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How to eat for maximum nourishment: Why your mind might be working against your body

Anecdotally, we have all heard of stress or anxiety's impact on our gut. Some have referred to this as "butterflies" in our tummy, or other variations. I personally have an obtrusive physiological response to stress. It seems that when I am feeling anxiety or stress, the butterflies in my stomach make a little whistling noise… I kid you not. I noticed this for the first time when I was taking my senior practicum class in college. It was a small, intimate class of all seven seniors majoring in Philosophy. Close quarters, after dinner, for three hours, talking "On What Matters." All of the sudden, tiny little whistling noises would erupt from my stomach. And of course, the embarrassment of realizing the whistling was coming from me made it all the worse. I spent the whole semester attempting to mentally prepare myself for that class to avoid the whistling but to no avail. The whistling always came. The same thing happened when I started dating my husband. Every date we went on. Whistling. When he asked about it, I just told him that it was something my stomach did every day. He now knows the real reason. Thankfully, the response we affectionately dubbed, "nervous tummy," has since disappeared from our relationship. We all know from our experiences (like mine) that our mental states impact our gut somehow. But we don't always consider how these mental states impact us at the dinner table through our digestive system.

Introduction to the key player: The Autonomic Nervous System

It can be helpful at this point to know a little bit about your nervous system to demonstrate just how our mindset might impact our wellbeing. The key player that I will talk about is your autonomic nervous system. All you really need to know for our purposes is that the autonomic nervous system is a part of your nervous system that deals with involuntary regulation of your organs. For example, the rate at which you breathe, or the rate at which your heart beats, or the dilation and constriction of your pupils, or how much glucose is in your blood stream. These are all systems in your body that you do not actively think about controlling. In fact, you would die if you had to consciously control them. Imagine having to tell yourself when to breathe. What if you fell asleep? How would your body know when to breathe? It wouldn't… Rarely, people are born with this condition and they actually die from sleep deprivation (not asphyxiation as one might think). This is a bit of a detour, but I point it out as an incredible reminder of how amazing our bodies are! Never take for granted all the things that your body does for you without you even being aware of it.

"Rest and Digest" versus "Fight or Flight"