Ultimately, food eats us, finding it’s way into our mind and body to deploy a multi sensory experience, transported by vehicles of memory and emotion…and saliva. Like a grenade, food can create an overload of stimuli, causing mass chaos in our bodies and minds. How can we manage this onslaught of information, be aware and make decisions about our relationship with food?Sometimes we feel harassed, sometimes in love with our food. Our food relationships are always complex and never easy to change. It’s a social, genetic, psychological, physiological arrangement to decipher and disarm. It probably should be dealt with in that way. Changing a ‘diet’ is about changing the way you work with yourself. It feels sometimes like you're disarming a bomb, with the delicate story lines, linked to more complex stories, to layers of intertwining wires that could trigger a reaction or explosion at any second.
To dismember this volatility, we need to get to know the system- ourselves. More than the value of calories, grams, pounds or categories, is considering who we are- in relation to ourselves. We take out our emotions on food- our loss, depression, anxiety, vacuous emptiness is filled with food, not true hunger. Fear, joy, etc. As food enters our minds, we begin salivating, activating dopamine receptors and other hormones triggered by memories, that generate sensation.
I’m interested in our food culture. Meaning, I'm interested in how mind, emotions, and the information we use as tools to negotiate our ecosystems affects the way food is brought into our biosphere, broken down and digested in the body. It's less simple than we want it to be. If we could just follow cultural habits, we'd be set. We want that ease- to look to our peers and mentors as guidelines for fueling- books, trends, guidelines, a road map. But that doesn't workWe need to get super curious about who we are- and all that we intake, physically and mentally, information, sensation, food. Or we'll be eating ice cream, beer and pizza every day. With lots of vegetable oil and sugar- those 2 things that are slowly knocking off the majority of the population via autoimmune and diabetes. We always take cultural cues, whether beneficial and destructive. Cleanses, juicing, fasting, aren't necessarily any better than ice cream and beer. Somehow, sometime we need to look at reasons behind and how practices affect your personal microbiome.
In order to change the way we eat, and behave around food, we need to develop a new internal culture with new intensely personal cues that will lead us into new habits. No one can show you what those are but yourself. Overwhelmed by information, we're seduced by images triggering behavior in certain ways. That's old news. The challenge is being aware in the midst of trying to make difficult changes, force a new diet, a new food, a new lifestyle. I feel certain that we need to adopt a leadership behavior that enables us to act as if our actions and thoughts have consequences. That sounds condescending, but looking at what can my lifestyle be 5 years from now, 10 years from now gives us a sense of how and what changes will and can work. and why then need to work. You want to be healthy, alive and available to thrive, work, and be a role model? Accountability leads to leadership. Becoming a leader means you're taking accountability for your life and behavior. We need more of that.
Here's a story- just a partial biased one, of food going into the body. I created this, as a non scientist to help me piece together some of the complexity of eating. Digesting, extracting nutrients occurs once the senses are attacked with information. We tap into imagination, the taste, smell, or the context, in moments when we first experience the food. Or we smell something that triggers the salivary glands. Memory is somatic, activating hormones, involving the body and mind both. I imagine sound, texture, and color, taste, emotion. When I was in high school, I could conjure up, from nowhere, one fierce hunger for nachos when the hunger wasn’t even remotely there. Almost like conjuring up a long lost friend. I'd imagine salt, crunchiness, warmth, spicy tomatoes, fatty, melted cheese I could eat alone....The combinations in that specific sensory visual experience brought me to a frantic rush to own this ecstatic experience.
In a rush of stimuli, the brain mobilizes hormones, dopamine is released, the autonomic nervous system is activating muscles and increasing blood flow to meet the stimuli. Either parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous systems process the food experience, based on the level of comfort or implied stress. Sitting down in front of a fire with a close friend or eating while driving in rush hour are going to be two completely different physiological experiences. Sensory events send neuromessages responding to information from your eyes and nose, then releasing enzymes in the saliva to activate proteins that will break down food. In one of the most important processes of eating, the saliva blends with the food to balance the health of the microbiome. (The Role of Saliva, Dr. José V. A. Humphreys, M.D., FICPS)
Saliva, with the protein amylase, breaks down sugars, and helps to neutralize acids in food to make it more digestible. The saliva is regulated to determine what is lacking and attempts to balance the food with good bacteria and probiotics to keep the gut biome in balance. Saliva enhances the taste buds and increases our immunity to some diseases. It is said that some pheromones are present in saliva. (The Role of Saliva, Dr. José V. A. Humphreys, M.D., FICPS) Bottom line: Taking your time chewing your food is important, letting the process work for you, enabling a critical breakdown process.
