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Food And The Mind-Body Connection

Food and the Mind-Body Connection

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The minute I read this brilliant article on the food and mind-body connection by Kelly Surtees I was inspired to share it because it perfectly articulates the importance of food, energy and well being. Hope you enjoy it.

“The experience of food and eating is satisfyingly sensory and the taste and smell of food in the mouth is an easy, quick way to reawaken your mind’s connection to your physical body. The pace and high stress of modern life means choosing what to eat is often a reactionary rather than a conscious choice. How much healthier and happier would you be if your food choices were more often made with awareness?

Acknowledging your energy and emotions contributes to a grounded state of being. A lack of conscious awareness of yourself as an energetic and emotional being compounds the emotional eating paradox. You are not a robot, yet often the choices and expectations you place on yourself reflect an unconscious belief that you can function productively regardless of your feelings or mood. Honouring and naming your feelings change your energy and create a shift in need, from food as comfort to food as nourishment.

Hippocrates said, “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” This applies as much to your energetic and mental selves as it does to your physical body. Food can fuel your body and your mind if you choose nourishment from a place of feeling and consciousness rather than as an emotional response to a stressor or to placate an inner worry. In times of high anxiety, you seek food for comfort rather than medicine.

Modern life is high energy. The daily grind of morning routines, organising partners, kids and selves out the door and into the day, then work or other tasks until the evening routine can leave you with little time to think of yourself let alone how you might be feeling or responding to life. Many days, or big parts of them, are spent on auto pilot and food choices become as much a habit as anything else you do.

Modern life: disconnected from the heart

How often do you plug into electronic devices and information sources throughout the day? In the life of those who are grounded, less is more in both cases. Having every piece of social or global news as it breaks only serves to heighten anxiety. Being constantly on call makes for no peaceful moments of quiet solitude. Hearing music blaring from shops, TVs or iPods can create adrenalin and inner pressure. (Music and chanting can be soothing, so be selective about what enters your ears.) I was at my most calm when, during my 20s, I couldn’t afford a TV so lived for nearly 18 months without one. Home life really was a sanctuary.

Some of the most successful people have found ways to opt out, at least mentally, of the daily grind, not necessarily to slow down but rather to check in. It’s often the case that shifting your mindset from achievement to experience necessarily brings about a change in pace, allowing you to introduce one that’s manageable and user-friendly for mind and body over the longer term.

The fastest way to increase your awareness of yourself, your moods and those around you is to switch off electronically and from information sources. Doing so allows your senses to reconnect with the natural world and your physical body. In high stimulation situations, choices, especially about food and lifestyle, are often made from places of guilt and peer, social or professional pressure.

It’s easy to think life is about function, tasks and achievement — these are the messages our culture sends us, which are then reinforced by family, career or financial pressure. Considering life from a perspective of experience changes the focus back to the self and helps you stay in touch with your own responses. It doesn’t mean completely eradicating stressors but it does allow you to maintain or create awareness of you in the world, physically, emotionally and energetically. Most times, we are only aware of ourselves in the world physically. What am I doing? What should I be doing? What will I be doing next? Never or rarely do we ask, how am I being? What is my mood?

Groundedness

Without even realising it, most of your life is lived moving between a state of conscious awareness, which often manifests in feeling “grounded”, and a state of conscious disconnect, which is often referred to as feeling “ungrounded”.

Being grounded can refer to a sense of inner stillness or calm. It can mean feeling or thinking in a measured, steady way about life or current concerns. A quick poll of friends provided the following individual definitions of what being grounded means:

“Being stable and balanced.”

“Knowing how things will work out practically.”

“Being in control of my emotions.”

“Having mind and body working together.”

Sometimes the awareness of being grounded has to do with knowing when you are not. Feelings of anxiety, drama, hysteria, high sensitivity or being overwhelmed are indications you are not grounded. Being grounded might be considered a sense of feeling anchored in the world in a way that makes you feel in control without being controlling.

Being grounded can also mean feeling capable of dealing with whatever life brings your way, like trusting you can cope or manage regardless of circumstance. A grounded inner space makes it easier to make authentic choices — at the table, regarding work and in relationships. When you’re not grounded, a small problem can quickly escalate into an all-consuming drama.

When thinking of someone who might be described as ungrounded, words such as spacey, vague, impractical, unrealistic, idealistic and dreamy come to mind. On their own, these are not “bad” qualities, but to channel them effectively you need to blend them with some sense of being anchored.

