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.
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.