking at it as being a variable into either the exacerbation of symptoms, the triggering of symptoms, the formation of the dysfunction. So, it’s very important ingredient. People, sometimes, within wellness are so fixated on the food part and the exercise part. They’re not fixated on where they’re not focused or aware of the impact of that their daily low grade or high grade chronic stress is impacting how it’s impacting their levels, how it’s impacting their blood sugar, how it’s impacting cortisol levels, how is it impacting inflammation levels, how’s it impacting their nervous system. So, yeah, it’s important. But then it’s how do we renegotiate our relationship with our life.

I really talk about something that Eckhart Tolle talks about of, “In a given situation, can we change, leave, or accept?” We have to pick one. Do we have to change the situation? Do we have to accept it or leave it? Whether it’s a job, or a relationship, or a habit, or something that’s not loving you back in your life, we have to have this come to Jesus’s moment where we realize what are we doing. I see people that have to make that decision for a relationship with patients. Our patients have to make their relationships or relationships in their lives and either change, leave, or accept it. A job change, leave, or accept it. These are things that are causing them stress, and they have to either be in radical acceptance because they cannot change or leave it, or in some cases, they have to change or leave it. These are important modulators of our biochemistry.

Cynthia Thurlow: We’re looking at the role, and I love again that you put a lens on the role of trauma. In the past year, I’ve had Gabby Bernstein and I’ve had Gabor Maté talking about the role of trauma, and certainly, that has opened up my eyes of the net impact. So, even starting in our adverse childhood events and the net impact on not just autoimmunity, but also these scars that can weave their way into our entire landscape of our lives, but also the role of also weight loss resistance. So, let’s at least spend some time talking about trauma, because I do think this is so significant to the point that it is now weaving itself into conversations I’m having fairly, regularly on the podcast, because we’re bringing to greater light. I trained in the inner city, and we used to think of trauma as being big T trauma. And yet, we recognize now that trauma can be little t trauma and that can be as significant, if not more so.

Will Cole: Yeah, and I think you’re right. People will oftentimes compare themselves to bigger T traumas. That’s even relative. It’s what’s your own bio individual response to that experience. Comparing yourself to other people is no way. It’s really gaslighting yourself. “Well, it’s not that bad. I didn’t go through a genocide. I didn’t go through a holocaust. So, it’s therefore not that bad.” Or, “I know someone worse off such and such, so and so. My friend went through a lot worse than me.” So, they will have these sorts of gaslighting conversations with themselves and somehow think that’s not a piece to their puzzle. That’s what it is for many people. It’s a piece of the puzzle. It’s not necessarily the only piece of the puzzle. For some people, it is a significant piece of the puzzle, but something that we should at least be curious enough to explore, what is a variable that that my experiences over my life, whether it’d be current chronic stress or past trauma, unresolved trauma, how is it impacting my biochemistry today. You mentioned the ACE score, the adverse childhood experiences. We have every telehealth patient fill that questionnaire out when we’re first meeting them.

We’re talking about really intimate things like, was their physical abuse growing up? Was there sexual abuse growing up? Was there neglect? Was there substance abuse growing up? The higher the ACE score we know from research, it is associated with increased levels of autoimmune issues, things like anxiety, depression, fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia issues. Two, you mentioned hormonal issues like, weight loss resistance. Yes, even that, metabolic issues are associated with these higher ACE scores. This is a piece to the puzzle for many people. We have to realize that, yes, we look at the higher ACE scores as being more obvious, but I see people not even that relatively that high of ACE scores, but it’s still a significant piece of the puzzle for them. Meaning, their response to that experience was a bigger piece of the puzzle for them. It’s so relative and so bio individual when you look at this. In short, our body is a cellular library. And our thoughts, our words, our experiences are the books that fill up that library and it’s cumulative over time. What’s that tipping point? What’s the straw that broke the camel’s back?

For many people, it’s maybe something in their current chronic stress, maybe it’s a job or caring for an ailing parent or maybe it’s a virus or gut issue that triggered it. But the trauma was there in their body that decreased their body’s resilience. So, when something was the tipping point, it set it over the edge. People have to realize that oftentimes that precipitating thing– If there is a precipitating thing, that trigger is not the only thing within the bucket. The bucket’s been accumulating stuff over the course of their lifetime and experiences– Unresolved trauma is a factor when you’re looking at that bucket. We all have different bucket sizes too, and that’s bio-individuality. Some people have big buckets, some people have a lot of resilience and a lot of tolerance for stressors, either physiological stressors, environmental toxins, gut issues, nutrient deficiencies, these types of thoughts or psychological variables like stress and trauma, etc. We can’t change our bucket size, but we can change what we put in it and start to empty that bucket over the course of our healing journey, our nonlinear healing journey. Both sides, both the gut and the feelings are both important parts for many people’s journey.

Cynthia Thurlow: I think it’s really important that listeners, if you’re already connected with a functional integrative medicine provider, even an allopathic trained provider that is looking beyond the traditional root cause versus symptomatology focus, understanding that if you’re not getting the results you’re looking for, what you anticipate that there may be a significant emotional spiritual component that is impeding, getting the results that you’re looking for. Now, there was another term in the book, which was new for me, that I think listeners would enjoy learning more about. You talk about shameflammation. So, we’ve talked about foods that create inflammation in the body that can contribute to a variety of different types of health issues. But the concept of shame, and I know Brené Brown work is pivotal in this area. She calls shame is lethal and I would agree with that. Certainly, if we’re talking energetically, shame is much lower on this energetic spectrum than another more positive feelings that we can experience. But let’s talk a little bit about how shame can be at the basis for many health issues, as well as emotional health issues that people are experiencing.

