The Nutritional Power of Story

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Have you ever heard a story that inspired you or changed your life? One that lifted your spirits or gave you hope? The stories that move us are like powerful drugs that ignite our metabolism. There’s a hidden narrator within each of us that puts a spin on every aspect of our journey. And that spin – whether it’s positive and life affirming or negative and nihilistic – sets our metabolism in motion and creates a biochemistry to mirror our inner world. As we become more adept at discerning the secret stories we unwittingly tell ourselves, and the more willing we are to author a generous and healing tale, our metabolism rises according to the new standards we set. Let’s take a look at how we can harness the nutritional power of story.

The Story of DNA

Perhaps the most important and telling part of a visit to your doctor will be the taking of your history – your story. Who you are: the family you’re born into, what you eat, drink and dream; where you live, how you work and play, your relationships – every detail about us is a window into our metabolism. Our entire history is our story, and our story is everything. Perhaps the most fundamental storybook found in the human library is our DNA.

At the molecular level, our genetic material tells a timeless and entertaining tale. The tale our DNA tells comes in twenty-three chapters, also known as chromosome pairs. The 24,000 or so genes within the twenty-three chromosome chapters make up the subplots, characters, twists, and turns in our human book of life. Fortunately, there are multiple endings and possibilities in our genetic destiny because we choose so many of the variables that influence the expression of our genes – what we eat, how we exercise, where we reside, how we live and love.

If you believe in the science of genetics, then you believe that the phenomenon of story is built into the body and is the bottom-line reality of who we are. If Shakespeare was right, and I suspect he was, that indeed “the whole world is a stage,” then the roles we play and the chemistry of who we are can only be one and the same. Like it or not, we’re characters in a larger play and co-authors in the whole affair. The tales we weave are the foodstuff that fuels the body and animates our experience. Our story sits in the director’s chair of each cell and organizes the molecular production crew to create the movie that is our life. The effects of story are felt from the densest level of biology to the most rarefied atmosphere of the soul.

What I’m suggesting is this: DNA is nothing more than the biochemical equivalent of a story, and our personal story is the subtle equivalent of DNA. In other words, matter and energy are once again playfully exchanging their clothes. Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on the mapping of the human genome to receive the benefits of genetic engineering. Changing your story is a much safer and saner method for redirecting your DNA, and hence the course of your metabolism.

Who’s Eating?

If you’d like to see the metabolic power of story in action, take a look at one of the most treasured possessions you have – your personality. Contrary to popular belief, neither you nor I can legitimately claim to be one person. Each of us is more like a crowd. We’re a collection of personalities and archetypes – mother, child, sister, lover, bitch, goddess, virgin, whore, father, son, brother, warrior, king, killer, victim, clown. The list, of course, is endless. Each of these characters has their own story, and each plays a part in service to the larger story of our life. Indeed, many psychologists are now suggesting that having multiple personalities, so to speak, is the most accurate model of how we truly function. In other words, the guy you call “me” is actually a bunch of different people, and who “me” is depends on who is in the drivers seat at the time.

Amazingly, researchers have discovered that in patients with classic multiple personality disorder, each personality has a unique and distinct physiology. Measurable variations can be seen in heart rate, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, and hormone levels depending on which personality is predominant at the time. One individual was a clinically diagnosed insulin-dependent diabetic, but only in one specific personality. Another patient had a severe allergy to citrus fruits that would cause her to break out into hives, but again, only in one personality. The researcher could visually observe the hives disappearing as the patient made a switch to another persona.

If it sounds far-fetched that each separate personality that populates such individuals has a different metabolism, consider how science has already elucidated that every mode of consciousness – waking, sleeping, dreaming, stress, relaxation, and so on – has its own unique chemistry. Because we are biochemical beings, every cognitive state has its biochemical equivalent.

What the multiple personality patients teach us is that the story we live and the metabolism we experience are intricately linked. At any given meal, or in any given moment, one of the many characters that inhabit our inner sanctum sits at the head of the table. It has its own peculiar habits, its own quirky needs, and its unique nutritional metabolism.

