Most of us, at this point, are at least somewhat aware of the mind-body connection.
So much research has come out in recent years around the importance of gut health, the gut being the second brain, how tension is stored in the body, and how the health of the body affects our mental wellness.
Well, here’s a truth bomb for you: there is no mind-body connection. Don’t panic, just keep reading…
The word “connection” implies two separate entities. Considering that everything that affects the mind also affects the body and everything that affects the body also affects the mind, it is simply not factual to talk about a mind-body connection. Instead we have to start looking at the entire system as one entity—mind, body, and spirit.
Separating out the body from the mind would be like saying that sunbathing doesn’t cause wrinkles, or that sugar intake doesn’t affect weight gain. We know, without a doubt, the correlation between those habits, and now we’re working toward that same sort of engrained knowledge of the health of the body being integral to the health of the mind.
A healthy body doesn’t necessarily have to hinge on a strict vegan diet or a daily gym regimen (although those are great), it can start with being more mindful of what we ingest on the daily basis (like food, media, and energy), and how it affects our overall mood.
For example, after coming home from a long and stressful day of work, nothing sounds better than ordering in pizza and having a few glasses of wine. And, in the moment, it might actually make us feel better. However, alcohol and fatty foods are what we call “downers,” and once they begin to digest, the mind and body crave more.
It’s like wrapping ourselves in a warm blanket. Warm blankets are great, except when they become something we use to hide from the world instead of as a tool for warmth.
Starts with Being Aware
To begin building more self-awareness, this week, try implementing these two practices: keep a food journal, and insert just one mindful meal into your daily routine.
For the food journal, this isn’t about calorie counting or restricting. This is about being aware of the what, when, and how you are consuming. Most of us go through life sucking down whatever food we can get in the moment that will curb our hunger in between meetings.
At the end of the week, sit and go back through your list. See if you can remember each of those moments of eating. For the ones you can, can you feel an emotion that is tied to that specific experience of eating? For example, if you had dinner with a close friend one night and you reflect back on that meal, do you feel warmth, joy, or closeness? What about the wilted takeout salad you ate at your desk on that particularly rushed day? Do you feel anxiety or rushed? Or maybe you don’t remember feeling anything at all.
Making Mindful Choices
Simultaneously, during the week you are journaling, choose one meal or snack each day to eat mindfully. What does mindful eating look like? Here’s an example:
Let’s say you are eating a handful of almonds as a snack at your desk. You might put down the phone, look up from your computer, and notice the almonds in the palm of your hand. Notice their texture and grooves, the brownish red color, their characteristic shape. Now lift the almonds to your nose and smell them. Can you notice the faint nutty smell?
Now take just one almond and put it on your tongue. Don’t bite down yet, just hold it there. Notice the taste and saltiness and maybe the specific spots on your tongue you taste it the most. Feel how the mouth starts to produce saliva. Now slowly start to chew and continue paying attention. Feel the crunchiness and how bits of the almond stick to your teeth. Notice the different flavors that come up as you break through the shell into the meat. When you’re finished chewing and swallow, feel the almond moving down the throat and esophagus. Repeat this as you finish your snack.
It might sound time consuming and tedious, and partially, it is. But really challenge yourself to stick with it. One thing mindful eating is not is easy. Starting to focus on your relationship with food and its effect on your physical, emotional, and mental health and wellness can open you up to a deeper and more integrated understanding of yourself.
Don’t worry—sometimes it’s totally okay to eat pizza and drink wine. Let’s face it, they’re both amazing. But, next time you do, be self-aware and mindful of the choice you are making. If you’re giving yourself a treat, give yourself a treat and enjoy it without guilt. If you’ve had a hard day and you’re stress eating, acknowledge that. And then regardless, be present and feel the hot cheese and taste the peppery wine on your pallet.