Plant-based food and the emotional side
Moving to an alternative food and life model can be taxing on our nervous system.
Stay with me, please vegan and plant-based community. I am going to explain this bold statement.
Though, continuing to stay in a conventional and dysfunctional food diet and lifestyle can be even more pricey for our nervous system and the planet's future, we realise that we are often in uncharted territories both ways.
Our autonomic nervous system is the unconscious control system of bodily functions like heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, urination, and sexual arousal.
Within this nervous system are two branches: the sympathetic or “fight-or-flight” and the parasympathetic “rest and digest.” Our lifestyle based on working, being on our phones, driving, intense exercise, taking our kids to school and many other hectic activities, shift us out automatically of 'rest and digest' into 'fight-or-flight' mode. When that happens, our body cannot function properly. Apparently, according to research we are over 85% of the global population, living in “fight-or-flight” mode! Therefore our nerves become frayed as our minds race.
Natural remedies like yoga, meditation, mindful breathing, and calming essential oils can help, but what we are eating may also work to quiet and ease the wondering mind. In fact, a plant-based, anti inflammatory diet rich in specific vitamins and minerals may work to calm our nerves.
This is all true and backed by science... and this is the ultimate reason I turned my diet to plan-based when I became ill with a life-threatening condition. My illness was the drive to keep me focused and purpose-driven in staying healthy and stopping contributing in a dysfunctional, cruel and climate un-friendly food system.
Though, when I overcame my illness and I was finally out of the bushes, I found so difficult to stay course with the plant-based diet. Sometimes the strongest food cravings or going back into our old habits hit us when we are at our weakest point emotionally, which can happen quite a lot when you are dealing with huge health issues. You may turn to food for comfort — consciously or unconsciously — when facing a difficult problem, feeling stressed or even feeling bored. Emotional eating can sabotage our life-style changing efforts. Emotions and feelings are an extremely strong trigger for food choices. From a young age food becomes connected to a variety of emotions and social interactions. Whether sad, happy, celebrating, commemorating, lonely, angry, food is often used to support or cope with these emotions and circumstances.
Now, let's go back to the initial statement: 'turning to a plant-based diet can cost an emotional toll.' How so?
I need to take you on a short journey with me, to the time in which I was studying to become a systemic constellation counsellor.
According to Rupert Sheldrake, the resonance of the past continues to affect our lives in the present, without our awareness or consent most of the time: we go through life often doing things that we do not want to do. We may feel trapped in endlessly repeating patterns that we seem to have no control over. We also tend to see our problems as belonging to us alone.
Yet, the fact is that we are born into a family system or a societal construct that already have powerful forces and hidden dynamics, with roots in past generations that will continue to influence and impact our lives in the present. We are bound consciously or unconsciously by deep bonds of loyalty, not only to our family of origin, but also to the wider societal system. If we are lucky, we get some glimpses of awareness into this invisible wirings and we may feel caught in patterns of behavior that we do not understand or feel that we ‘own’. As psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor John Sharp said in his TEDx talk, "It's the story you've been telling yourself about who you are and how everything always plays out."
The loyalty to the conventional food system of omnivores is one of these stories. Food is emotional, it is the first connection we have with life as babies, together with breathing. It goes down to our mother relationship, and to the relation we ultimately have with our existence. Non-vegans anticipate stigma associated with eating like vegans and that could be intolerable by our limbic system, that is in charge of our survival response.
If we want to follow our health in changing our diets to plant-based, or our heart and changing our lifestyle to veganism, we all have a reckoning to do with our unwiring from our system of beliefs.
Where do we go from here? Well, the good news that once we know what is holding us back, things start to untangle a bit.
We bring the light of awareness in our system of loyalty in our food credences and assumptions. Uncovering the shallowness of the statements and questions like 'I don't think I can live without cheese' or 'where do you take all your protein?' - while let's be honest... how many of us really looked into what a protein really is in biology, how does it work, where to find it -.
So, congratulations. You have now another paradigm to look up to in your food system and potentially change it, because after all we are the authors, consciously or unconsciously, of our lives. Begin to the point where your story diverges from the reality you are trying to build for yourself, pay attention to your inner dialogue and notice when it includes statements that begin with "I always ... ," "I'm always ... ," or "I never ...." These thoughts are what we default to when we face hardship.
Think back to being a child and identify what experiences complete these sentences for you. What more recent experiences caused you to perpetuate your story? It's in these moments of awareness you can shut down or alter the narrative. All the self-awareness and positivity in the world won't matter if you aren't willing to jettison the baggage that's been weighing you down. You simply must cut away what no longer serves you and rewrite your food narrative to serve who you want to be and to live in alignment with your health and your values.
I will publish more on this topic in the next few weeks, as I am putting together a course on 'emotional plant-based' in October in Forres, together with reviewing and adding a few chapters in this regard to the book I wrote in the 2014. Stay tuned and let me know if you want to know more and join the future events.