Palate of Our Mind
In his autobiographical account about his struggle with mental illness, ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ author, Matt Haig rightly pointed out that we can boast about being rid of the stigma around mental health only when we stop segregating health into two categories i.e. Mental and Physical. It is quite astonishing that not only have we separated the two as if brain was never a part of our body but also we have failed to understand the link between food and our ‘mental health’ so to say.
We, as a generation are an ‘All-or-Nothing’ consumers. We either binge or deprive ourselves. Five days of the week we act as workaholics and the remaining two are spent being fainéants. We have forgotten the meaning and significance of balance. Now, whether this is because of the fast running lifestyles or everything being available at a click (from toilet paper to medicines to furniture to food etc.) or both, is yet to be empirically studied in detail by researchers. Instead of one episode a day, we binge watch. Balanced diet is a passé now; we either diet (read deprive ourselves to death) or binge eat (read eat unto death).
In all of this hay-wired lives of ours, we have completely missed the link between eating and a healthy mind. Whenever we think or talk about food, its effects are always in context with our bodies. We diet because we want to lose weight or gain some (yes, skinny shaming is also a thing because why should fat people have all the fun).Our ‘mind’ never ponders about the effect of such actions on itself. Our bodies are at the center of our dietary plans which these days are nothing but new dietary fads capitalizing on our insecurities and willingness to spend on quinoa, avocado and muesli.
It is extremely important for us to understand that it all starts with the brain and ends with the same. We want to lose or gain weight to fit in that yellow tailored suit or that lehenga which our favorite actress wore the other day during her film promotion. These twisted standards of beauty often impact us with unhealthy trails of thoughts before they manifest into our journey of imbalanced eating which ends up in serious health problems such as depression, anxiety and even severe eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge-eating Disorder. Anorexia Nervosa literally means ‘lack of appetite induced by nervousness’ which actually is misnomer, because at the heart of it lies intense fear of gaining weight.
Bulimia Nervosa on the other hand is characterized by episodes of binge eating and then purging through self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise and abusing laxatives. Binge-eating disorder as the name suggests is one where one eats in huge amount and great speed. People with such disorder are typically obese or over-weight and are generally unhappy with their body weight.
After knowing the nature of these disorders and underlying insecurities, it might tempt us to believe that such patterns must be occurring more in women than in men. It is true to an extent as we know females are under greater pressure to look a certain way. In fact, female to male gender ratio was thought to be as high as 10:1 until more recent estimates came out which suggest that:
There are 3 females for every male with eating disorders (James and Morgan 2010).
The prevalence in males was overlooked earlier because they do not show the tendency of getting ‘thinner’ but a lot of them wish to be more muscular(thanks to the stereotypes propelled by our society and oh-so-wonderful Bollywood and Hollywood) resulting in a condition called Muscle Dysmorphia.
After going through so much technical jargon, one might believe that all these said problems are related to the body only but it is not so. As stated earlier too, body and mind cannot be separated. The desire to look good and fit society’s standard of beauty not only hurts our body but also our brain. The effect of our body image on our mind and vice versa is much more severe than we think. The constant feeling of not being good enough or desirable leads us into isolating ourselves from the world around us in fear of being perceived as too thin, too fat, and too hairy and so on and so forth. Also, all this keeps happening at a deeper, sub-conscious level when we see advertisements with models in perfect shape. It not only deteriorates our self-image but also tricks us into expecting such perfection from others (no dear-your Mr. Right won’t turn out to be your star crush neither Miss Right would resonate your favorite actress). All this can lead to severe mental health catastrophes.
So people, stop depriving or bingeing. Our mind needs proper balanced diet with all necessary nutrients to function. All the important activities are conceived in our brain (memory, thinking, reasoning etc.).Imbalanced eating patterns often mess with our hormonal balance. For all these neurotransmitters, namely-oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, endorphins to function normally, our brain need nutrients and continuous flow of blood. (So next time when your crush texts and you feel your heart has fallen out of your body, don’t forget to thank your brain)
Having established a significant relationship between eating habits and our brain, it would be interesting to shift our focus on how food is not only related to our health but also is an important connector working as a base to influence people’s psyche(no, not talking about Instagram influencers).
There was this NEWS recently that a certain religious group raised objections over beef being served in an Indian food fest in Frankfurt, Germany. They saw it as an attack on their culture! Such deeply embedded is the relation of food with culture, politics and our belief systems, no matter how skewed such relationships might be. We have ample examples of food being used as a medium to create havoc or bring about unity. The famous Revolt of 1857 during the Indian struggle for Independence had its base the rumor that the greased cartridges were made from cow and pig fat. Of course there were other reasons for the Sepoy Mutiny but this worked as a trigger!
There’s another quirky story behind the myth that all our parents have fed us-
‘carrots help us improve our eyesight’.
This myth originated during the Second World War when British Royal Air Force to keep their new radar technology (which helped shooting down German planes) a secret. They spread the rumor that their pilots were given raw carrots to eat which improved their eyesight despite the darkness of the night.
Even today, food items are used to trick our brains and instigate us. We get swayed away by such myths, rumors and even hate speeches by politicians because food has always been an integral part of all cultures around the world. Even to this modern day, bonding over food is seen as the easiest way to communicate whether it’s a dinner date, a festival or house-warming parties. Thus, food is very much embedded in our belief system. Long before it became an object of enticing insta stories, food was considered sacred and prayers were said before eating a meal. Food wastage was considered a sin before being an environmental degradation concern. In today’s world, which is obsessed with ‘insta-worthy’, ’healthy’, ’gluten-free’, ’organic’ or ‘whatever-adjective-you-like’ food, the silver lining is the slow and steady focus shifting towards mindful eating. Sane and realistic suggestions given by nutritionists like, Rujuta Divekar to watch what we are eating can lead us to healthy outcomes, not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well.
So, when Maslow gave the hierarchy of needs and placed ‘food; on the base of it (along with water, sex, sleep and elimination) he well knew that millennials would be needing a reminder to eat mindfully before they move up the ladder!