Ludwig Feuerbach, a German philosopher, was the man who first coined the phrase ‘We are what we eat,’ during the turmoil of the German Revolution in 1848. Fast forward to the twenty first century, the entire narrative of health is around food. Today, both, mind and the body are of equal importance while determining how healthy a person is. After numerous researches, it has been observed that Feuerbach was indeed right! Our health, physical and mental, is largely influenced by the food we eat. The importance of food is known to mankind since time immemorial, but it is only recently that we have understood its impact.
Over the past few years, food scientists, chefs, have attempted to understand the connection between food and mental health. The nutritional value of what we eat and drink determines the composition of our cell membranes, bone marrow, hormones, skin and hair. Our body replaces millions of cells every day and this is done by using the food that we consume, hence, the emphasis on a well-balanced diet. It not only results in a healthy body but also makes us feel good. Eating right helps reduce the chance of chronic diseases thereby, improving the lifestyle and state of mind of an individual. Having said that, one rule does not fit all. Applying the commonly accepted recommendations such as, low sugar, low salt and consumption of a meal with most nutrients is advisable for all of us.
One of the important aspects of consumption is the quantity we eat but how we process the food is perhaps even more critical. This is known as the ‘brain-gut connection.’ There are thousands of sensors that our gut uses to process all the information from the food we eat. On the basis of that information our moods and feelings are regulated thereby, affecting all the body process like digestion, circulation and excretion. For instance, if we are having a great meal with a friend and suddenly we engage in some sort of an argument with them, we feel nauseous and giddy; we often label this feeling as a ‘pit in the stomach.’ An extension of the same could be severe stomach ache or indigestion. Even when we are eating by ourselves there is continuous internal dialogue that is active in our brain. We aren’t necessarily focused on the food we are eating and are distracted by the million thoughts playing in our head. This leads to indigestion and a ruining of the overall experience of a meal.
When we feel intense emotions such as anxiety, stress, our regular digestive process will be altered by hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol. Contrarily, if we have too much sugar the dopamine makes us lazy and unproductive, leading to severe lethargy and restlessness. Hence, it is often suggested that one must pay complete attention while consuming food as our gut sends the strongest messages to our brain’s emotional centres. We can do so by being more aware of all the little aspects of eating such as – smelling, chewing, seeing and swallowing. This is known as ‘mindful eating.’ Several trials indicated that people, who practiced this, reduced compulsive habits, improved self-control, diminished depressive symptoms and maintained a healthy body weight.
All we must remember is that what we eat and how we eat influences what we become. It is not just about satisfying hunger, but doing so with diligence and awareness.
We are indeed much more than just what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us be much more than what we are.