It’s not just physical.

It’s really fun to read studies that tell us what we already kinda knew:

Grains ain’t so great.

The Princess Bride is the greatest movie of all time. (Okay, no study needed for that one.)

You should try to sleep at night, and work during the day (NOT the other way around).

Look, I’m all for being aware of the realities behind the trade-offs we make as we engage in that ever-complicated dance with such disregulating entities as grain-free desserts, toxic fumes, bacon, artificial lights, shift work, and Tracy Anderson diet “gurus” who have grown out of touch with us simple common-folk.

What I’m saying is…we definitely shouldn’t kid ourselves. Not everything we do – by choice or of necessity – is going to put a point in the “healthier” column.

Sometimes we have a delicious grain-free dessert (stay tuned…I have THE most delicious grain-free cookies on the way this week {*for shame* [bite me]}).

Sometimes we do a hot yoga class and spend an hour breathing in the toxic fumes of a ranking member of the Senate Stank Committee.

Sometimes we eat bacon work the night shift.

So are we “doomed?” Are we “wrong?” Are we – gasp! – screwed?

No. Because, as I’ve learned from one of my greatest heroes – my father, who has worked a rotating schedule of nights, twilights, breaking dawns, and other crazy hours reminiscent of Teen Vampire Fiction for about a quarter century (and who is healthy, hilarious, appreciative of the rewards of hard work, and enthusiastic about his job) – the mental game is of utmost importance.

You can be pretty damn informed about how food, sleep, exercise, and life should work. You can tell people that if they don’t have their ducks in a row, they’re setting themselves up for dis-ease. (sorr-ys! too badz, lol!)

But if you focus too heavily on the physiological minutiae at the expense of everything else that makes us human, you not only risk creating a state of emotional stress that exacerbates a perceived nutritional or lifestyle deficiency (a deficiency that may not even register on the physiological scale until you get all panty-bunched about it); but you elbow out that less tangible element of even greater importance: the Mind.

Not the mortal mind. Not the brain. Not the synapses or the myelin sheaths or the reward centers. The spiritual mind. The meditative existence. The metaphysical. That’s not a religious concept. It’s just an acknowledgement that who we are is something greater than the sum of our mitochondria.

One can be healthy despite an occasional grain-free dessert, or even a daily scoche of bacon, coffee, or shift work** as long as the importance of metaphysical health – the health of the mind, the strength of the self-concept, and the power of Thought – is not forgotten. Just because somebody says you’re screwed doesn’t mean you are.

Have I used sufficient italics?

The bottom line is, we all do the best we can; and operating in the spirit of integrity – whatever the reality – does not carry a penalty so severe as an insurmountable obstacle to physical health. That’s not pie-in-the-sky. That’s straight-up empirical observation, beeeatch.

**Notice I do NOT say “everything in moderation” or any other such ridiculosity. A Twinkie, an all-night Twilight marathon, a dose of Vital Wheat Gluten, or a hit of crack or “dead foods” now and then is simply ridiculous and unnecessary, and I feel the difference I highlight between the spirit of ignorance versus the spirit of integrity is obvious.


18 Responses to “It’s not just physical.”

  1. Great post. One point of argument though. The brain is the mind and mind is the brain. When a stimulus comes into the brain, it projects to association areas, which do just what they say, associate that stimulus with others occurring at the same time. From the association areas, the signal is sent to the prefrontal cortex, where we think about this stimulus some more and decide, what, if anything to do about it. And since almost all output of the brain funnels through the basal ganglia (motor centers), somewhere along the line a muscle is moved in response to what we think about. A more concrete illustration: your brain is taking in the stimuli of your creepy surroundings, sends it back to association areas, which say “hey, this looks a lot like that scene in that movie, right before Freddie Crougar jumps out,” sends that message up to the prefrontal cortex, which says “hey, I need to be on guard, ” which then sends out the message to release epinephrine, make the heart beat faster, the pupils dilate and the breathing rate to increase so you can be ready to RUN!” Your brain via your thoughts can create that physical state without anything physical happening to provoke it.

    So, yes the mind is key, it creates our physical reality moment to moment. But our minds ARE created and driven by synapses, myelin sheaths and mitochondria. That’s the coolest thing about the brain is that these physical entities do act in such a way as to create consciousness. We can have consciousness because of our larger frontal lobes (made possible by eating copious amounts of cooked meat according to Richard Wrangham at Harvard.) We can understand our connection to the greater world because of our right hemispheres. We understand ourselves because of our left hemisphere.

    Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor is a neuroanatomist who describes how her stroke showed the interplay between the physical and metaphysical brain.

  2. love this post! And I so needed to hear this today 🙂

  3. I love this post. And the italics. 🙂

    @Dr. Christa: I don’t agree that the mind and the brain are equivalent. Interconnected, sure, but I see the brain as the physical (and insanely complex :-)) organ in the skull (and perhaps extended to the neurons throughout the body if that’s a definition you’re comfortable with), whereas I see “mind” as much more all-encompassing, not limited to the brain and its functions and anatomy. I think we’d have consciousness with or without the frontal lobes and regardless of how well-formed they are. *grin*

    But really, a matter of semantics most likely.

