My Geographic Tongue
When I was a kid, my Dad used to stick his tongue out at my sisters and me.
He’d wait for us to giggle and shriek “ewwwww gross!” and then do a little dance around us. We loved having his attention. It was a rare treat.
He had cracks on his tongue with a deep crevice down the center. I asked him repeatedly where they came from, and he’d always reply that he chewed on his tongue when he got nervous, or wanted to stop himself from saying something unkind. For years I bought his story, and as I got older became hyper aware of what I was doing with my own tongue in moments of stress. With every accidental biting down on my tongue, I immediately ran to a mirror to make sure that I hadn’t done any damage.
My Dad grew tired, the crevices grew deeper, and he died of stomach cancer at age 58. I spent years unraveling the now obvious mystery. Bad food, daily rounds of Pepto Bismal, long work hours, stress, lack of exercise, little joy, bad dentistry, interrupted sleep, constipation. The signs were all there, not just in the hardening of his bloated belly, but in his entire being.
I promised myself I’d take a different path. I educated myself on the basics. Made some shifts in my eating habits. Joined a gym. Signed up for a talk therapist so I could vent about my messy patterns and my neurotic behaviors. I took an even deeper dive a few years later when I moved from NY to LA, had my mercury amalgam fillings removed, immersed myself in the Los Angeles wellness community, and launched The Healist.
But six years later, I found myself in front of my bathroom mirror staring at the state of my own tongue. Like my Dad, I had a deep crevice forming down the middle and cracks along the sides. There were also red blotches and a yellow film I thought was just a recurring coffee stain.
I found myself not wanting to speak as much. Not wanting to laugh. And certainly not wanting to connect with my partner in any form of kissing that went beyond a quick peck.
There was something so visceral, so jarring to me to see my tongue in this current state. Every time I was advising friends to stop drinking diet coke, kick their dependencies on antidepressants, eat more coconut oil and get to the bottom of their childhood trauma, my tongue exposed my inability to take action on my words.
I began researching tongue health and discovered my main issue was geographic tongue, where blotches on the tongue resemble a map. According to Western medicine it’s harmless condition that affects a small part of the population. Some inflammation. Maybe a little discomfort. Causes unknown.
I then turned to Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, where the tongue is viewed as a clear marker of physical and emotional health.
“A geographic tongue is one where the coating is peeled in areas and easily removed. This type of coating indicates a person who has pushed their body to the brink of exhaustion. This type of tongue is also associated with allergic disorders and autoimmune diseases, but these are severe manifestations. If you have a geographic tongue, it is a sign to slow down and regain your health.”
I was exhausted. Emotionally stuck. Flat in my affect on the surface but roiling beneath. Frustrated. Stressed. In between moments of extreme joy of finding my path.
My tongue revealed everything I needed to know.
The blotches on my tongue were located in areas that mapped to specific organs that were struggling—my stomach and intestines, and my liver.
The crevices in my tongue were due to dehydration, malabsorption and vitamin B deficiency.
The yellow coating on my tongue also pointed to stomach and intestinal distress.
All signs led back to my gut, which led back to the greatest fear I face—that I might die young like my father of stomach cancer.
I’ve had gut issues all of my life due to early intestinal surgery that left me with scar tissue, and a long cycle of continuous antibiotics for acne starting in my early teens, not ending till my early 20s.
All signs also pointed to my inability to shift my cognition of self-care to the practice of self-care.
My tongue speaks my truth without words…
all the supplements that made their way into my pocket rather than my mouth.
all the water that remains in my bottle at the end of the day.
all the yoga classes I’ve declined so that I could finish a presentation.
all the nights I lay awake worrying about abundance.
all the sugar creeping into my mouth under the guise of “gluten-free”
all the sessions I’ve signed up for to better my relationships but haven’t shown up for
all of this staring me literally in the face, everyday
Physically seeing my weaknesses as well as knowing them through feeling them has made it easier to heal them. Over the past few months I’ve put myself on a regimen. I’ve provided a quick summary below, but I suggest doing your own research to learn more.
- Fulvic acid minerals: For rebuilding the gut, strengthening my immunity, improving stress levels and hormone balancing.
- B-Complex: Improves cell metabolism, digestion and energy. Also great for stabilizing moods.
- Folate (B-9): For normal functioning of brain and nervous system, wards against colorectal and stomach cancer
- Coconut Kefir: improves digestion and immune system
- Iodine: for overall thyroid health, boosts metabolism, digestion, hormone health and protects against bad bacteria.
- Selenium: partners with iodine for thyroid health.
- NAC: protects against H. Pylori which causes stomach ulcers and cancer, boosts liver health.
- Vitamin D3: immune support, protects against cancer, brain health, hormone health.
- Quarterly detox (or as needed): I reboot my gut with a 10-day detox involving nutrient-rich drinks, an intestinal cleanse, restoration of the gut, liver flushing and intense emotional release. It’s called the Superfeel Detox Challenge, created by my Healist co-founder and her cousin, a colon-hydrotherapist. You can find out more about the detox here.
- Colonics 2x a month: I’ve put myself on schedule to get my colon professionally cleansed. Though an uncomfortable practice at first because of early surgery trauma and general ass shyness, it’s helped me gain a better sense of how well my gut is functioning. I’m more aware than ever how much water I need and how much I need to chew my food (yes, it’s gross, but when you see undigested parts of your dinner going through a tube, you’ll want to consider slowing down enough to chew every morsel of food in your mouth).
I monitor my progress daily with a quick glance in the mirror. It’s amazing to watch my tongue return to a healthier and sexier state. And unlike my father, I don’t find the display gross. I find it empowering. In some cultures, the protruding tongue is considered a sign of sexual and spiritual power. For me, it is the ultimate sign of healing.
If we were to take the Eastern Medicine view that the tongue is a map of the body and its functions, then we have the greatest gift at our disposal to nurture our wellbeing. Written on the tongue is the story of everything that is going on within us that we often times ignore, because we are too busy, or too afraid. All you need to do is open your mouth and see what’s right in your face.
In the morning, look at your tongue before you speak.
Evaluate what it needs.
Scrape your tongue of sleep’s coating before you drink or eat.
Let your tongue languish in the minerals and nutrients that you take into your mouth.
Choose wisely when and why you choose to stick out your tongue at others.
And when someone sticks their tongue out at you, observe, be kind, and share what you have learned.
Love your tongue & be well.