Nurture: gut intuition

There is an entire science of gut intuition and even what we call a second brain in our belly. This second brain, which isn’t about thinking but feeling and sensing, takes care of digestion so our big brain doesn’t have to ( 

Much of what the enteric nervous system does is carry information from our gut to our brain (and not the other way around). This is how important digestion is. We get an entire brain for it!

Intuition is not really an idea formed in the gut, as that system isn’t capable of thoughts. It’s not entirely clear, though, that when we form an idea, we’re not including information from the gut. 

Intuition isn’t mystical or mysterious. It’s really making sense of a whole bunch of different data that coalesces in an “aha!” moment. Intuition is, according to one study, “the result of the way our brains store, process and retrieve information on a subconscious level” ( 

I like how Helen Fisher, PhD, explains it here as she starts by noting how our brain “chunks” or groups information, storing related ideas for easier retrieval. This is why intuition is “learned expertise in disguise.” We don’t always know what we know. We make intuitive leaps.

Here’s an example of an intuition I had and couldn’t quite explain.

A few years ago, I stopped eating dairy foods, based on an intuition that dairy makes me crave foods with sugar. It somehow disrupts my overall system, and I end up with cravings or overeating. I can’t really explain it. I don’t have words for it. 

Since I can’t really explain it, I wonder if maybe I’m making it up or just making myself miserable by not eating dairy.  

I needed proof! I got online to find an article that would convince me not to eat dairy. 

One argument says that since I’m not a calf, I shouldn’t drink cow’s milk. That is simply poor argumentation. People eat all sorts of stuff, weird stuff, and most of it seems pretty unnatural to me. 

Lactose-intolerance is the norm. Anyone over two years old develops the intolerance (I guess so the big brother isn’t pushing the baby out of the way to keep drinking the milk). 

Still, certain populations -- primarily Northern Europeans -- developed tolerance. So while it may not be natural to drink cow’s milk, over time, some groups adapted to it. Most people remain lactose-intolerant. One source says 95% of Asians are lactose-intolerant. Swedes, however, adapted to consuming dairy products. 

Keep this in mind whenever someone explains what you should or shouldn’t eat. What one group does is not indicative of what we all should do. There isn’t one natural and right way to eat, though I’d still argue strongly for a whole foods diet with as few processed foods as possible. Exactly what’s in that healthy diet, though, may vary with individuals and vary over an individual’s lifetime. 

Most people know they are lactose-intolerant because of the gas and bloating and stomach aches that follow after they consume dairy. I don’t have those symptoms. It wasn’t a reason for me to stop eating dairy. 

I looked up casein instead, the main protein in milk. That’s where it got interesting. 

It turns out, casein makes us feel good, all relaxed and dopey, a bit like dope. According to some sources, it also makes us crave sugar more. That’s exactly what my intuition told me. I found the science to back up what I had intuited. 

It’s not great science, by the way. Here’s one website and here’s another . Neither reference good studies or reliable sources. 

This article links dairy to obesity and depression as well as to additional comfort eating. Her sources don’t impress me. 

I found one tiny study that linked increased dairy consumption with increased calorie intake ( 

I’m not seeing a bunch of studies that explore the addictive nature of dairy. Just because dairy includes casomorphins doesn’t mean that it has the effect on us as morphine does. 

Apparently, mama’s milk makes a baby calm and sleepy, which is a very good thing for a baby to be. We’ve been told to drink milk to help us sleep, though I’ve read it’s due to tryptophan or to calcium. 

Despite the lack of good studies and clear science, I have an intuitive hit that something in dairy reacts with my personal body and brain chemistry in such a way as to make me hungrier and want to eat more simple carbohydrates. 

Despite that I’m not finding science to back up my hunch, I find it interesting that others have had the same hunch that I’ve had. 

Here’s a theory.  Alcohol is addictive, yet most people who consume alcohol do not become addicted. One estimate is that close to 7% of the population are heavy drinkers.  That means that most people consume a substance that’s addictive without becoming addicted. They feel the mind-altering effects, yet those effects are temporary. 

Let’s posit that casein is a wee bit like that. Most people consume dairy and feel fine. A small percentage of us consume dairy and we’re not fine. 

What seems to happen once I add dairy back into my daily diet is that I notice I  begin to eat more than I want to be eating. I’m not hungry; the food isn’t appealing. I just feel a compulsion to keep eating. 

Or maybe something else is happening in my gut, something my gut brain is communicating. Maybe that protein is in some way irritating and my gut brain communicates that discomfort. I translate that into some kind of story. Maybe no story is needed. My gut says no to this food.

That doesn’t mean I never eat dairy products ever again. It does mean I choose not to make it a part of my daily diet. 

Dairy is one small part of my food story. Our histories, emotions, ideas, the other things we’re eating, how we’re sleeping, our daily activities, all of these play into how we’ll react to a food at any given time. I’m a bit like the Princess and the Pea sometimes. It doesn’t take much to make me feel uncomfortable and not at ease.

It’s important for me to trust my gut. It’s the center of my energy and deserves my respect. It deserves my very best care.