Blog 10: We are what we consume

Blog 31st October 2018

We’ve all heard the saying ‘you are what you eat’. Indeed, like most things, if we hear it over and over, it loses its impact. However, for many of us, the real impact never really struck home to begin with and we’d greet it with ‘yeah, yeah’ whilst never giving a thought to what we were putting in our mouths. If our bodies were transparent and we could witness the process that occurs each time we consume, we may begin to comprehend at a deeper level that we truly ‘are what we eat’:

Nutrients are the nourishing substances in food that are essential for the growth, development and maintenance of body functions. Essentially meaning that if a nutrient is not present, aspects of function and therefore human health decline. When nutrient intake does not regularly meet the nutrient needs dictated by the cell activity, the metabolic processes slow down or even stop.” Wardlow and Insel (2004)

So, the physical state of our bodies is highly dependent on what we feed them. There are parts of the world where the choice is very limited but for most in the West we can choose to eat in a healthy manner, with all sorts of wonderful plant-based foods available to us. We may also choose to ignore the warnings and pursue a heavily processed diet which typically contains increased amounts of salt, sugar, or fat—all of which are known as harmful. Highly processed foods are also chemically treated with additives or preservatives to improve their taste, texture, or to extend shelf-life. The wonderful thing is that these things are now being exposed and we, the consumers, have the knowledge which leads to informed choice and self-empowerment…

But consumption does not relate only to food. We may also be aware of the saying ‘You become what you think all day long’ Ralph Waldo Emerson. Again, we might say ‘yeah yeah- but you don’t know how my life is’… each of us sees the world from the perspective of our life experiences up until now and many of us are, or have been, unaware that we are somewhat responsible for many of those experiences, simply from how we think and what we attract into our lives. Just as with food, where the nutrients can be broken down into what’s healthy and what’s not, likewise, science is beginning to catch up with some of the truths from ancient wisdom tribes regarding what constitutes and nourishes a healthy mind or not.

Every thought we think has a neurochemical response which causes biochemical, physiological changes in the body. Just thinking about taking a bite out of a lemon can cause one to salivate and screw up the face in anticipation of the sour taste- all this from a thought! Imagine what’s happening in the body when we think derogatory thoughts about ourselves- negative self-talk. The more we ‘practice’ this thought, the stronger the neural pathways become (neurons that fire together wire together) and, pretty soon we create a default mode of thinking- we create a habit and it seems that life is out to get us. Life is unfair etc.

The opposite is also true- if we focus on what is good in our lives and thus set up new positive connections and new neural pathways, the biochemical response will see a release of ‘feel good’ hormones such as endorphins and serotonin, so that we actually ‘feel’ good. Thus, a new cycle begins- I feel good, therefore I create positive and grateful thoughts which, in turn strengthen the neural pathways to bring about a new default mode or habit. When we become a gratitude magnet, we literally begin to attract that which is good into our lives and the old, negative neural pathways become redundant. We begin to perceive life differently and, even when challenges occur, we know we have the power to choose how to work with them for a more positive outcome. We may not always be able to change our external environment, but we can certainly take responsibility for the internal environment, both physical and mental.

We are what we consume and, according to the revered and wonderful meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh, this includes the books and magazines we read, the films & programmes we watch, the company we keep, the conversations we have, the social media we frequent, the games we play. Our nervous system is touched by it all. Therefore, taking time to cleanse the nervous system and restore some peace and space into our overcrowded lives is an essential act of self-kindness that will keep us truly happy, healthy and abundant Meditation and mindful living is a way to nurture our mind, just as exercise and good food nurtures our physical body. When we consume wisely, the whole world benefits.