Saliva is connected to the hypothalamus, the center that regulates core temperature, nervous system, connects us to sleep, emotions, and sex amongst other essential functions and memories. When saliva is activated, blood flow moves to the organs, the nervous system engages to aid in the digestion processes. If you're eating while driving, moving, stressed or otherwise paying attention to something else, the body is distracted from important digestion processes. Slowing down while you eat makes a difference. It's all about being aware of what you're doing- whatever it is.
While you're in the state of eating, the pre frontal cortex and the older limbic part of the brain will send electrical signals through the nervous system translating messages - happy, or anxious, excited, love, etc. In the emotional electrical chemical flood, food is broken down and nutrients are absorbed. Eating is a process of taking in stimuli, a demanding process, engaging all your resources to translate the glorious event of eating.
In that multi sensory environment, relationships, addictions and cravings with food are built, subconsciously, emotionally, physiologically, cosmically..... In that environment, smells, colors, all variables in the context influences our belief of food and type of need for the experience. We experience everything in a contextual, sensual way. If we remember a color, it’s the context of when that color was experienced, not just the color itself. Smell is derived from a context, not an isolated smell. Cells in the gut produce a high amount of serotonin, the happy hormone. That can con us into feeling our way into food experiences. If we can interrupt the overflow of stimuli that we internally generate, we can have more understanding of how and why we eat. And then begin to manage the process and craft how we want to interact with food. Then, we can more fully experience the powerful benefits that naked food has, devoid of personal emotional history.
Now, let's look at the energy of the food. Food that's closer to it's sources, and more recently picked, drawn from the ground is carrying more energy, will have more nutrients, 'fresh'- that's what fresh means. Fresh is live, more energetic, literally, than something that's been in the grocery store a few weeks, transported half way across the world, or state for that matter. The eco-footprint- the energy it takes to extract the food from it's original source, is the most important thing to consider when choosing food. If you're choosing a tomato, that's been fed pesticides, flown from South America, farmed by workers who might be sick because they're overworked and underfed- that's all influencing the nutrient density/quality of your tomato.
But to begin, we do better with a clean slate, enabling food to benefit us. Without a healthy gut, you can eat a ‘perfect’ diet and extract nothing beneficial. And if your vegetables are coming from another continent, loaded with chemicals, you're fooling yourself. It's as effective as drive through. The leaky weak gut won’t have the capability to break down foods and digest or extract efficiently. The tomato will have lost all it's nutrients by the time it reaches your gut. Toxins will leak through into the blood stream, not making it out the body. The gut won’t have the intelligence to know which is safe or healthy. Being healthy is dependent on building a healthy gut biome over time. Cleansing is valid, but cleansing needs to be done with intelligence and support.
That partially explains why short term dieting doesn’t succeed. Only over time can the body adapt to change. It’s a question of crafting an environment where the gut and brain can process and extract food efficiently and beneficially. That takes time to develop that physiological intelligence, to teach the body/mind why and which foods to eat. Over time, your body can become so efficient, you are able to work with less, high quality food. That may be good or bad news…..:) Slow deliberate, intentional change is permanent. 100% of it is bioavailable, providing you with an immense profile of nutrients. Do that often, and you'll change your genetic expression.
As food is digested and nutrients are extracted based on the health of the gut biome, the blood brain barrier is developed. We want a healthy blood brain barrier that protects us from toxins and disease. The health of the gut biome is an indicator of the health of the BBB (blood brain barrier). Healthy gut= healthy brain.
