I observe a gluten-free diet; I have done so for nearly two years now. When asked why I went gluten-free I reply that I wanted to feel better. I opted to try it as a result of the intense back and joint pain I began to experience chronically once I entered the wonderful world of peri-menopause. It worked! Not only did it address the pain but I feel better digestively, energetically and I am overall more comfortable in my body. These are all motivating reasons to maintain my gluten-free diet.
This holiday season I had the opportunity to observe myself making choices regarding my diet as I spent a lovely Christmas visiting family in Maine. I remained gluten-free the majority of the time but on a few occasions, such as my sister’s pecan brioche that she lovingly labored over for two days, I was not about to miss out! I enjoyed each delicious, delectable bite of her labor of love without a moment’s guilt. What did I notice? Nothing! My body digested and processed the love bun without protest.
Then, I came home and went out to pizza with friends and family. I rarely crave pizza but on this evening I noticed myself wanting some. I chose not to partake of the pizza. However, my salad came with homemade bread sticks. This is where it got funny. Because I was in a place of denying myself the pleasure of a slice of pizza when I really wanted it, I decided to “cheat” and eat some breadstick. I observed myself with dread and amusement as I broke off little pieces and stuck them in my mouth quickly, kind of hiding it from my family and friends. After dinner I didn’t feel so well.
I think this has everything to do with the “cheating” vs “choosing” mentality and I find it hilarious! Who was I hiding from? The gluten-free diet is my choice, nobody holds me to it and I can’t hide from me now can I? I can’t tell you how many times I have heard clients or colleagues say something to the effect of, “Yeah, I snuck a donut today.” But if we stop and think about it, who do we “sneak” it from? Nobody else is accountable and we can’t sneak it from ourselves because, well, no matter where you go, there you are!
These experiences led me to a theory which, of course, has to do with the nervous system. When I choose and feel good about my choice and enjoy each bite of what I am eating, I access the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system which is responsible for digestion and relaxation. My body gets the message that all is well and it can go about happily doing its job of processing my food.
When I view my choice as a cheat, I trigger the sympathetic or “fight or flight” branch of the nervous system. In this place, my adrenaline is pumping and my heart is beating a wee bit faster as I judge myself and hide from the monster (me!) that is making me cheat. Digestion does not happen when the sympathetic branch is triggered so I automatically sabotage myself and compound the negative effects of my choice.
Of course, there are cases as in severe food allergies and addictions where this theory would not be safe to test and the effects of food intolerances are cumulative so it’s not a substitute for daily self-control. However, for the occasions where we may want to choose differently, and for the majority of us who are making our dietary choices in order to feel a bit better, we could really do well to simply choose and leave the cheating mentality behind.
So, in 2014 how about we all come out of our sneaky cheating closets and simply choose? If my nervous system theory is correct, we’ll all feel better for it!
Image Credits: All images are licensed from Shutterstock.com or taken by us. Sense concept composed with arrow in head shape: Syaheir Azizan