“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.


3 comments so far

  1. Nancy Allen on

    Wow Peggy . . .this was excellent! What a great way to highlight the JBT lecture and help your readers think about the concept of “eating with a balanced brain” Thank you. Nancy

  2. Melissa on

    Good article Peggy. Balance is key. Enjoyment of food, family, quiet time, simple things. We are too hard on ourselves. Thanks for reminder.

  3. saralee on

    Great article, and I totally agree with you Peggy. Thank you.

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