“Researchers are starting to uncover a vast, varied system in which gut microbes influence the brain through hormones, immune molecules and the specialized metabolites that they produce.” (http://www.nature.com/news/the-tantalizing-links-between-gut-microbes-and-the-brain-1.18557) Substantial research is stacking up showing the direct relationship of the gut biome to the brain. The connections of the gut and brain lead to questions, such as “Could psychiatric symptoms be driven by lingering inflammation, or perhaps by a microbiome thrown out of whack by infection?” Immense research shows effects of food and alzheimer's, AHDH, autism, and all autoimmune diseases, depression, anxiety. This isn't new information. Why is it so hard to 'digest' then.......change the diet, resolve chronic psychiatric and autoimmune diseases. It's extremely difficult to change. Emulating change is easier than permanent, internal change.
That's why we need to build a new social ecosystem when we're looking for a change in our behavior surrounding food.
To change the landscape with food, it's relevant to listen to all camps of thought, research the many languages involved in this conversation of food vs. mind/body, and that process will enable us to generate our own language and develop new tools to change the experience. Appreciating the complexity is a start to owning the cooperative respect of your body and mind through any exchange of food and fuel. Considering the variables in the gut ecosystem and environment, as well as the quality of food and eco footprint (total energy required to get food to your table, including labor, transportation, cost of chemicals….) of the food all contribute to a reasonable understanding of how we affect and are affected by food. Then, we can start to build our balance and relationship with food and fueling.
Now, let's look at the purely visual seduction of food. The presentation, the images, models, stages....you don't need to smell good food images to get your body flowing. The visual experience of food lures us in as easily as the smell. In fact we expect that now, with the rich food culture that we live in. These visuals can cause great agony, craving, inspiration, creativity, desire, joy. Eyes transfer image to the brain, setting off the chain response above. Images we take in are converted into new color and dimension, and then moved through the hippocampus to tap into memory stores where we designate a meaning, experience and then define a reaction. We eat, cook, go shopping, have sex, sometimes just from an image of a tasty morsel.
I’m interested in converting reaction to response, where I can take a step away from the cascade of physiological/emotional events and make deliberate choices. I'm not denying I appreciate good food, images of food, smells, all of it. I want to be able to monitor my response. And not be completely slave to my emotional responses. In a good situation, I can step away from anything, as easily as I can create any craving; I can secure and define my sources of energy and mobility. If I know I have the power to do either, I'm more liable to understand and craft beneficial, enjoyable food experiences. Where I feel amazing after.
I was able to create this experience of a nacho craving in my head easily enough to get that dopamine moving and limbs mobilized, and go from 0 to 60 in .5 seconds, more or less.
So, as the salty, crunchy cheesy nacho carbs hit my system, a glycemic rush drives blood sugar up, the satisfaction is beginning to roll, and I’m high before I even take a bite. Dopamine fueled in addition to the addictive casein protein in dairy creates a cascade of experiences that disables my ability to defend myself- from stopping or from any outside stimuli. I’m high. The melted dairy influences casomorphins, attached to opiate receptors in the brain, causing brain fog. Casomorphins in dairy trigger highly addictive response, similar to heroin. On that dumb high for 15 minutes, completing the plate, I sit down, body fatigued after traveling through nervous system demands of nacho cravings.
Glycemic load inflated, I slowly begin to level off before the grand descent begins. Grabbing a couch arm, dropping off this ledge that treats me the same way as sugar, dopamine stops releasing, the nervous system no longer responding to stimuli, mind and body unsatiated and dull as the carb train is leaving, blood sugar dropping, brain fog increasing and craving well positioned.
Like love departing, fatigue and depression visit for a while, until the need for the high is met again and the cycle continues. But the next time, it will to take more stimuli, and/or more frequent stimuli. As we adapt, and dopamine is released, our bodies will adapt to the level of dopamine release and demand more the next time, constantly increasing it's demand, as we become more accustomed to the response. The quantity or intensity will need to increase each time in order to get the same satisfaction. The vicious dopamine cycle. Breaking that is hard, before it becomes a full on addiction. Addiction we usually don't want to or can't recognize. The thinking, obsession, pure dedication to a thing, food, action or person, without tools to change.
Adapting to this impact of attraction helps to manage sensation. Through building your own culture, your own support team, database, I believe, is necessary to establish long term sustainable results.