The Mind-Body Connection: Complexity in Weight Loss
You can’t eat your way into healthy thinking, but you can probably think your way into healthy eating, which, in turn, actually could make your thinking healthier… if only you could figure out where to start.
There was a time when people regarded the physical body as a system quite separate and distinct from the mental realm. The conventional wisdom of cultures throughout the world typically acknowledge and honor a connection between the mind and body, but in the realm of Western science, emotional and cognitive activity has been held as though it exists almost independent of the flesh.
Yet anyone who’s ever gone for the chocolate when they were feeling blue knows, intuitively, that it’s all connected.
And in the last 25 years or so, science has been getting a grip on the physiology underlying the profound connection between our minds and our bodies, and coming up with ways to help us not only to understand it, but use it effectively to improve our health and habits, including the habits that have led to the national obesity crisis.
Disease and stress research in particular have yielded vast evidence of the inter-related nature of our minds and bodies, showing how people who endure high-pressure lifestyles can experience both acute and chronic health problems because of it.
But our daily lives are full of simpler examples of the mind-body connection, and it’s not always a problem: consider how certain words can make you blush; a sad scene in a movie or song can bring you to tears; a phone call or email from a special someone can make your heart go pitter-patter. Your thoughts are affecting your body chemistry and creating distinct physical responses.
And, obviously, it works the other way, too, when what your body experiences produces responses in the brain. A particular smell can stimulate a nostalgic memory. Tickling and rough-housing a grumpy child will often cheer him right up. These are such familiar examples that it’s hard to imagine anyone ever disputed the connection.
But what science has been able to prove in the last couple decades is just why–neurologically—that tickling works to cheer the child. It’s not merely that you’ve distracted him from whatever got his goat. In truth, both laughter and physical exercise cause the release of mood-elevating chemicals in the brain. Laughter really is the best medicine, and you’ve just given him a double dose.
On the other hand, research has proven that a stimulus such as anxiety—a feeling—can trigger the release of nerve-fiber chemicals, which then tell the immune system what to do to help protect the body in a time of emotional stress.