How Diet Affects Fascia: 3 Best “Foods” for Healthy Connective Tissue
Recently I’ve been challenged to see myself in a new light; to recognize a pervasive pattern of mine that at one time in my life kept me feeling safe, but is no longer necessary and in fact had became downright destructive to my relationship. I was creating a self-fulfilling prophecy (getting exactly what I didn’t want by letting my fears control my actions).
Gaining this new insight into my own behavior has helped me see, with even more clarity, how we often act on survival instincts and do things that may at first glance seem healthy or even ethically or objectively “right,” but are in fact keeping us stuck in unhealthy nervous system patterns.
This is just as true for the relationships we have with other human beings as it is for us and our bodies, and fascia (which feels everything, records everything, connects everything and in a lot of ways manages our abilities based on our emotions, beliefs, nervous system patterns, past injury patterns and current strengths and weaknesses).
Why do you eat what you eat?
If you’re reading this then I’m assuming you’re concerned (or interested in learning) about what types of foods you “should” be eating for optimal health (including fascial health). If so, then my very first question is “why?”
Your why is far more important than what you’re eating.
Why do you want to know?
Is your curiosity coming from a place of self love and wanting to honor your body?
Is your concern born of fear? Maybe you’re afraid of getting “fat” or getting cancer, or maybe you’re afraid of the pleasure you get eating that coffee ice cream (mmmmm) or that burger and fries; or maybe you don’t want to end up like a parent, friend or other loved one who has diabetes or heart disease or is always getting injured.
While our fears are totally valid and I believe they need to be heard and honored, acting from a place of fear will likely only produce a self-fulfilling prophecy – giving us exactly what we don’t want.
So what should we be doing instead?
First of all – I believe fear starts to fade in the face of facts, or looking at a situation with as much honest objectivity as possible. Simply acknowledging what is, without making it (or ourselves) right or wrong, goes a long way towards calming the nervous system (at least it does mine – you may be different).
When it comes to nutrition or diet and fascia, the facts may surprise you.
Does diet affect fascia?
I have clients who are totally dedicated to “healthy” eating (organic, paleo, gluten free, anti-inflammatory, probiotic etc), and I have clients who binge after jiu-jitsu tournaments on burgers, fries, candy and beer; and everything in-between (people who don’t watch their diet at all, and those who brew their own kombucha and make their own sprouts).
After all these years, there are definitely some patterns that have arisen around diet and how healthy (or not) a client’s fascia is:
Typically, the ones who obsess about eating healthy are also obsessing (and stressing) about other areas of their life as well; including how much or in what ways they exercise, whether or not they’re doing all the “right” things by their body; and it is these people who have the most consistently tight fascia that doesn’t want to let go; they get injured more frequently than my other clients and consequently they want to know what else they can “do” to prevent pain, injury, unhealthy fascia etc.
Meanwhile, the clients I have that either a) don’t stress at all about what they eat (and they probably eat “unhealthy” to varying degrees) or b) do the best they can and let go of any particular outcome, have the healthiest fascia, get injured the least and seem pretty content with their bodies and lives.
Does diet matter at all then?
Absolutely – what we put into our bodies does have an effect.
But not nearly as much as how stressed we are about it.
If you’re eating a truly crappy diet of fast food and soda, your body will have to deal as best it can, and as I’m sure we all know by now: this isn’t “good” for anyone. However – someone who eats this way, finds pleasure in it, lives a low stress life and is generally happy will be far healthier from a systemic inflammatory standpoint than someone who eats “perfectly” and is stressed all the time.
If you’re eating a purist diet of organic grass-fed gluten-free everything and in doing so you find immense pleasure, aren’t stressing about it and are, for the most part, enjoying life – then you win star student of the year for your superhuman powers!
My point being: diet matters, but not nearly as much as how stressed we are.
Often, this stress comes from our why. Why we do what we do.
What we eat has become a source of stress for a lot of us, and we look to science and the latest studies to tell us what is best, healthiest, cancer-preventing etc.
I wish we paid more attention, from a nutritional standpoint, to what gives us joy and pleasure, de-stresses our system and makes us feel good inside and out.
If you eat healthy sometimes, say yes to pizza and burgers now and then, enjoy your birthday cake with immeasurable joy and try not to obsess or shame yourself when you do indulge, then you probably have a relatively healthy baseline, your fascia is probably healthier than most and this is a recipe for “normal” or average amounts of pain and injury (which are unavoidable if you live in a human body and actually use it).
Feed Your Fascia: 3 BEST “Foods”
There are certainly things our fascia needs to get and stay healthy. The obvious one is maintenance in the form of some kind of fascial release practice – whether on your own or with someone like me.
