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TOPIC: Good Nutrition as Support for Practice

Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 19 Nov 2013 10:39 #16575

I've written about this previously, in my practice journal, but I thought it would be interesting to devote a thread to the topic.

Over the last couple days, I noticed my body was feeling excessively fatigued. I was feeling stressed and anxious, and my moods were more erratic. This has happened many times before, and all for the same reason: iron.

Sometimes my iron levels get low, and I suspect it is a side effect of my medication. I hardly ever notice until it gets really bad, probably because I do a pretty good job at managing moderate levels of stress and fatigue.

Once I figure it out, I take an iron pill for a few days and the fatigue clears away. This made me wonder: who else in our forum has noticed how nutrition plays a role in their ability to sustain attention and practice effectively?

Maybe we can learn a thing or two from each other ;-)
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 19 Nov 2013 11:27 #16578

It's an interesting topic. I used to attribute my extreme lethargy in meditation to unconscious resistance. I figured there must have been some deep-seated stuff that was trying to come up, but that I was avoiding by falling asleep. That was probably true to some extent. But when I switched from an extremely high-carbohydrate diet to a lowish-carb one (notice I didn't say 'zero carb'), the issue of extreme sleepiness disappeared. My take is I basically went from being a sugar burner to someone whose metabolism is better adapted to burning fat. States are dependently originated, and nutrition, sleep, fitness level and other physiological factors are definitely among the causes and conditions involved!
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 19 Nov 2013 11:35 #16579

That's a great example, Joel. It's quite a common experience.

I've only been an intern counselor for a few months, but I've seen this kind of thing come up more often than not with the clients I and others see at the clinic. People often come in because they are depressed and anxious, and they attribute this to some kind of early trauma. They may have had such a trauma, but often times their also drinking a lot of alcohol and smoking a lot of marijuna - both of which can increase depression and anxiety. The usual treatments don't even work, really, until the substance use is addressed.

I don't say this to put anybody down. Most of the time people just don't realize that what they put into their bodies can affect their mind states to such profound degrees, well past the initial high. It's nice to be able to help.
Last Edit: 19 Nov 2013 11:36 by Jackson.
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 19 Nov 2013 12:16 #16582

I may be the exception but I have not fussed much about diet in the past many years, tending to eat whatever I like, though I suppose within the parameters that I keep the kitchen stocked with mostly organic whole foods and cook from scratch. So "whatever I like" rarely includes burgers, fries, twinkies, pints of Ben & Jerry's, etc. I rarely drink alcohol anymore - the occasional beer or wine or a cocktail if we go to a restaurant. I drink coffee and tea. I'm mostly vegetarian, with the exception of a bit of tuna or prosciutto on salads. If we eat out I usually order fish or meat as a treat. Including the occasional burger and fries! When we do go out we usually go to the buffet places where you can pick small portions of a variety of things according to whim.

On a typical day I have wheat toast with peanut butter and jelly (or with an egg and cheese, occasionally) for breakfast, with a large coffee. Fruit juice if I'm not too lazy to make it. Salad with various roasted or boiled veggies, farmers cheese and nuts for lunch, maybe with some crackers (and olive oil on everything). Rice, beans and greens for dinner. Or another salad for dinner. Fruit, cheese and nuts for snacks. We keep bars of dark chocolate around for the chocolate fix, or I make hot cocoa if it's cool outside. I tend to cook big batches of veggies at the beginning of the week (such as pickled beets, boiled cauliflower, sauteed escarole, roasted potatos, etc) and then use those mixed in to either the salad or rice and beans plates over the next five days.

Now and then I make a special dinner with Indian food or Thai food or something. But the above method allows simple eating with minimal prep and cleanup time, and we are busy, so that works well.

So I suppose it's tending towards fairly vegetarian, low carb, high fat, high veggies, moderate fruits, more nuts, at least compared to the typical diet. Seems to work for me at the moment.
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 19 Nov 2013 12:28 #16586

I would just add, I think the title might better be "Good Nutrition as Support for Life". I haven't found that specific dietary stuff affects practice itself so much as it affects ones overall health and well-being.

