Mindful eating and a general mindful approach is the foundation that allows food sensitivity clients to make long lasting, positive changes and progress.
This is a tricky topic to discuss with clients. They are often angry about being told their food sensitivity symptoms are anxiety. Anxiety is rarely the cause, but it can increase the intensity of reactions. Anxiety often comes from the “voice in the head”. Our human ability to think is a great gift, but is also the source of most of our misery.
Suffering = body’s response to food + emotional response.
The suffering that you experience during a food reaction is caused by the body’s response to the food and your emotional response. The emotional response is determined by your thoughts. Common thoughts include: “I wonder how bad this reaction is going to get?”, “I usually tolerate this food, so why am I reacting to it?”, “Maybe I’m going to start to react to all food?” “What can I eat safely?”. These thoughts create strong emotions which add to the physical sensations experienced. In the diagram below, the inner circle represents the physical sensations from the body’s response to the food, and the outer circle represents the emotional reaction. In each case, the inner circle is the same size, but the total suffering is mostly determined by the emotional response.
Fight-or-flight makes the immune system more likely to react.
Fight-or-fight is the body’s state when we are worried about potential danger. A common explanation is grazing animals. Imagine a field of deer casually grazing. A predator comes along and the deer run for safety. The deer run fast because stress hormones are released and the body switches into fight-or-flight. Additionally, the stress hormones activate the immune system so it can protect the body from germs that enter through a puncture wound (bite, scrape when running). Once the danger passes, their stress hormones decrease, and the deer start grazing again. They are back to rest-and-digest. Unfortunately, humans think back to the danger and think ahead to the next danger. To make it worse, there are many elusive dangers to worry about in our modern world! As a result, we are constantly in fight-or-flight.
Digestion works better in rest-and-digest.
When danger is perceived and stress hormones are released, the body’s resources are diverted away from the digestive system and into the muscles that are needed for fight-or-flight. Eating is not a high priority when animals are trying to escape from danger, so the digestive system is shut down. In our stressful world, most people are rarely in rest-and-digest. Is it any wonder there are so many digestive problems these days?
Mindful habits shift the body towards rest-and-digest.
Constantly thinking about past and future events, keeps us in fight-or-flight. Mindful habits are about bringing the attention to the present moment. A common technique is paying attention to physical sensations in the body, such as the breath. Gradually allowing the breath to slow down and become deeper helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (which increases rest-and-digest).
Experiencing symptoms mindfully, can reduce the suffering.
The graphic above illustrates how the emotional response to symptoms increases the suffering. The emotional response usually results from “thinking” about the symptoms. Try bringing your attention to the physical sensations in the body and/or your breath and gradually allowing it to slow down and deepen.
Mindfulness is a lifetime journey, not a quick fix. Don’t expect immediate results. Even though it is a simple concept, it’s very hard to establish mindful habits. Mindfulness is the foundation of my program to help clients expand their intake and feel better about eating. Book an appointment with me, if you would like to work on this. Additionally, there are probably mindful coaches in your community. Yoga studios are a great place to start.
Interested in learning more about the powerful mind-body connection in food sensitivity? I can help you get on a positive wellness journey through simple, practical strategies.