Will Cole: Yeah. So, shameflammation, it’s my made up word on this mind-body phenomenon. It is how does something like shame, which I talk about Brené book and her research, and what she says about shame, and other researchers, what are they saying of how something like shame can influence our physiology? But then what’s causing the shame. Oftentimes, for many people, it’s unresolved trauma or chronic stress. Chronic stress is one that, if people are stressed out, they’re not present with their loved ones or snapping and snippy, because they’re stressed out, they aren’t spending quality time with the ones that they love because they’re stressed, they’re on their phones a lot, they’re looking to distract and numb themselves. There’s a lot of shame around that. And foods. Eating foods that don’t love them back, because they’re stress eating. So, there’s a lot of shameflammation when it comes to chronic stress just as much in many ways as the unresolved trauma part.

People live in varying degrees with living with this shameflammation of this emotional food that they’re feeding themselves that’s impacting things like inflammation. It’s impacting that neuro immune endocrine system that we talked about earlier. It’s these practices, these acts of stillness, these feeling tools that I talk about within the protocol of the book that are really meant to metabolize stored shame, to metabolize stored trauma, to metabolize stored stress in their body. So, their neuro immune endocrine system can be properly functioning, can be in a regulated state. That can look different for different for people. Specifically with self-compassion, I think has some compelling evidence that I talk about in the book and weave it throughout the protocol there. So, people can really start to learn this sort of grace and lightness for wellness and heal their relationship with their body and heal their relationship with food.

I talk about the one study that participants had to do public, speaking of math, these stressful events, that could be a lot of shame around inadequacy and embarrassment and they had higher interleukin six levels. But the people that practiced the most self-compassion, which is the antidote to shame, had the lowest inflammation levels. I think that’s just one small example within the scientific literature to show the power that’s of something as simple, but powerful as self-compassion. How does that influence our physiology? Most of the feeling tools that I talk about in the book are completely free. They’re completely free other than your time, but they’re not easy. When we’re talking about neural pathways and habits that we built over the course of our life, coping mechanisms that don’t necessarily that are self-sabotaging that don’t necessarily love us back. It could take time to rewire and retrain our brain, but it’s important work if we want to start feeling our best.

Cynthia Thurlow: I think it’s so important to identify that when the plan that you’re talking about, the 21-Day Gut Feeling Plan, you do have recipes, but there’s so much more to the plan than that. Some of these tools are free. However, they’re tools that actually require work. It’s not like you can be a passive conduit to the work that you need to be doing. And so, let’s briefly touch on that. You alluded to it, but perhaps, let’s walk us through like a typical day where there’s some integration of food, but also these self-compassion exercises that are going to help support the parasympathetic nervous system better than in our typical hairy lifestyles that we lead.

Will Cole: That’s the problem, I think for a lot of people within the wellness world is that they tend to be more of a type A personality, where they want the prescription, they want the to do list, they want the protocol, they want the plan, they want the whatever. Tell me to do this three times a day and follow it. The feeling stuff can seem like woo-woo, a little bit unproductive to their analytical mind. But I would say, reframing your perspective towards these feeling tools is important. That’s why I call them Metaphysical Meals. Like, see this as nutrition for your biochemistry just as much as the next meal, just as much as the supplement, because honestly, it’s going to be for many people more, because I’ll tell you what, when you get the feeling stuff right, you’re going to get more out of your foods. Your digestion absorption is going to be improved. Even food choices will be a lot more proactive and nourishing, because you’re not going to be eating out of that stressed state. You’re going to be able to make more mindful conscious decisions, I guess is another way of putting it.

So, every day there’s a gut and a feelings tool. You have some physical action item, something within functional medicine within clinical nutrition. And then on the feeling side, some mind-body practice which are on a very physiological level strengthening that vagus nerve. It’s like an exercise therapeutic for your vagus nerve. It may sound woo-woo when you talk about things like self-compassion, but it’s really doing something for your physiology just as much as that meal, or that supplement, or that bio hack, or whatever you’re talking about. It could be self-compassion. I talk about breath work, I talk about meditation, different somatic practices, I talk about the research out of Japan and South Korea of forest bathing and how to use that. Tools that really you can lean into and with consistency, really be a significant needle mover in your biochemistry.

Then, yeah, you mentioned the recipes. There are 50 plus recipes in the book too of ways to use food that love you back in a flexible way, where you’re reframing and checking yourself on the foods you’re even not having. Just saying, “Does this food love me back?” Not follow anyone specific food rules, but come up with your own food rules of foods that love you back.

Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, bio individuality really is the way. Thank you for this book. Please let my listeners know how to connect with you across social media, how to purchase your book, how to connect with you, and your podcast as well.

Will Cole: Thank you so much. Everything is at drwillcole.com. That’s D-R-W-I-L-L-C-O-L-E dotcom. The links to everything is there. My podcast is called The Art of Being Well. We have an episode every week. All the links to all the books are there. The telehealth center, we have new telehealth patient options open now. So, yeah, there’s everything at drwillcole.com. Thank you, honestly, again for having me back and getting to catch up.

Cynthia Thurlow: Absolutely.

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