At the last UnRetreat I did a lot of cooking duty. What was comical was how many people were on really, really specific diets. So while we churned out boiled veggies for the Unseasoned Boiled Veggie Fast people, and tons of salads for the Only Salad Ladies, most of the (young) men were doing "Neanderthal" or something and wanted only eggs and bacon. We went through about four family-sized packs of bacon and many dozens of eggs in a few days, because a 20 year old guy can eat a five egg omelet and six slices of bacon in five minutes and want more. We had to do extra shopping runs to restock. No one would eat bread or pasta, but the chocolate got munched like mad and also ran out several times.
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 19 Nov 2013 13:17 #16590

Ona, I see your point, but I like the title. While "practice" and "life" are inseparable, this particular forum aims to frame things in terms of practice.

Also, it's usually through my practice that these imbalances show up most strongly. Many of the conditioned benefits of meditation start to go out the window when the body is no longer able to support them. I find that I'm able to focus and get just enough objectivity to notice that there might be more going on than just insight cycles or the hindrances.
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 19 Nov 2013 13:28 #16594

Didn't mean to de-value your point. :)
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 19 Nov 2013 13:49 #16595

Here is where the confluence of what we might call Daoist yoga and classical Chinese medicine really illuminates matters for me. Daoist yoga (neidan) includes postures, moving and stationary, meditation, self-massage-- all linked by an understanding of qi dynamics. Acupuncture also uses the same 'map' of the qi medidians, and the "organs" reflect the functioning of the qi more than the Western understanding of the physiological organs: i.e., the "heart" is not just a pump for the blood, but the center of the spirit/mind.

That's a preamble to talking about an "organ" in the Chinese medical system that we have no equivalent for in Western systems: the "triple-burner" or "triple-heater." It's something I've been riddling out for the last several years; so far, what I grasp is this: the functioning of the total spirit/mind/body being is a kind of alchemical transformation of base elements into refined ones. Those three "burning spaces" are a three-chambered alchemical retort for the body, mind, and spirit (the gut/hara transforms food into the body; the "heart-space/chakra" transforms emotional-mental experience into understanding; the "upper burner" in the skull transforms understanding into "luminous emptiness.")

"Alchemy" is a word that indicates the further dimensions of metabolism, to me: being alive means "digesting" more than just the elements in food; sleep and dream are when our "digestion" of experience occurs; meditation is our chance to refine understanding into something more pervasive, inclusive, instantaneous-- and, I infer from the old sources, immortal. Although there is an "ascending order" here, there is no delusion about the more basic "lower" process being disgusting or irrelevant: it provides the basis for the second and third tiers in the process. There is no antagonism, but mutual interdependence, in the order.

This probably seems an unnecessarily long-winded way of affirming that nutrition and other aspects of self-care are fundamental to spiritual practice-- but it might be helpful to someone for me to have "shown my work" in having come up with this answer. :P

It seems important to add that, in this as in other aspects of practice, the specifics are personal; there are general principles, but no "rules" to apply to everyone across the board. The discovery of one's own state of being and particular needs is an invaluable aspect of cultivating self-respect. The 'sine qua non.'
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 19 Nov 2013 14:12 #16596

One really overt impact of food I am aware of is on sleepiness. I usually get sleepy after eating, and more sleepy if I eat more. Perhaps why many cultures follow meals with "digestive" drinks (liquors or coffees or teas) (and often follow that with a nap!). When I've done some kind of fasting, I have tons of energy, though it can verge into that "overtired toddler" kind of energy, where one is cranked up but cranky. Sleep at night seems strongly impacted by foods. Unfamiliar foods, hard-to-digest foods, or others that make the digestion turbulent will lead to tossing and turning. Eating a light simple meal in the evening tends to make me wake up bright and early, and I wake up hungry (which seems linked to the motivation to get out of bed and get the day going). If we go out to a restaurant and I have a hearty meal of foods I don't usually eat, I often sleep badly and wake up groggy.