Jeanette reports that she loves sponge cake, but the sugar it contains send her into hypoglycemic response, so she avoids it altogether. When she visits her grandmother, however, sponge cake is always served, and it isn’t a problem for her. During her childhood, grandma and sponge cake were one and the same, and the memories of those visits are special for Jeanette. Could it be that her “granddaughter personality” has a healthier blood-sugar regulation?

Sarah, a business consultant, remarked: “I’ve got two stomachs – a kosher one and a non-kosher one. At home I strictly follow Jewish dietary law. If I eat a non-kosher food in my apartment, I feel absolutely nauseous and sick. But during business luncheons I don’t always have the luxury of keeping kosher, so something inside me takes over and I can handle any food without a problem.”

So the important question here is this:

When you sit down to a meal – Who is eating?

Jack, a twenty-nine-year-old engineer, complained about poor digestion, heartburn, and an inability to lose weight. He had a family history of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, so losing fifteen pounds was a priority. The problem was, Jack had no willpower. He’d eat right for several days, at which time his digestion would feel fine. But then he’d lapse into a high cream cheese, high potato chip, and low-vegetable diet, at which point he’d experience intense gastric upset. Jack’s methodical engineer’s mind couldn’t figure out why he would eat against his own wishes.

I saw that some part of Jack was clearly getting in his own way and suggested that for several weeks, before beginning any meal or snack, he ask himself one simple question: “who’s eating?” I explained the possibility that different archetypal characters people our inner world and that it might serve Jack well to identify exactly who was at the table at any given moment in time. I requested that he not fight any of these voices, that he not judge them or overpower them or change them in any way. He just needed to observe and gather information.

Jack was both amused and intrigued. He took the advice to heart and here’s what he discovered: “When I checked into see who was eating, I saw that the rebel in me is always there when I’m breaking the rules, and it’s the rebel that gets heartburn. It takes over whenever anyone tries to boss me around or give me rules to live by. I always thought I had no willpower with food but I really do – it’s inside my rebel. I just needed to find a way for the rebel to work for me, not against me.”

In a short period of time Jack learned to listen to his inner rebel, to dialogue with it, understand and accept it, and give the rebel what it needed so that Jack could have what he needed. As long as Jack let the rebel break a rule once or twice a week, everyone was happy. He saw that it was the rebel who actually supplied him with his strength and his feisty nature. His digestive issues significantly cleared within weeks and his weight dropped slowly over the course of the next four months.

Think about some of the many personalities you have – the different personas you adopt around friends and family, at work and on vacation, and the hidden sides of you that emerges when circumstances are just right. How do these personalities differ in their choice of foods? Are there noticeable changes in your body when you’re in certain personas? Do you notice changes in digestion? And can you see how the phenomenon of “multiple personalities” might affect your everyday nutritional metabolism?

As always, I look forward to hearing your stories.

Warm regards,
Marc David
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014

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  • http://www.findfoodpeace.com Betsy Fry

    This is a brilliant way to look at eating! I have a way of changing how I eat depending on certain situations- and my body hates it. The simple reminder of “who’s eating?” is gentle enough to pull me back in.

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Betsy

      I’m so glad this resonated.
      Good for you to have the space of mind to ask the question!

      Best,
      Marc David

  • http://paul-gallagher.healthcoach.integrativenutrition.com Paul Gallagher

    Absolutely brilliant !!!
    NOW … I can do a “Health History” for my clients … 100% !!!
    Reading such an epiphany brings the answer to my eternal question…what’s missing ?
    Marc, you nailed it . . .
    “the most important part of a visit to your doctor will be the taking of your (health) history-your story”

    “Each of us is more like a crowd” so my wife just needs to ask…
    ” and who am I dealing with today ___ and make sure it’s the right one darling ! ? ! ”

    Again . . . . thank you !

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Paul –

      Happy to hear this provided some insights.
      Thanks for all the work your doing to help serve the story in others.

      Warm Regards,

      Marc David

  • http://angelaminelli.com Angela Minelli

    That’s unbelievably amazing to think that a multiple personality disorder could have an effect on your body! I never even considered that notion before, and yet science has proven it, which serves to prove how strong emotions effect eating too. I find this article utterly fascinating. Thank you Marc!

