The Interaction between thought and digestion – Part 1

An often-overlooked piece of the GI puzzle


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The connection between food and digestion and our emotions and thought has never been more evident than in today’s modern world. Is it any wonder that in today’s stressed out, go-go-go society that the number one complaint that doctors are consulted for is digestive disorders? Is it any coincidence that the digestive system happens to be housed in the emotional center (solar plexus) of our bodies? To answer this we need to take a step back and start from the beginning.

In the newly-conceived fetus, the first organs to develop are the brain and spinal cord (nervous system), heart and digestive tract. This enables the fetus to send and receive messages and feel the emotions of the mother. The digestive tract is obviously where the physical connection between mother and child takes place. This is where the fetus obtains the raw nutrients that are needed for its rapid growth. This progression in the development says two things to me. Firstly, the digestive system must be extremely important if it is one of the first organs to develop. Remember it is developing before the heart, lungs, eyes, nose or limbs and it is clear that without the intake of nutrients via the digestive system none of these would have the means to grow and develop themselves. Secondly, the connection between digestion, feelings (heart) and our sensory system (nervous system) begins at conception.

When we look at the nerve pathways we see that (at this stage) they all lead to the digestive tract, thereby creating a sensory connection between the brain and digestive system. Even in the fully grown adult the amount of nervous connection between the digestive system and the brain and spinal cord is astounding. It is for this reason that we often experience emotion at ‘gut-level’ and also why digestion gets severely impaired in times of stress or emotional upset.

It  follows that the digestive system then becomes our first interaction with the outside world, feeding off both the mothers’ emotions and food. Once this fundamental connection has been laid down everything else follows. It now becomes clear just how big an impact the mothers’ diet and emotions have on the unborn child. This manifests itself physically when we look at childhood allergies and emotionally when we look at things like childhood obesity and emotional eating. Once the child is born, food and emotions become even more closely connected. Food today is often used by parents to persuade, bribe or control their children. Children then associate food with things like comfort and reward. In adulthood we often revert to food as a coping mechanism. This seems particularly relevant in a society where obesity and diabetes have reached epidemic proportions.

As I mentioned before, the digestive system is, for the most part, housed in our emotional center, the solar plexus chakra. Do you still think that this is a coincidence? To discuss all the emotions and thoughts of the solar plexus chakra is beyond the scope of this article but I will cover some of the basic principles that govern our emotional center.

As we strive to make our mark on the world, our sense of identity and self-esteem is intimately bound up with our work and our tasks in life, with how well we do it, and how others perceive, assess and acknowledge our performance. This concern is at the root of this chakra and it is here where the individuation process starts – the development of the ego, self-consciousness and power.

So, emotions that are associated with this chakra include feelings of anger, fear, disgust, depression, and vengeance.

When self-esteem is low and we are depressed or, if we feel that something is missing in our lives, we tend to overeat. By overeating we are trying to fill a void inside us with food. We might also starve ourselves (anorexia). By under-eating we are trying to minimize our presence in the world. This could again be due to not feeling worthy or being depressed (think ‘magazine covers and celebrities’). By feeling powerless in a situation we become angry. This is because we feel that we cannot control the situation. If we are always trying to control things then we might always be angry at not being able to. Anger (and eating when angry) has a detrimental effect on the liver, an organ that plays a key role in the digestion of food and the assimilation of nutrients. These are just some of the examples of how emotions impact digestion.

The question then becomes: “Where did we learn to do this?”

As I mentioned before food gets used as a tool by parents to either persuade, comfort or reward. It is also has alot to do with society. We live in a society where most of our lives we are focused externally, whether it be work, material possessions or accumulating wealth. We have never been showed how to tap into and understand who we really are. We are taught to suppress our emotions and our feelings and to put on a brave face. By doing this from a young age we never fully learn how to deal with the negative emotions that plague us. Combine this with the fact that we have become so detached from any sort of appreciation from where our food comes from and, viola, you get emotional eating. Beyond emotional eating in the strictest sense, we also see it manifest in other ways. This could be eating on the run all the time, eating when we are rushed and also eating when we are stressed, angry or upset. These are all prevalent in today’s society and the consequences are evident in the amount of people seeing doctors about digestive complaints. Medications such as antacids and laxatives are some of the best selling drugs out there.

By understanding ourselves and our emotions and cultivating more awareness about our food, our digestion can be improved. All this before we have even thought about taking a supplement or pill. Obviously a diet that is wholesome, natural and free from artificial foods is vital, but the emotional factor is one of the keys to unlocking digestive wellness and optimum health.

I expand on this in “The interaction between thought, emotion and digestion – Part 2″. Hope you got something out of this and thanks for reading. Feel free to comment below – we’d love to hear from you!

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