You Are What You Eat? Or You Eat What You Are?

Last month I discussed how our diet would be influenced by 5 key factors: lifestyle, environment, season, age and health. Check it out here. 

This month, I want to discuss more on the psychology behind eating. 

Have you heard the saying “YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT”? 

I want you to try to look at this differently though. Instead, try:

“YOU EAT WHAT YOU ARE”.

Think about that… 

Who you are as an eater (the thoughts, beliefs, and desires you bring to the table) informs your metabolism just as much, if not more, than what you actually consume.  This is because digestion is optimized in the Parasympathetic nervous system. You can literally change the nutritional value of the meal and affect your ability to digest and assimilate nutrients in a negative way when in a Sympathetic state (fight or flight/stressed state).  And, again, these changes have NOTHING to do with what you are eating. 

So what does this mean?

Imagine in this current moment you are craving your absolute favourite comfort food… say it is chocolate. BUT at the same time, you are also thinking “chocolate is BAD to eat.” If you eat it, you then tell yourself that you have no willpower or control, so you feel bad about yourself…again you “failed” yourself….

Anyone else felt this way, or just me? 

If you would like to change your mindset around food, please read on, otherwise this blog is probably a waste of time for you. 

Bad food = I’m bad

If you eat something bad, with an attitude of guilt or self-punishment, the experience of the food will be unnourishing – any toxins in the meal are made doubly potent by adding fear. 

Yet the same food eaten with an attitude of celebration may have a very different reaction in the body. The healthiest food may prove unhealthy if the motivation for eating them is based on fear of disease, rather than a love of life. 

Eating while stressed

If you eat in a stressed state, the blood flow to your digestive system may be as much as four times less than the usual amount and the nervous system impulses to the digestive system may have signalled a complete shut down. This is because your body is trying to protect you. If it assesses your body as stressed (aka running away from a tiger), there is no need to worry about digesting your meal right now – you need to run! The problem is many of us are living in this stress response all the time – especially when your eating. We eat on the run, in our car or wolf down our food to get to soccer practice or swimming lessons. 

Having a healthier diet will not protect you from this either. No matter how healthy your diet, an unhealthy mood radically depreciates the nutritional value of a meal. You will not be able to digest your food properly and get the full nutritional value of your meal. 

Taste your food. Chew your food. Turn off the TV or your phone and focus on your plate and the people you are sitting with. These things can make a massive difference in your digestion! 

Moralizing Food

When we say to someone, “do not eat that food it is bad for you,” they often hear, “you are a bad person for eating that food.”  Please be careful what you are saying about good versus bad food around our children. 

We all know the kid with the “perfect diet” who moved out for the first time and gains a lot of weight because they finally have the freedom to eat what they want, but feel terrible about themselves because of their choices. All children have to experiment with food. 

With our kids we don’t say, cookies are bad for you. We give our child a cookie and ask them how they feel while they eat it and after. My daughter knows she can’t eat certain cupcakes or raisins because it will make her bowels feel terrible. But if she eats it, she feels no guilt but she understands there are consequences in her body. 

In BIRTHFIT, I have learned to look at food as nourishing or not nourishing, instead of bad versus good. Or you can look at the foods effects as desirable or undesirable. 

By coming to food without any preconceived moral judgements, we have an openness that allows for biological questioning and explorations. 

Back to the chocolate, you can ask: How does this chocolate effect my energy level? Does my skin break out? Do I have any cramping in my stomach or intestines? Take 5-10 slow deep breathes after you’re finished eating and then listen to your body. By listening to body feedback and being open and attentive to the food we eat, we begin to make connections and draw conclusions between what we eat and how we feel. 

Food is morally neutral. Please try to stop judging others (AND YOURSELF) by what they/you eat. 

Dr Sarah

A lot of this information is from BIRTHFIT (www.birthfit.com) and Nourishing Wisdom by Marc David