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Angela –

      Thank you for joining in here and sharing your thoughts.
      It’s amazing how our inner world impacts our metabolism.

      Best,
      Marc David

  • http://www.newpathwaytohealth.com Wendy Martens

    I love this-“Who’s eating?” What a powerful way to dig deeper into what’s making a client eat by asking that question. I know that there are multiple people eating in me when I am upset, angry or sad, but asking a client the same is inspirational. That question really makes YOU decide who is stuffing the food in their mouth and for what reason. Thank you, again, Marc, Wendy

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Wendy –

      So good to have you weigh in here.
      It’s amazing to realize the truth about our many selves.

      Warmly,
      Marc David

  • Michele Melloni

    Thank you Marc for this great article and for the opportunity it gives me to brainstorm and think about these topics that normally, one would never have the chance to stop and think about! Thank you also for putting so much effort and depth into your research and teachings. I send you a big hug! This is why it makes it very fun for me to share my experiences in response to your articles. You make me want to give back!
    I’ve spent a good 8 years studying nutrition, experimenting firsthand with many different diets, reading countless diet books, working out religiously and attempting to turn this into a profession ( hopefully to my advantage!). I also, am a nutrition “junky”. I have become so wound up in this world of eating the “right foods” and wanting to live to be a thousand that it has taken me into a spin, a loop that strongly needs to be un-looped and set free to flow in every direction into eternity.

    One of the most common personalities that pops up when I eat ( a little less now and more prominent in the past) , whether it’s before, during or after the meal, is the Snooty Judge. Do to my possible obsession with food, eating, and wanting to seek the “holy grail” of food, it has been very easy to slip into this “part”. The Snooty Judge will purposely choose the least pleasurable foods and pick the “healthiest value” ones instead. This character will put on an exhibit show for others and itself to show how it “should” be done. “Look at me”, it will say…”if you eat like me, you will live a million years and never get sick!” It will not allow me to relax and enjoy what I truly want, and while I’m eating, I think of what I really had wanted the whole time. It numbs the cephalic phase digestive response. This to me means, in essence, “missing an opportunity for a good metabolic response.” This has made eating around people very unpleasant at times, both for myself and those around me. The Snooty Judge also kicks in when someone or myself orders or eats anything that doesn’t fall into my category of “ok” foods. Suddenly, my stomach closes into a knot, my body contracts, and silence falls upon me. “How can you eat that? Do you know what that can do to your health?'”, are the tales that plays in my head,….”why can’t you be more like me?” When asked, “what’s wrong, Mike?”, I usually say, “nothing…I’m feeling a little sick”, or “I just thought about something personal and it upset me.” Now just the fact that i’m aware of doing this, and knowing it’s not natural tells me that this is just a “part” of me that thinks that this reaction is acceptable and okay. That’s the part of me that causes this reaction and thinks this way. Following this character, there’s another “part” of me that says, “What you’re doing is wrong, preposterous!…try real had to let this go, Mikey! Look at these people, do you really want to make these people miserable? Do you want to ruin their day, their life? They just want to share a meal with you and celebrate togetherness. “. This part is the Guilty Reasoner. He will try to cover up for the Snooty Judge’s behavior. He’s in charge of sweeping the issue under the rug, cleaning the leftover mess. But the damage is done. He’s not powerful enough to help change things around. Maybe a little, but sometimes he makes matters worse. (really to my benefit, though. I’ll explain later!) He’ll create such push/pull feelings by opposing/feeling “embarrassed” from the Judge’s wrongdoings and unacceptable behavior, that it forces my body to outwardly express itself. I crack.
    Maybe I’ll excuse myself from the table, or make a snide remark, or even just come out and shamefully admit what caused me to close up in the first place. I gotta tell you, Marc, it’s shameful to tell someone that it bothers me for the food choices he/she/they make. I hear myself when “confessing”, and it sounds crazy when something’s said, instead of just being a thought!! I know that’s not the “real me”. I’m just a witness, but there are parts of me that like to get me in trouble and act up, most likely due to some shocking, triggering event or something deeper that sits at the bottom of my subconscious. The reason why I call the Guilty Reasoner good in a way is that at least I feel he points me in the right direction. And he gets me to document my “issues” with real people by getter my story out there. He peps me get help from out there. If, for example I confess to my wife what I’m feeling and I’m coming from an honest place and demeanor, she will take pleasure in helping me talk the issue through and discuss things that can be said or done to help iron out the situation, at least temporarily…until the compulsion comes back due to another food trigger. But if the Guilty Reasoner is feeling sleepy, and Snooty Judge is on his own…there can be a verbal duel and possible doors slamming, and tissues, lots of tissues. Then I’m in real trouble. The Shmoozer comes out and he has the hardest job. He’s like the Guilty Reasoner’s grandfather. His job is to clean up after major “Crime Scenes” (Verbal Damage Spills!) He’ll do anything to get the job done. He’ll even lie for the Judge. He’ll make the judge look idiotic, but secretly befriends him and thinks he’s right…on some level. It doesn’t matter…they’re related. There’s honor. These character are in here, and everything else is out there. They’re like an army! They defend each other against what’s out there even though they don’t necessarily get along. But he’s the guy that will put tremendous effort into trying to turn the situation around to avoid getting into one of those really horrible moods. Depending on who he’s up against, whoever the character is in the other person’s body, will determine the outcome. Usually, with my wife, it’s my Shmoozer vs her “Brokenhearted Accusor Victim”, where I’m told I’m a horrible person and made feel real small as if I did something so bad that one can’t even conceive the gravity (I love you hon! Lighten up, will ya? ;-)) Anyway…now we’re exiting the nutrition realm and entering Relationship!! I can get carried away. That’s a story for a different chapter! Any thoughts??

