Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

“My Stroke of Insight”

Jill Bolte Taylor will be speaking at MSU's Wharton Center on March 1, 2010 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available.

I wanted to read at least a bit of Jill Bolte Taylor’s book before going to her lecture March 1. My colleague handed me a copy from the Health4U library shelf. Standing there, I flipped through the book and landed, amazingly, on the pages where she described her right-minded approach to eating. Well, that drew me in…  

Jill Bolte Taylor was working as a neuroanatomist at Harvard Medical School when her life and career were interrupted suddenly by a stroke. It took her eight years to recover. She detailed the journey in her book, My Stroke of Insight. True to her vocation as a brain scientist and teacher, Dr. Taylor explains with great clarity the workings of the brain’s left and right hemispheres.  

Most humans are left brain dominant. The left brain sees the world in minute detail, takes those details and assembles them into a sequential story, and then takes that story and tells it over and over—a phenomenon Dr. Taylor calls “brain chatter.” The left brain houses the comparison center, where critical judgment and analysis takes place. Be aware, it can spin a tall tale out of just about anything.  

Contrast that with the brain’s right hemisphere where peace and tranquility reign supreme. The right brain takes in all the information from the body’s sensory centers and assimilates it into the here and now. In the right mind, no time exists but the present. Consider the terms Dr. Taylor chose for her right mind function: authentic self; euphoria; Nirvana; perception of myself as perfect, whole and beautiful; deep inner peace; and loving compassion.  

As I read the book (the entire book), I kept thinking how interesting it would be to silence my left hemisphere when it comes to food. After all, to eat intuitively one needs to quiet the mind and reach a state of calmness. When I do that, I can better appreciate the tastes and flavors, the smells and aromas, the textures and complexities of the food.  

But if my left brain was totally silent, I wouldn’t remember to go to the grocery store or pack my lunch or take food out of the freezer for dinner. Left to its own devices, my right hemisphere would go on a scavenger hunt with each perception of hunger.  

I arrived at the conclusion that it takes my whole mind to properly feed me. Here’s how the conversation between a hypothetical left hemisphere (LH) and right hemisphere (RH) goes when it comes to eating:  

RH: (feeling) gnawing in abdomen. (perception) hunger. (visualize) chips.   

LH: I know that feeling. It happens every day at this time. Let’s see, what did I bring to eat? I should have time for a lunch break at 11:30.  

RH: (feeling) gnawing. (perception) hunger.  

LH: Not right now. It’s always okay when I wait until 11:30.  

LH: Okay, it’s time to eat. Don’t eat all the chips. Why did I pack so many? I definitely packed too many. They have a lot of calories and fat. Eat the fruit. It’s better for me…  

RH: (perception) hungry. (sensations) crunchy. juicy. flavorful…  

LH: Tuna salad like Mom used to make.  

RH: (perception) not hungry.        

LH: I knew I packed too many chips.  That’s good, I can have more later if I want them.

Obviously, our brains have much more complex thoughts than this. But it is possible to quiet down, eventually even get rid of, the pesky thoughts about food while still engaging the left mind to make plans and have fond memories.    

After all of that reading and thinking I have arrived at this conclusion: Enjoyable eating happens from a balanced brain.

It’s Time To Talk About It

A billboard on my drive to work has a new advertisement for a local coffee shop. It features their signature coffee mug with a tape measure around its middle and suggests you buy their super-skinny latte to help you with your new year’s resolution. Funny thing–I have that very same coffee mug and I like it because my hand can grasp the middle indentation of the mug more easily. I would never have connected a slimming message to its shape. Not until the billboard…

We live in a culture saturated with body image messages specifically designed to make you critical of your body. So what’s the harm in that? The fact is, body dissatisfaction is the most powerful and consistent precursor of unhealthy body-related behaviors.  Not just eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia) but also problematic eating behaviors (starving, bingeing, purging), cosmetic surgery and extreme exercising. The list goes on…low body self-esteem is linked to depression, anxiety and sexual dissatisfaction.

Millions of people are affected. We have a count of those who are diagnosed with an eating disorder: 10 million females and 1 million males have anorexia or bulimia, and 15 million have binge eating disorder.

In an effort to raise awareness of eating disorders, MSU is hosting daily events next week across campus:

  • Media Monday–February 22–“America the Beautiful” will be shown at 7 pm in Parlor C, MSU Union.
  • Take Your Body Back Tuesday–February 23–Powerful evening of sharing thoughts, feelings and experiences that surround the topic of body image and the impossible standards of beauty and weight in our culture. 7-9 pm Wonders Hall Kiva. You may submit a letter to dearbodymsu@gmail.com in advance of the program.
  • Wednesday without Worry–February 24–Enjoy food and celebrate yourself! Twix bars with a message will be handed out on campus all day.
  • Trash Talk NO MORE Thursday–February 25–Break free from the language of fat that is so common. Events around campus will promote positive self-talk. The Gallery at Snyder-Philips from 4:30 to 7 pm.

Visit the NEDA website for more information about Eating Disorders Awareness Week.