I've noticed how much thirst impacts things, too - in this tropical climate I can easily get dehydrated at night. I often sleep with the fan on to keep the sweat dried off, or with the air conditioner. I then feel "non-sweaty/not hot" but am losing water rapidly anyway. I tend not to get out of bed at night unless it's really urgent, so I won't usually get up for a drink. What works better for me is to remember to drink a large glass of water before bed, and another right when I get up, before I even start the coffee. Drinking more frequently seems to relieve an underlying bodily discomfort that I wasn't aware of until I started making the effort, and I feel more relaxed.

Sometimes I think we have low levels of anxiety because of basic biological factors - digestive upset, needing to pee, thirst, minor muscle soreness, etc. But we might not realize that anxiety is even present until it goes away, because it is kind of in the background. It's perhaps the body gentle nagging "hey, take care of this would you? hello? I'm running low here..." I at least seem to have trained myself for most of my life to tune out these requests until they got to the unavoidable stage, so as not to interrupt whatever other work, activity etc I was in the middle of.

A friend of mine who spent a summer working in the remote woods for the forest service said when she got back she had to retrain herself to hold her urine, since she had gotten used to peeing wherever and whenever the urge arose while alone in the woods. It was a few weeks before her body stopped expecting the same to be true back in "civilization", leaving her dashing madly for the ladies room at inconvenient times when she first returned to work.

More random thoughts from the peanut gallery.
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 19 Nov 2013 15:21 #16598

Jackson wrote:
People often come in because they are depressed and anxious, and they attribute this to some kind of early trauma. They may have had such a trauma, but often times their also drinking a lot of alcohol and smoking a lot of marijuna - both of which can increase depression and anxiety. The usual treatments don't even work, really, until the substance use is addressed.

I don't say this to put anybody down. Most of the time people just don't realize that what they put into their bodies can affect their mind states to such profound degrees, well past the initial high. It's nice to be able to help.

What I'd add is that these things are very often self-medication. Unfortunately, they're self-medication that functions in the short term but makes things worse (often much worse, in all kinds of ways) in the medium to long. But for people in really bad mental situations, it's difficult to bear that level of short term distress for the sake of the medium or long, and difficult also to see the connection between how one feels when drinking/smoking, and the impact that drinking/smoking has on feelings when one isn't on the immediate 'high.'
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 19 Nov 2013 19:50 #16606

^True, though I don't think most people initially try substances for the purpose of stress relief. People usually try things out of curiosity, or because they think it will be fun (which it usually is). Only later does it become stress relief, partly because the substances themselves cause down-regulation of naturally occurring neurotransmitters and receptors that promote well being.
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 19 Nov 2013 22:56 #16614

I think I disagree with you, Jackson-- there is an extant "folk medicine" (reflected in advertising for the legal forms of abusable substance). Tired?-- drink coffee, or cola. Anxious?-- relax with a cigarette. Have a drink to "unwind" and be social... and so on. Our society is saturated with it.
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 19 Nov 2013 23:11 #16615

Kate Gowen wrote:
I think I disagree with you, Jackson-- there is an extant "folk medicine" (reflected in advertising for the legal forms of abusable substance). Tired?-- drink coffee, or cola. Anxious?-- relax with a cigarette. Have a drink to "unwind" and be social... and so on. Our society is saturated with it.

Yes, that does exist as a part of our culture. AND, a lot of people start drinking alcohol because they see people having fun, not just because people use it to calm their nerves. What starts out as fun often leads to a coping strategy, and I there's good evidence to support the idea that some of the problems are caused by the substance in the first place.

I don't think it's and either/or thing, so I regret if that's the message that came across in my last post.
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 20 Nov 2013 07:31 #16621

More on those gut bacteria and the gut brain and so on, popular science version anyway: www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/11/18/2445...orkings-of-our-minds
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Good Nutrition as Support for Practice 20 Nov 2013 09:00 #16623

I like the quote from Homer Simpson: "Alcohol--the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems." :-D

But seriously, y'all might like the work of Emily Deans, author of the "Evolutionary Psychiatry" column at Psychology Today. She frequently writes about the effects of sleep, nutrition, toxins, etc., on mental health.

www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry
Last Edit: 20 Nov 2013 09:03 by Joel. Reason: Added a link...
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