Being ungrounded can be a sign of spiritual disconnection. One belief is that being ungrounded has to do with the soul being absent from the body for a period, perhaps through trauma or intense stress. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, it’s easy to agree that when you feel connected to yourself, inside and out, focus, happiness and nourishing food choices seem more natural.

You might like to think of being grounded as an awareness of your physical body and its place in space. When you’re distracted or ungrounded, accidents are more likely. Using imagination or fantasy to escape the present can also be a sign of a lack of grounding. Other signs of being ungrounded include racing thoughts, shallow breathing, fast speech or difficulties with focusing on routine or simple tasks.

Those who’ve explored spiritual, mystical or energy practices may be familiar with the concept of grounding yourself before working with people or energy. This is commonly done through a visualisation or style of meditation that involves breath and bringing awareness to different body parts. It’s a way of ensuring you, the practitioner or seeker, are connected within your own being before exploring the energy or emotions of another, often as a means of protection. How different might your life be if you adopted some such strategy before meeting the day, as a preventative, “beginning from the right place” approach?

Stress and the mind/body connection

The essence of the mind and body connection shows that when you feel grounded, focused and clear, you make better choices about your time and what you eat. It is easier to say no to both that piece of chocolate cake and that needy friend.

Many of the triggers for ungroundedness are stress-related. It’s commonly accepted that when stressed, food is something universally reached for and in said stressed-out state food choices are often high-fat, high-sugar or highly processed. The stress effect in the body is compounded between 24 and 48 hours after eating such food, as the low-quality food you’ve consumed triggers negative physical responses in the body, adding to your already strung-out mental state. The “mental stress — comfort food — physical stress” cycle can be vicious.

When stressed, it’s your feelings of anxiety, worry or inferiority that need attention, as much as, if not more than, the external situation triggering them. Attending to such emotions has positive side benefits. Dr Andrew Weil, a popular speaker on healthy living, states, “The truth is that stress is always fundamentally internal — it is the reaction that we bring to a situation that causes stress, not the situation itself.”

Talking a problem over with a friend, family member or counsellor helps relieve the concern, in turn leaving you mentally clear, focused and, most importantly, grounded. As a result, you are more productive. It occurs to me that we focus on results first; experience and inner needs second. If we could turn things around, we’d find success not only easier to manifest but more meaningful, too.

Managing stress involves learning to moderate your responses to external events. Living a stress-free life is almost impossible and stress does play a role in helping highlight when change of some kind is required. Stress becomes a problem when your responses to it are beyond your control.

Easing stress and living from a place of being grounded can have as much to do with accepting the limits of our control and areas of possibility in life and then directing our energy towards that. No matter how hard I work, it is highly unlikely I will ever be as wealthy as Bill Gates. No matter how many times I undergo fertility treatment or plastic surgery (if I even wanted to!), I cannot imagine having as many kids as Brad and Angelina, nor looking anything like them. Modern pop psychology presents the message that everyone can have it all but the reality is that most of us won’t. Rather than try to do it all, being selective about excelling at one or two things can symbolise living with realistic awareness.

The mind and eating

Emotional eating is often a sign of being ungrounded, where food is used as mental comfort rather than nourishment. In this case, food can provide a quick release from stress or worry or a pleasant distraction from an all-consuming day at work.

Eating is one of the most grounding experiences and a fast way for your mind to reconnect with your body. The body doesn’t discriminate, at least initially, between the kinds of foods you consume. Chewing, smelling and tasting all food is physical. The tummy rumbles that accompany eating are also physical and these sensations help re-embody your perception. Eating anything when in a mentally frazzled head space helps you instantly remember your body.

However, remembering your body can be done through other means, such as taking a short walk around the block, getting into the garden, sunshine or outdoors, taking a bath or shower, or even making a cup of tea or glass of water with fresh lemon. It’s when you’re high on a lack of groundedness that physical awareness is most important.

When ungrounded, food is reached for reflexively rather than consciously. Changing your energy through grounding rather than eating can help you make healthier food choices, bringing you closer to the Buddhist concept of mindful eating. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh offers this perspective on food: “Each morsel of food is an ambassador from the cosmos.” He suggests that mindful eating means knowing, “When we put it (food) into our mouth, we know what we are putting into our mouth. When we chew it, we know what we are chewing.” Mindful, rather than mindless, eating is one part of managing emotional eating.