I wouldn’t call that “food” even in a metaphorical sense, so this list is meant to give you an idea of what NOURISHES the fascia system throughout our lives, with or without a regular fascial release practice.
And of course – check your why. Orient towards what you want, instead of focusing on what you’re trying to avoid. For example, if you’re trying to get healthy fascia to avoid injuries, you’re going to have a more anxious nervous system than someone who is committed to healthy fascia because they want to feel their best on a daily basis and optimize their body’s abilities to perform and recover well.
It’s ok to consider what we’re trying to prevent – just make sure that’s coming from a positive place inside and any thoughts about it should create a sense of inner peace. If you’re thinking thoughts that lead to anxiety or fear – your nervous system will be in a state of high alert fight or flight and your fascia will reflect this.
The following list is not only good for our fascia, it’s good for our entire system – body, brain, nervous system, psyche, soul, fascia, muscles, joints…
#1: De-Stressing Activities
This will be different for each of us. I’m sure you know what these activities are for you – my guess is you might just need to recommit, make a point to schedule them or if you’re already committed, then go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back!
If you’re not sure what I mean or what this is for you: find something you can do that relaxes your nervous system and releases tension carried by your mind into your body in the form of stress. It could be as simple as a daily walk before dinner. Maybe it’s cycling. Many people swear by their meditation or breathing practice. Maybe it’s trail running or cryo-therapy. Maybe you walk out of a yoga class feeling all warm and fuzzy and totally at peace with life.
The point is: whatever you choose should leave you feeling at ease in your body and mind. A calm nervous system = healthy fascia, injury prevention and a more enjoyable life.
Personally, I feel the most at ease after a good trail run or hike (or mountain climb), a great yoga class or (and hey, I’m just being honest here and there’s a ton of research about this!) after great sex.
What about you? Leave your favorite de-stressing activities in the comments please! Yours may just help someone else figure out what they need.
Obviously, #1 and #2 might be one and the same for some of us. For some of you though, you may feel far more comfortable sitting in meditation than pounding the dirt on a trail or dusting off the old bike.
Fascia needs movement to stay healthy. Doesn’t movement also tighten the fascia up? Yes. But not nearly as much as sitting on our asses does. Being sedentary for too long means not only brittle, dried out fascia but it will also be weak – and this means we are far more prone to injury when we finally decide to get off our butts.
Movement supports ALL of our systems: the nervous system, fascial system, muscle and skeletal systems, and dare I say our spiritual systems as well. Movement improves brain function, and helps with depression, anxiety and mood disorders as well.
We all know we should be moving. If you’re struggling with motivation and need help figuring out what you should be doing to get and stay healthy through movement, click here. You might be surprised to learn that I think pleasure and fun should make this decision for us!
A lot of people ask me if water is what we should be adding in order to hydrate our fascia. I see a lot of other experts saying yes to this. My answer is a partial yes.
The reason I’ve included water in this list is because the human body as a whole is made up mostly of water. We’re over 60% water, and we need it to function optimally. But how does this affect our fascia?
It’s not been my experience that water is what hydrates the fascia. The fascia contains ground substance, a gel-like material that is what gives fascia its hydration and ‘spring.’ This ground substance ushers toxins out of the body – and it’s for this reason I’m including water on this list. For fascia to get and stay healthy it needs clean fresh ground substance (which is made up mostly of cellular material found in blood, not water); for the ground substance to stay clean and fresh, it needs to get toxins out, and we need water to do this. Water flushes our cells, blood, lymph and fascia of dead material that we no longer need for life.
Of course, we need water for so many reasons and functions. We can go without food for a long time, but only a short time without water or we die.
How much water is enough?
There are many opinions on this, and I don’t have a definitive answer for you. We’re all different! I used to religiously drink 100-120 ounces a day. Now I drink less, except on days when I’m hiking in the sun all day or climbing a mountain or particularly stressed out.
Of course a healthy diet is always something to strive for. And – we’re not perfect. We don’t live in a perfect world. Eating healthy doesn’t guarantee you won’t have fat, get cancer, experience systemic inflammation or prevent injuries. Stressing out about what we eat will only cause more of what we don’t want. Learn to “manage” this area of your life from a place of self-love, and then let the rest GO.
Try to eat with gratitude and joy, and dare I say even PLEASURE? Commend yourself for eating well when you do, and forgive yourself quickly if you spring for that doughnut every once in a while.
I can tell you from personal experience having been someone who once did the whole binge, shame myself, eat healthy again cycle, that it’s a whole lot nicer letting that stress go! My body feels better. I like myself better. I’m healthier, happier and that stress just wasn’t worth whatever I thought being “perfect” would give me.