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hey Michele –

      I love this visual of the Snooty Judge and the Guilty Reasoner. I think there’s probably a lot of people that have this personality waiting in the wings as well.

      What’s important to acknowledge is that each of our personalities ultimately just wants to be understood. They’re not out to ruin our lives, but to help in whatever way they can. In each instance, whenever we become aware of them – there’s a message needing our attention, sometimes it’s really just an invitation to check in and see: “what exactly does this particular voice in me need? What does it really want?”

      I think our ultimate job is to always find a way to return to our “Witness Self”, also called “Consciousness”, also known as the part of us that is originally whole and unconditionally accepting. It is simply a matter of practice, and probably a lifelong practice at that…

      Best regards,
      Marc David

  • Elli Ho

    Brilliant as always~

    I always feel like we are totally synced up to the same wave length/vibration/field of information!
    Thank you for just spelling it out, putting it down on paper and sharing it!

    My ideas are still in bullet point format, as things are unfolding one day at a time here at ellialive!
    nJOY
    Elli

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Elli –

      It’s such a great feeling to realize that the universe is supporting us: bringing into our world the exact messages that most benefit or synch with us . Glad to be on the path together.

      Best wishes,
      Marc David

  • http://TamingWords.com Carol Burnes

    Fascinating article, it has set my wheels a’spinning….

    As a storyteller poet and word coach helping anyone find their stories, poems, essays and ways with words, I have long believed that life is story and story is life – ultimately, all there is is story.
    Every human interaction with any thing (the cat, the neighbor, the taking in air or placing of a foot on the stair) is simply story. So hooking story up with food is completely obvious but I never thought of it that way. And the story of DNA, I like the metaphor! You have really got me thinking…. a whole new dimension to my belief that story is essence – of who we are, what we are, how we are alive.

    I have long studied a variety of psychological and energetic disciplines all of which feed my work with people and words: from the Subpersonalities of Psychosynthesis to Constellations,to Direct Analysis study with John Rosen, and ongoing Somatic Release and Emotional re-education work; I have received extensive psychophysical integration therapy through Trager work, and the physio-philosophy energy of Jin Shin Jyutsu. Some years of improvisational acting, an exploration of being fully present in the moment, have profoundly impacted my own creations and my consulting.
    Not to be forgotten is the wealth of learning about expression and interaction I have received from a life time of close communication with quadrupeds, be they household or wild.