Beauty and grooming

Living a fast-paced, high-stress, ungrounded life can put grooming and beauty rituals into the spotlight as a way of reconnecting with your physical self. In a time-pressed life where exercise is rare you may have no other avenue for connection to your physicality, making it easy to become obsessed with your appearance.

Beauty rituals such as bathing/showering, applying cream/makeup/after-shave/perfume or hair removal stimulate the senses and serve to help you pause and remember that you’re getting around in this life in a physical body, not just a busy mind. These are often unconscious acts of grounding as you seek any kind of connection to your physical self.

Physical exercise can be similarly obsessed over, and a change in focus is all that’s required to bring awareness into your workout. When seen as a chore or a means to an end, such as improved health or physique, exercise becomes one more thing on that endless to-do list. Shifting perspective when exercising to maintaining awareness of movement, muscles stretching and breathing allows you to see exercise as a gift rather than a chore. Exercise for mental or personal time can be grounding, whereas exercise with strict outcomes attached can be counterproductive.

The root chakra

The root chakra is the energy centre located at the base of the spine. It’s the first chakra and is linked to primal behaviour and survival instincts. The root chakra represents emotions such as security, support and safety from an emotional, financial and practical perspective. Energising or strengthening this area of the body (low back, pelvis) can help create feelings of groundedness.

The root or base chakra is one of two openings in your energy field, the other being the crown chakra, located at the top of your head. Evelyn Lim, of Abundance Tapestry, says, “The root chakra connects the body to the earth energy.” She continues, “When energy is blocked, you are unable to access the support of the earth.” The physical earth is a symbol of stability, being anchored and feeling calm.

According to reiki practitioner Phylameana lila Desy, the root chakra is also nourished by root vegetables (including carrots, parsnips, potatoes, beets, onions), protein-rich foods (eggs, lean meat, fish, tofu, nuts, beans) and warming spices (such as horseradish, chives, cayenne, pepper).

Energising your root chakra can help you re-ground yourself. Physically, a squat or crouch softens and opens into this region, helping alleviate some of the tension from sitting or standing for long periods of time. In this position, maintain your balance by placing your hands or fingertips lightly on the floor and aim to keep your knees facing forward. Take 3–5 deep, slow breaths, focusing your attention on the sacral region of the spine, right at the top of the buttocks.

Meditation and visualisation

Many grounding visualising and meditations involve trees, roots and rocks, all symbols of the anchoring, stable earth. The Dalai Lama is said to spend the first five hours of his day — from 3.30am when he wakes to around 8.30am when he has breakfast — meditating. (And his two meals a day are mostly vegetarian.)

While these specifics are impractical for those of us who are not monks, the Dalai Lama’s devotion to this act of grounding highlights how inner calm comes from experience rather than achievement. Meditation can be a powerful way of centring yourself before receiving the energy and nourishment of your meal, helping reduce any tendency to over-eat.

Prepare yourself for any meditation by ensuring your clothing is loose and comfortable and that you are sitting easily in a chair, feet on the floor, back upright. (This position allows energy to smoothly flow up and down the spine and assists in open, deep, belly breathing.)

Now, visualise a big tree, all green leaves and strong, solid trunk. Imagine you are at the base of the tree (sitting or standing) and its roots run through your lower back, through your legs and down out through your feet. Visualise the roots burrowing deep beneath the surface of the earth, right into the centre it. Experience a deep sense of connectedness and stability. Hold that image and breathe deeply into it for 3–5 breaths.

Reconnection and the senses

Creating new awareness of your physical, emotional and energy selves is the first step to living life from a place of groundedness. This means using all your senses to check in with your feelings, moods, energy levels and physical sensations.

If you recognise any of the ungrounded qualities listed above, a sensory experience is called for. Arouse your being by smelling something you love, tasting something different, touching or allowing yourself to be touched, looking at images that make you feel alive or playing your favourite music. These little tricks may have no direct impact on diet, career, relationships or family life, but taking time to remember your full being puts you in a more open, compassionate and caring mindset.

For some people, meditation equals grounding. I love to meditate but it’s never been something I could do every day. Walking, however, is like eating for me and a day without it feels empty indeed. One of the tricks for living a grounded life is to experiment with specific rituals that you personally find grounding, then incorporate them into your regular schedule. For some people it’s a walk outdoors; for others it’s a soak in a bath.

When you begin to notice yourself as more grounded, your food choices naturally become more nourishing and wholesome. If taking time to run a bath, have a massage or enjoy the outdoors could help you eat — and live — better, wouldn’t you?”

By Kelly Surtees

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