Monthly Archives: June 2016

Thinking-Feeling-Eating

How we eat affects how we think and feel and how we think and feel affects how we eat. This can be either a vicious cycle or a liberating experience. I’m always intrigued by the role food choices play in one’s mental, emotional and physical health. Each experience with food comes with its own end result in the way an individual functions afterwards, whether it is full of vitality, clear thinking and calm emotions or lethargy, emotional instability and brain fog. This article is just a brief introduction into the cyclical relationship between the thinking, feeling and eating dynamics of the human organism.

Eating is a full sensorial experience and the process of digestion requires harmony between the autonomic nervous system and endocrine system. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) has two wings, the sympathetic (fight, flight or freeze) and the parasympathetic (rest and digest). The ANS is connected to the vagus nerve which provides for bidirectional communication between the brain and the gut. When the sympathetic system is engaged from stress, anxiety, depression and other similar mental and emotional states, it sends signals down the vagus nerve to the gut that reduce stomach acid and enzyme secretion and slow down the rhythmical wave-like motions of the gut muscles.  All of which impairs digestion and the ability to take up the nutritional forces of the food. The opposite is true for when the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged. Stomach acid production is enhanced, digestive enzyme secretion is optimized, and gut motility is increased. Overall, digestion is improved and the ability to extract the energy and nutrients from the food is maximized. What influences whether an individual is in a sympathetic or parasympathetic state is the individual’s soul mood.

Looking at a few examples might help in better perceiving this concept. Take for instance a person who doesn’t have time to sit and eat breakfast so they rush out the door with their bagel and a cup of coffee, get in the car and proceed to drive to work in morning traffic on the freeway. This activity requires the individual to be fully engaged and is usually a time of great stress. Another experience could be tension at the dinner table. Perhaps an argument erupts and suddenly there’s a heightened state of alert and the sympathetic nervous system kicks in. There’s no real opportunity to be in a relaxed state that is conducive to digestion in either one of these examples. Compare this to a person who sits down with their food at the table, takes a few deep breaths to relax and be present in the moment then expresses gratitude for the meal they’re about to eat. Or, a close group of friends that get together to share a meal and good company. They spend time cooking together then eating and having wonderful conversation. The entire experience is full of joy and care and thus the parasympathetic system is engaged and the participants are in a state of rest and digest.

food-emotions

Thus, it is the mood of one’s soul life (thoughts and feelings) that most directly influences whether the proper forces are generated for healthy digestion. These forces, carried by digestive juices and enzymes, are action-oriented and as such embody the activity of the will. Thoughts and feelings set the stage for digestion but it’s the will that carries out the digestive action.

With this insight we could say that digestion is a battle of will. The will forces inherent in the food must succumb to the will forces of the human organism. If they do not, proper digestion has not occurred and the end result is digestive illness in the form of nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. There’s an old Arabian proverb that states “One eats oneself sick and digests oneself back to health.” The determining factor of digesting oneself back to health is the degree to which there is harmony between the thinking, feeling and willing of the soul. Another way of saying this would be harmony between the autonomic nervous system, the endocrine system and the secretion of digestive juices responsible for destroying the inherent properties of the food.

This process also speaks to resistance. The more nutrients or forces a food has the more resistance there is to breaking it down. This resistance requires from the digestive organs greater enzymatic activity. This means that nutrient dense foods stimulate the endogenous production of our inner life forces. There’s a reciprocal relationship that unfolds in this process. Food that requires greater life forces to break it down also provides the human organism with greater life force.

The opposite is also true. Food that has been refined and processed has had its life force stripped away, which means that not only is it less nutritious but it also meets less resistance. Less resistance leads to a quicker entry of nutrients into the bloodstream. At first one might think this to be a good thing but the reality is quite different, particularly in the case of sugars. When sugars enter the bloodstream rapidly there’s a spike in blood glucose. This spike triggers the pancreas to surge insulin into the system as a way of managing the amount of glucose in the blood. This surge inevitably leads to a dramatic drop in blood sugar that sets off a reactive hypoglycemic event. A reactive hypoglycemic event causes blood sugar levels to drop below baseline levels. The symptoms associated with this include an inability to think clearly, irrational emotions, weakness, shakiness, and poor decision making. In essence one’s ability to think and feel clearly and have healthy will impulses is severely impacted.

And, that’s not all. A hypoglycemic event leaves the body and brain screaming for more sugar. Since the primary fuel source for the brain is glucose the first thing it wants is something sugary to get its glucose levels up quickly.  In goes more refined processed sugary foods lacking resistance and necessary nutrients that spike the blood sugar again and the whole process repeats. When this happens day after day it becomes a persistent roller coaster of highs and lows that eventually affect one’s long-term ability to have clarity in the realms of thinking, feeling and willing. Brain fog, mental fatigue, emotional instability, poor memory, lethargy, lack of drive (will) and more are the consequences of this vicious cycle.

