Gut Instincts: to Ignore, or not to Ignore?

“Just trust me on this one, I can feel it in my gut.” How many times have you heard somebody say this, or said it yourself even?

Intuition is a powerful and mysterious drive in humans. The term “gut instinct” stems from that intuitive feeling we typically get in our stomach when faced with a decision. And that is no coincidence, because the enteric nervous system, sometimes also called “the second brain”, is housed in the intestines.

Because intuitive feelings are strong and thus difficult to ignore, we’ve learned to acknowledge when something comes naturally to us or to back out of a situation when it feels dangerous. When making a decision, we tend to follow this instinct that suggests to us what’s right, for better or for worse. But there is one particular aspect where the majority of people struggle with following their gut instincts, simply not knowing whether their second brain should be trusted, and that is with regard to our own bodies and how we treat them daily.

So let’s talk about that.

Gut Instincts and Eating Habits

The plethora of restrictive diets, dietary advice, and people desperately searching for “the right way to eat” only comes as evidence that we’re generally confused about what the body needs and wants.  And it’s not simply a matter of understanding “the food pyramid”. Time and time again, it has been proven that there is no one particular, universally right way to eat. If that was the case, things would be much easier, right?

While many facts about nutrition are scientifically proven and longstanding, nutritionists always remind us to “listen to your body”. But think about this advice for a second… really soak it in. Try to clear your mind and think about your inner reaction when you’re restricting yourself too much or when you’re overindulging. Your gut feeling is telling you something.

The rules of healthy eating are way simpler than we make them out to be, and 2 facts always stand true:

  1. Everything is okay in moderation.
  2. Your body actually craves diverse, healthy meals.

There is also a third one that naturally stems from it and that is to listen to your body and use common sense. While the response to dietary habits is physiological, our gut instincts and common sense help guide us to make the right choices. In short, don’t overthink it! Instead try to differentiate between intuition, which works in your best interest, and cravings for junk. And no, eyeing up that chocolate bar is not the result of your gut instinct, but rather lowered levels of blood sugar.

“I Don’t Feel So Well”

Having a sense that something isn’t right in your body is very common, yet still people tend to brush it off. But gut feelings about the body are important warning signs that we have to listen to so that conditions don’t escalate. Similar to eating, intuition is a way for your body to communicate to you about its needs. It guides you to listen to the tiniest physiological hints – something being weak, toxic, or simply, not right in some way.

For example, many people increase vitamin C intake without needing confirmation that they’re at risk of a weakened immune system – their gut instinct allows them to act beforehand. A situation like this is common and helps us take care of our bodies, reaching for nutrients we need most at the time, without really registering where this choice is coming from.

In other situations, your body may be telling you something is at stake before you experience serious symptoms, it’s the gut instinct which will lead you to pick up the phone and book an appointment for a check-up. Don’t fight it.

Sports and Injuries

When it comes to following the gut instinct to prevent injury during physical activity, things get a little vague. The athletic mindset is telling you to work harder, push beyond your limits, abandon fear. And as someone with athletic goals, you’re well aware some feats may be dangerous, but you prepare for them and do everything right to minimize the risk of injury. Needless to say, extreme sports rely on a high degree of risk for the adrenaline rush.

The most important thing to realise in the case of physical activity is what your gut feeling actually feels like. Don’t worry – you’ll know. It’s not an adrenaline rush, and it’s not the slightly uncomfortable feeling that naturally comes with stepping out of your comfort zone. It’s your entire body and mind nagging at you that something will go wrong, and this feeling doesn’t come easily – so don’t mistake it for just “chickening out”.

Intuition is complex and more material than we think. There are instances, such as your perception of other people (which largely stems from experience) when your mind can bias your emotional decision-making for the worse. But when it’s directly related to the physical body, it’s always best to listen to it. Your body and mind are programmed to safeguard the entire mechanism. Tune in to that gut feeling, but to truly make your intuition heightened and reliable, strive to be mindful and observant. That way, you’ll have just the right balance of rational and emotional decision-making.

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