Understanding nutrition is a fundamental cornerstone to our health, and a crucial piece to focus on in making choices that elevate us as we walk the path to discovering ourselves fully, and elevating vitality. Health is a key that unlocks our ability to fully experience life. One could also consider that the ebb and flow of our health is the experience itself..
Let's just lay the foundation of this article with one truth. We are what we eat, but more importantly, we are what we assimilate. Assimilation meaning the nutrients our bodies, through the digestive system, can actually absorb and utilize to rebuild our cells. When I write this, I mean this in a very simple way of meaning that the foods we bring in serve us through nutrients that then allow our body to rebuild itself from the building blocks foods provide. On an individual level, our bodies each have unique abilities and tolerances to break down foods differently.
Our digestive system is the team of organs that work together to help us choose, chew, digest, assimilate, and eliminate food. This team of organs go from our mouth to the large colon and anus. Assimilation is the key here, as it is the process of recognizing a food that’s been digested, then assimilating the building blocks of carbohydrate, proteins, fats, cofactors, minerals, and enzymes. Essentially forming a tube, we can consider the inside of our digestive system to be the first processor of all external information. Food and drink serve as information. Any food or drink that we take in through our digestive system is technically not a part of us until it has crossed through the small intestine into the portal vein (ie. our bloodstream). See the figure below.
This is a key reason as to why listening to our bodies for their own inherent needs is so fundamental.
The internet and libraries are flooded with diet books, news articles and nutritionists. These are all very helpful and supportive. We can ask ourselves, without first developing a sound relationship to our bodies first, does another diet telling us ‘what to eat’ truly move us forward? You can make up your own conclusion. As Carl Jung might add, ‘intellectualism is a common cover up for fear of direct experience’. We may be told by an expert that avocados are good for us, but there is always one individual out there that is intolerant or even allergic to avocados. If we learn that ‘keto’ is the best diet to try if we are diabetic, but never fully develop a relationship to learning how our bodies respond to the specific foods within the ‘diet’ then we may actually be doing ourselves a disservice.
The effectiveness of nutrition therefore is really transmitted through the relationship our bodies have to food, and the relationship we have to our bodies.
These can be understood through four relationship dynamics. How food makes us feel, and what it represents to us. Our relationships to the messages our body communicates to us, and what the mechanics of foods help us develop in our bodies. We will dive deeper into these below.
But before we dive in, I invite you to notice that each relationship represents one of two pieces of our psyche - the feeling and the intellect. I marked these for us to better understand not only who we are, but how we process information; through feeling and through thinking. These are two different things, and are an important piece to understand when it comes to really getting deep on the power of developing an honest relationship to ourselves and the outside world (ie. food).
The Inner Relationship to Food - THE FEELING.
Through the integrity of our digestive strength and body's ability to breakdown food, we quickly learn which foods our bodies can and cannot breakdown. Our inner relationship can represent our innate immune system responding to foods we may be intolerant of. As we begin to notice how foods make us feel - tired, fatigued, happy, angry, nauseous, energized, mentally clear etc, we can better discern how to make proper food choices down the road that most serve us and how we wish to feel.
Our inner relationship to food shows us how our bodies innately react. We can ask ourselves the question, how does _______ make me feel after I eat it? 1 hour later, 2 hours later, or even 3 days later?
The Question to Ask Ourselves Is: HOW IS THE BODY RESPONDING TO A SPECIFIC FOOD MENTALL,Y PHYSICALLY, EMOTIONALLY BEFORE OR AFTER EATING?
2. Outer relationship to food - THE INTELLECT / IDEA.
This is our idea of how the food could be eaten, cultural or family significance, preparation, the bioavailable nutrients etc. Whenever we travel, live in certain areas of the world, or even begin to try new cuisines, we realize that there are thousands upon thousands of different foods and dishes out there to choose from.
Whether it be from our family or cultural conditioning, or habits, we begin to place meaning over certain foods and what they may mean to us in our lives. For example, your mother may have made a traditional pie every year on Thanksgiving that you LOVE. Every time its Thanksgiving therefore, you want to have that special pie to remind you of the love you have for your mother and the pie.
We also can learn the dynamics of certain foods within their nutritional composition. This composition may or may not bring nutritional significance to our bodies or relationship to food. From macronutrients, to micronutrients, to the ability for plants to help heal specific ailments; there is a lot to learn within the uniqueness behind each food. For example, we may see eggs as our favorite foods to have for breakfast in the morning (outer relationship). But, we may also see eggs as a rich source of proteins, fats, and vitamin D (outer relationship). This is considered our outer relationship to eggs because these are our perceived representations of this food. How eggs make us feel, and vitalize us is, in comparison, our inner relationship. So, with our outer relationship to food, we can consider what do we think of a specific food?