The overarching message here is that nutrient dense foods provide the body with the resistance needed to stimulate an abundance of one’s own inner forces while also providing the nutrients needed to build up one’s life force and vitality. If one eats a wide variety of nutritious vegetables, quality protein and fat at each meal on a consistent basis they will have the experience of being able to operate in the world with greater clarity of thought and balanced emotions. They will be freed from the vicious cycle of the blood sugar roller coaster that inevitably leads to sugar cravings and poor mental, emotional and physical well-being. The capacity to make wise food choices that one not only feels good about but also make one feel good in their being is a truly liberating experience for the soul life of the human organism. It is in this way that how we eat affects how we think and feel and how we think and feel affects how we eat.

Eating Karma

As a nutritionist many times, most times, people just want me to tell them how to eat to feel better, look younger, address a certain condition or to lose weight. All of which are important reasons to change one’s way of eating and yet what I have found is that telling someone how to eat is robbing them of a chance for deep personal insight and authentic change. Food is a deeply psychological and emotional part of one’s life. I like to think of food as the most intimate relationship a person has other than with him or herself. We do it multiple times a day everyday and for a multitude of reasons whether it be sincere hunger, emotions, nerves, communing with friends and family or just plain old boredom. Over the course of one’s life a person develops dietary habits, likes and dislikes, and psychological and emotional reward systems around food based on their experience in childhood with their parents, grandparents, extended family and close family friends. I like to call this one’s personal and familial karma with food and eating and it is this karma that one is working out in the life of the soul with the food choices he or she makes.

From the perspective of my work I identify the soul as being the forces of thinking, feeling, will impulses, drives, desires, passions, and instincts. Our thoughts, stories and judgements stimulate particular feelings and the combination of those thoughts and feelings together influence ones will forces, whether they be conscious or unconscious, to make certain choices and follow through with a particular action. It is our ability to identify our thoughts and feelings, along with the underlying needs that our feelings are an expression of, that allows us to free ourselves from past programming and bring healing and harmony to our soul life. Many times though, our actions are just driving forces of unconscious will activity that were programmed into us as children and young adults and this includes the choices made around food. This could be the person who’s mother comforted her with food as a child and now as an adult reaches for food, even when not hungry (usually food of a specific nature like sugar), to provide comfort in a time of emotional distress. The motives for the eating aren’t inspected and the action is done without thinking about the needs that are trying to be fulfilled. It’s just a stimulus-response loop that is occurring within the individual’s neural network, like a scratch on a record or cd it just keeps repeating. The person may know that it’s not healthy or that they are emotionally eating but the drive to do it may be so strong or it’s buried so deep in one’s subconscious that the action is comparable to being on auto-pilot.

So when a person comes to me for help changing their diet and wants me to tell them what to eat I realize that it’s just not that simple. Telling someone what to eat will help them make changes but those changes will most likely only be temporary. I find that true lasting change occurs when one takes up the task of identifying and healing their personal and family karma around food and then through that process learning to listen to what their body is saying and needing. One approach I like to use is the cultivation of self-empathy. Self-empathy allows one to become aware of the thoughts, stories, judgements and feelings one has around food and the underlying needs that are trying to be met. If I can become aware of my thinking and feelings around food and then through self-inquiry discover what I’m really wanting or needing my will impulses or actions can be more in alignment with what is best for me.

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Sticking with the previous example, a person under emotional duress can implement self-empathy by first becoming aware their stimulus response pattern, “when I’m emotionally triggered I eat.” “What are all the thoughts, stories and judgements that arise for me from this awareness? What feelings do they stimulate, sadness, anger, disappointment, confusion? What am I needing, respect, love, understanding, clarity, compassion? What can I do in this moment to truly nourish myself and meet the underlying needs of my feelings rather than eat?” This process can happen in just seconds and can provide one with greater awareness of their thoughts, feelings and needs, which then allows for healthy action. It also effectively breaks karmic patterns because it’s changing one’s thinking and cultivating a new and conscious will force.

Just like any new mindfulness exercise it takes practice to develop it into a honed skill but the more one does it the more one will learn to listen to their body and honor it’s true needs. As this capacity increases so too does clarity of thinking, acceptance of feelings, understanding of needs and consciousness of will impulses. In short, healthy soul forces are strengthened, healing is tangible and freedom and love are the reward.