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Eating Under the Influence


A quick post about EUI, Eating Under the Influence. I’m not speaking of alcohol here, but about eating while under the influence of strong emotions. Case in point: I had been peacefully eating my lunch when I asked one of my daughters about some plans I thought were solid. The plans involved her helping out a friend in need. She flared up and told me that she had never actually committed, she had only expressed interest. Oh. Oh my. I was at sea, awash with disappointment, betrayal, frustration, all kinds of strong feelings. What would I tell our friend? The saber toothed cat might as well have been after me at this point because I felt threatened and my adrenal glands rose up in my defense, flooding me with the fire and fury to escape, or take down, my attacker. Who, in this scenario, happened to be my kid. Hmm. Fortunately, my higher brain held sway and I remained reasonable, but the damage to my calm was done. No way could I eat with my nerves jangling, my body’s resources focused on Fight or Flight. I had to calm the hell down.

Resting and Relaxing. That’s the only time we should be eating. Digestion requires the focus of the body. It requires that we be in a parasympathetic state with the vagus nerve humming sweet nothings to keep the body at ease and enable all the appropriate enzymes and hormones to flow. If I eat when I am agitated, I may be putting food in my body, but I’m not making a meal of it. I may as well eat rocks for how effective my digestion is going to be, because digestion starts in the brain and if the brain is on fire with feelings, the body will not divert resources to digesting.

Yes, digestion starts in the brain. We think about the food—close your eyes and think of biting a lemon, can you feel the pucker?—then we smell the food and anticipate its flavor and texture. The brain is getting the body ready to receive, the saliva starts flowing and the whole system is revving up. It cannot do this if we are jetting about town fending off bad drivers, or running down the hallway to yet another meeting. It cannot do this if we are having an argument, or crying over spilled milk, figurative or literal. A human Doing is not a human Being and it is the human Being who rests and digests. This is simply the way we are designed. Escaping from the saber tooth takes precedence over every other option. Defense comes before digestion, whether it makes sense in the context or not; our bodies don’t know the difference between a physical attack and an emotional one. Then when the storm abates, we breathe, we pray, we meditate, we visualize. We try different techniques until we find something that helps us get our calm back. For me, I started writing this piece. And then I was able to ease over to my tasty, whole food, nutrient-dense, lunch. I rested, I breathed, I chewed properly, and I did not get indigestion, heartburn, or diarrhea.

All is well.

Further Reading:

http://www.md-health.com/Vagus-Nerve.html

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_evolution/2012/10/evolution_of_anxiety_humans_were_prey_for_predators_such_as_hyenas_snakes.html


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