The Question to Ask Ourselves Is: WHAT DOES THE FOOD REPRESENT TO US?
3. Inner relationship to body - THE FEELING.
Our bodies are always communicating to us - giving us feedback through specific messages. This is too unique to every individual. When we consider food to be information, we shouldn't be getting negative feedback from the information we are taking into our body.
We shouldn't have cravings post-meal, bloating, constipation, gas, breakouts, fatigue or other symptoms after we eat! If we are dealing with symptoms, it is a feedback mechanism from the body. The body is sending us feedback that either we are not eating correct ratios of foods for our bodies, or, we are dealing with specific food intolerances.
At this level, it is essential to maintain a deep and intimate relationship to our bodies through muscle testing, food and diet logging, and really tuning into what feedback we are getting after we eat foods.
For example, Everytime I eat coconut, my nose starts to itch. I have developed an intolerance to coconut after eating it for years. I do not eat coconut now. Or, after eating eggs for breakfast, my energy feels stable for the entire morning. I like to incorporate eggs into my breakfast a few days per week.
The Question to Ask Ourselves Is: HOW DO WE RESPOND OR INTERPRET THE SIGNALS OUR BODIES SEND US?
4. Outer relationship to body THE INTELLECT / AN IDEA.
We may have ideas, perceptions or ‘knowledge’ around how our body should react to certain inputs we feed it. For example, we may know that sleep is good for us, but we may not truly feel it until we have received a good night's sleep. Or, we may know that exercise will be good for us, but if we continue to go running each day, drain our energy and end up actually gaining weight, this idea just stays an idea. What is an idea, makes no difference until it is integrated into our daily routines, and manifests a result we are desiring.
When we develop a relationship to our bodies, therefore, it is helpful to have the knowing, or the concepts in mind that help us to better understand feelings that arise. When we have the idea to begin eating better by shifting our diet to organic foods, we can then interpret and truly recognize if this idea is right for us individually when we feel how our body feels. This is another way of looking at our body as communicating through feedback loops. The intellect behind ‘doing leg exercises’ is only an idea until we move our legs, and feel energized, or stretched within the legs.
This is an essential component to be aware of when looking into our diet and relationship to food. As mentioned earlier, there are a myriad of diets out there. But if we continue to live by the ideas and intellect of what another diet expert, or doctor, or therapist tells us, while ignoring essential messages behind our body’s feedback loop - we are at a loss!
The intellect is important, don't get me wrong. For example, functional medicine testing can show us our blood levels, if we are deficient in specific nutrients, and what foods we may need to include more of in our diets.
But ultimately, let information, ideas and ‘diets’ serve us as tools to guide us to where we feel our most optimal, not the answer. As we learn through the feedback system our bodies are so intelligent to provide us with, we can actually feel the brilliance behind these ideas because we are a true participant in their results.
The Question to Ask Ourselves Is: HOW DO WE FUNCTION MENTALLY, EMOTIONALLY AND PHYSICALLY IN OUR LIFE? ARE WE ABLE TO PARTICIPATE TO THE CAPACITY WE WANT TO? HOW ARE OUR ENERGY LEVELS?
By now, I have walked you through the four dynamics to building our relationship to food. You may have picked up or resonated with the possibility that our relationship to food has just as much to do with what we are seeing on the plate in front of us, to how it communicates to our bodies.
To begin your journey to feeling this feedback loop that our body’s are continuously gifitng us with - I always recommend simplifying your dishes, and beginning a food log.
A simple food log will outline the following:
What food was eaten (as specific as possible allows you to distinguish brands / hidden ingredients)
How the food was prepared (Fried, grilled, steamed, raw etc.)
How much of the food was eaten (Rough estimate - we aren't counting macros here, but one full bag of chips will give your body much different feedback mentally and physically then will one handful..)
Any specific feelings mentally, emotionally or physically that arise after eating your food (1-2 hours after eating is typically the key window to which one will experience positive or negative symptoms, as that is the middle of the digestive process.)
Keep the food log for 10 days, notice what patterns may come up for you. If you notice you repeatedly get crazy bloating after eating your toast with breakfast, you could consider taking toast out for a day and see how you feel. This is the beginning to a self-experiment in which you and your body are co-creative scientists. Enjoy the journey of learning which foods energize you, and which foods take away your life force. Building a relationship to your body in this way will, from my own experience, be a foundation to loving yourself deeper, and being guided by the infinite intelligence stored within the magnificence of the body.
With Love and Health,
Natalie Ross - CHEK Holistic Health Practitioner