Just as our political systems seek to appease the collective but rarely placate the individual, so too is the status quo when it comes to diet, exercise and wellness, and the science that surrounds it.
5-a-day, 7-a-day, juices, sauna, HIIT, yoga, Atkins, Nootropics, Free range, organic. Whatever the label and whatever the research shows, how can you tell if it’s right for you?
Having some good results from one of these regimes can lead to a dependency or an expectation that they will keep you in that state of being. This is a misconception around scientific research that there is an absolute solution, and one that fails when it becomes religious doctrine.
Intuitive eating is not as simple as eat what you feel like and when you feel like. It requires some knowledge of diet, a willingness to learn and self-awareness of eating habits. It requires discipline, yet it feels natural.
You are Your Own Guru
Following a fad diet which works for one guru in a certain part of their life, may not necessarily be the best for you. One diet may feel right, and one may be a challenge to overcome, how do you know which is the way forward? A good healer, whether doctor, psychotherapist, shaman etc. should spend time continuing to study things beyond their limited field and learn about how the same ailment can be treated innumerable different ways depending on the patient’s needs, and understand that there is no tick-box. Complex cases are rewarding journeys for the healer, because they accompany the patient more personally and experience their own education along the way. These require less financial reward as they provide deep satisfaction.
Maybe a certain diet helps you get through a period in your life, helps you lose weight, gain weight or provides focus etc. But we are constantly changing and must adapt to our needs. We are of course ultimately responsible to ourselves and thus have a duty to learn about what works for us.
Mind Body Connection
We know that if we have indigestion, we use an antacid to neutralise the effects and thus the pain. This one is pretty easy to notice, as your body is usually suffering and we are able to ameliorate such pain. But do we always have to be reactive rather than proactive? If I wake up with a minor stomach cramp, which is noted in particular through mindful meditation, I have learned not to always ‘eat the cure’ as modern medicine would lead us to believe, but sometimes to just stop eating and let my stomach grind away at whatever it is grappling with, which can range from the crap I ate last night to some sort of mental anguish. It is through this that I discovered the power of fasting.
Because of the types of neurotransmitters found in our stomach, it is often referred to as our second brain. It is somatically linked to our mind and treating it with respect can have a profound effect on our mental health.
Knowing that there are unconscious mental processes aiding your digestion, I found that when I was fasting (with liquids), I was far more focussed and energetic. I was able to write more, do more in my workouts and even felt less anxious. While we are informed that calories contain energy, we tend to overlook the energy required to put them to work. When we eat, particularly a large meal and we experience a drop in the blood sugar levels. We become lethargic, no focus, no energy, just a desire for sugar. Our body has redirected our resources to the digestion process, leaving our minds devoid of energy. There is a balance in eating the right amount, but it seems to be far less than the amount peddled by mainstream science.
There is some research on this, and there are movements of intermittent fasting diets, but again these are a one-size-fits-all. If you do not suffer from any medical conditions or have a history of mental illness relating to things like anorexia, I would recommend trying it out and finding your own way of practising this.
The same goes for protein, carbs, vitamins and minerals. Diets are doctrine. Listen to your body. Does it want protein or does it want carbs, does it want a light salad or does it want a full on meal? When it’s craving that after meal sugar to keep you going, think about whether you need to be awake for the next half hour or whether you can nap it off.
This must be balanced with what we know. We know that there is no requirement to eat three meals a day. We know anything in excess is bad for you, so we practice moderation. We know that our bodies are better adept at digesting natural foods which have not been processed or treating with chemicals. We know the effects of dehydration.
Learn about Diet
While I am no dietician, as a being of reasonable intelligence surrounded by a world of information it is my duty to understand the basics of nutrition and what constitutes a healthy lifestyle in general. This is not only for my benefit, but also limits the burden which I may be on societal structures which could best be used serving someone else in need. I attend hospital less for self-inflicted habits, I am lighter and less burdensome on forms of transport and contribute less to the unnecessary manufactured food industry. Beyond a basic knowledge of nutrition, you require intuition about your food and your lifestyle.
Intuitive eating, however, requires an intuitive lifestyle.
We often eat when we are tired because of a physiological reaction. We often eat to avoid doing something due to a psychological reaction. So, it requires some semblance of self-awareness and resilience, but will feel more natural.
It goes without saying that the closer you are to your food source the more awareness you will have about how it is treated and thus the more conscious decisions you will make about what you put in your body. If you lived next door to a factory farm you may be less inclined to ingest that meat, than if you lived next to an organic farm where you can see the vegetables growing and cows grazing.
We like attachments, we like to hold others accountable, we fear self-reliance because it can be lonely and we are social animals. Much like our caregivers helped us at a young age, we seek this out through personal trainers, gurus and dieticians. We seek others to be accountable to and make them accountable to us. We ultimately want self-reliance for leading a healthy lifestyle, but have unhealthy attachments which comfort us in times of anxiety. Even if you have the willpower to stick to a diet for 6 months, without understanding why you comfort eat and without facing those anxieties this diet is entirely superficial and will collapse. Your diet or exercise regime may give you physical results, but they may feel hollow unless they can be attributed to the undoing of your past difficulties. It is a lifelong endeavour which requires integration and therefore a slow process to achieve lasting results in which your lifestyle change becomes embodied and automated rather than trembling with fear or hunger in order to look good.
We become fixated on a single thing rather than the mind, body, soul approach which are all interconnected and cannot be ‘cured’ with a pill, diet or listening to audiobooks on double speed. We must appreciate why we are studying, dieting or exercising and embody this philosophy — our philosophy.
The same goes for exercise. In a world where ego is the driving force, competition has been created not only between each other, but with ourselves. When we continuously push ourselves in the gym or running without a proper rest day or days and try to fit our body into scientific models aimed at professional athletes then we are destined for injury or sickness.
Again, do not expect the same results that you obtained the previous day, in which you expended so much energy your muscles need time to recover. Use the flow state. If you’re feeling a workout then do it, if not then don’t, if you’re unsure and still have some energy then perhaps a light workout or some stretching. Maybe you need some yoga instead of dumbbells today. Maybe you need dumbbells instead of cycling. Again, the somatic connection to your body can have profound effects on mental health.
It may be a new day, but if you lead a busy life, you can’t ‘afford’ that extra hour lie-in that your body needs to recover. If you can, then do it. Wouldn’t you much prefer having energy and focus, rather than being groggy all day? If you are focussed on the routine, then get up early but make time for a power nap during the day.
There is also a misconception that we can sit at a desk all day and make up for this by spending 45 minutes in the gym every night. That is like leaving a turkey in the freezer all day and expecting it to thaw and cook in 45 minutes. You may get some superficial charring on the outside, but the inside remains frozen. Keeping moving all day is natural, although in our built-up computer centred environment it is difficult to do.
I had a reputation at my last job as ‘tea-boy’, because I couldn’t sit for more than 30 minutes at a time and offered a round of hot drinks to whoever was around me. I would take the stairs, go to a toilet on a different floor, basically use the building as inefficiently as possible. I am not a ‘restless’ person by nature, just human, and if you keep moving and resting throughout the day your body and mind can stay limber for that final browning in the gym at the end of the day.
It is difficult to find a balance in a culture built to domesticate humans to the level of machines, so it takes a fresh approach to break the cycle.
There are opportunities everywhere to engage your body — take the stairs, dance with the cupboard doors in the kitchen or lug some heavy boxes around. These things don’t need purpose, just engagement. Make the world your gym and build self-reliance.