  4. I don’t know if you were responding to what I think you were, but you said all I was thinking…well, kinda. You seem a nicer girl than me. 😉

  5. Liz,

    Thanks for the interesting post. You make some excellent points, though in all fairness, I think you’ve extrapolated a little too much from our two-sentence Facebook post. (We’re assuming that’s the inspiration for your article, as you echo the exact words from our FB entry.) Our intention is simply to share sane conceptual guidelines (supported by interesting, relevant research) in order to encourage introspection and ongoing evaluation of one’s everyday choices. Could someone drink coffee, eat bacon, and do shift work every day and be reasonably healthy? Of course. But if we learn that some of our behaviors or choices might not be optimal, shouldn’t we at least be honest enough with ourselves to weigh them critically against how mentally satisfying they are?

    Some (imperfect) things, for some people, are absolutely worth the (mild, potential) downsides. For me, coffee is one of those things. For Melissa, the consequences of coffee consumption totally outweigh the Enjoyment Factor. Which is why we think tools like the Whole30 are such a valuable awareness tool to allow people to actually assess how specific foods are affecting *them*, and to apply that improved awareness going forward… indefinitely. Likewise, learning about how non-nutritional factors can affect your overall health can also be informative. And as Dr. Whiteman points out, the biological realities of our choices directly impact our psychological function (i.e. mind and body are one and the same). Translation: as nice as it would be, one cannot simply be at (metaphysical) peace with their life choices and by doing so avoid all the physiological consequences of those choices.

    We have always strove to present what think of as “optimal” choices, so that when Life Happens, those historically excellent choices will allow us to survive that time period (new baby, loss of job, divorce, etc.) without having our health utterly destroyed. Sharing this information will hopefully facilitate more “excellent” choices and fewer “acceptable” choices, allowing each and every person to strike that critical balance between “best” and “sane” in their own individual way.

    In your review of our Whole30 program and overall approach, you wrote, “It offers a sense of the Science, tempered with a well-honed dose of Practicality. Beyond that, they’re clear in stating that they’ve read the literature, they understand the mechanisms, but what’s truly important is what works. There are certainly “studies” out there that claim to prove the exact opposite of what we, as Paleo-lovers, believe. We could debate the “science” all day. But what’s important is the real-life evidence. And Melissa and Dallas have plenty of it.”

    We’re flattered by your words. And we appreciate that others are writing about the psychological impact of the choices we make – food or otherwise. That’s been an integral part of our program for the last 3+ years, and something we’ve been writing about for even longer than that. We agree, the marriage of the physical and the mental is an important and often missing component in people’s evaluations of their health status and choices. The trick is balancing the two.



    • Hey Dallas – flattered you read my post, and that you took the time to reply.

      The post was actually written in response to a message I got last night from a friend who sent me the study in question and asked, “am I screwed?”

      This friend does shift work, eats healthfully and works out intelligently. So, in fairness, it was less an extrapolation from a facebook post than a public reassurance for a friend inspired by my nutritional and metaphysical background.


  6. Thanks, this is a great post! And I’m no where near smart enough to argue any of the facts or fictions about the brain so I’m just going to take your post at face value and know that I’m not screwed just because of the 2 handfuls of popcorn I ate at the movies on Saturday night!

  7. Hey CaveGirl Eats: Your father sounds like the man…he certainly had a stressful work schedule with the various shifts not only challening but changing. What was his diet like – in general? I know most of his life was the pre-HFCS is everywhere, pre-USDA pyramid era which helps, but it simply adds to your argument if he even ate – gasp! – grains.

    • My dad has, over the last year, began experimenting with gluten-free baking…but until now, has eaten everything the grocery store had to offer – including grains – and a great range of Paleo-friendly fare! He has never been one to over-indulge, however, and has always been fit and athletic, with great moral courage and mental toughness!

      If anything, his experience lends credibility to the argument that it is overindulgence that is our chief problem.

  8. Liz,

    Gotcha. Well, we enjoyed the opportunity to dialogue nonetheless. Tell your friend if she got that Facebook study from us, we were being a bit cheeky with our “screwed” comment. (Sometimes our sense of humor doesn’t translate well on the internet.) As outlined in this post, we do believe you can mitigate some of the down sides of something like shift work with an otherwise healthy and balanced lifestyle, including a positive mental attitude.


  9. As a permanent night-shift working, Paleo-living, heavy-lifting healthy person. This is a welcome reprieve from all the ‘experts’ who keep telling me quit my job.
    Like it’s really that simple huh?

  10. Re: Princess Bride

    Vizzini: No more rhymes now, I mean it.

    Fezzik: Anybody want a peanut?

    Japsican: No, it’s a legume.

    Great post!

  11. A corpse has a brain but no mind, no mental activity.

  12. “Just because somebody says you’re screwed doesn’t mean you are.”
    More true words never spoken.
    “That’s not pie-in-the-sky. That’s straight-up empirical observation, beeeatch.”
    Definitely should have all been italicized!
    As I sit here in hour 2 of a 12 hour overnight shift, I must thank you. Big smile, you hit it right on the head. Keep up the great work. Nothing like honest, straight-up empirical observation. Time to put on my 35lb pack, get some squats and push ups in, eat some home made venison jerky and continue battle with the Zzzzz Monster. Take care and all the best, out here.


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