    Having this winter been a featured speaker at the International Conference on Thinking in New Zealand, (ICOT2013),(a fascinating experience with some of the world’s top thinkers) presenting my ideas on how an awareness of the arc of story, and an understanding of image from poem can profoundly impact all communications in any realm, I have been pulling together a life-time’s exploration to offer my theories of human expression and communication.

    I never actually thought of listing all the different disciplines that have nurtured and shaped my path and understanding. May have to add some to my website, do check it out: tamingwords.com

    Big time thank you for this thought provoking article.
    Best, Carol Burnes

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Carol,

      Thanks for reaching out.
      I’m glad to hear the article opened up new insights for your own field of passion and expertise. What a great meeting of the minds here. I checked out your website and you are doing some wonderful work. Bravo! As with you, for me, story is everything, and so so rich and deep in so many as yet undiscovered ways…

      Warmly,
      Marc David

  • Samm Carlton

    Marc, this is all fabulous.
    And I thought I knew so much about food-eating-and, particularly about eating disorders.
    Last evening after Carol Burnes sent me your article, even before I had truly read it, I asked myself
    as I stood in front of the refrigerator, “Who’s choosing this dinner?”
    I was amused to feel inner tugs: the one who had thought she wanted to have A) Dr Oetker’s spinach pizza, and the other one B)who chose the large freshly cooked artichoke and homemade chicken noodle soup.
    For me, neither is good or bad although I tend to feel a pang about the pizza. But, If I think that way, the rebel vs the healthy one, I’ll revert to having splits rather than an integration of a nutritional Self that has the freedom to make choices according to what’s available and to what my body-appetitie wants.
    For far too many years I could not find the turn off switch. I ate 3 meals a day with nothing in between….and, for most of that time my meals were predictable.
    I worked hard to over come this.
    Grace visited and one amazing morning the eating disorder vanished. Poof!! ….never to return.
    So. you can imagine how fascinated I am with the multiple personality profile, which I totally agree with and now keep smiling about…. which I’m doing as I write this….witnessing who’s there at the helm or at the table and where at that table as I go through the day. I think the crowd at my table’s mostly family of origin, but it might also be former lives, schools, partners, friends whom I’m out with, the last article on food in The NYTimes. Endlessly open to possibilities, to options?
    Thank you Mr wonderful enlightenment….I just can’t stop smiling…
    Do you have any suggestions for that syndrome?
    gratefully,
    Samm

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Samm,

      I just love it when everyone starts talking and sharing.
      So nice to meet you here. Thank you for sharing your insight and perspective. I think you bring up an important point here about the Integrated self who gets to choose. I understand the pizza pang as well :)

      As for the smiling syndrome, I’m sorry – no known cure. I do hear that it’s highly contagious however.

      Warmly,
      Marc David

  • Andy

    Great article that puts a lot of my own personal weight and fitness issues into a better perspective.
    I can see where i need to concentrate more on my own personal development rather than just on the narrowly focused weight loss and fitness regime.

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Andy –

      Glad to hear this was helpful to you. Know this is not unique to you, so many people who are passionate about health, fitness and nutrition get very fixated on one aspect of achieving their goals. Fortunately, there is so much more to who we are as people, and as eaters.

      Best wishes,
      Marc David

  • Raluca

    Wow! The fact that the same body can act so differently according to the personality which is in control at one given moment is amazing. I think this is a very valuble information and that it explain a lot of things. I’m sure that almost everyone observed that the same food can be good or bad for his body in different contexts but I think no one asked himself why is this happening. This is really something to observe and to think about! Thank you Marc!

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Raluca,
      Yes, indeed our bodies are truly amazing.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

      Best,
      Marc David

  • Miseon

    I truly have two character inside of me.
    One is always cautious about “Healthy Clean Food”. In this time, I eat mostly raw vegan food.
    Another time is ” Anything I can chew and put into my throat”. In this time, I eat every thing eatable from meats, fired food, junk sweets, salty food….
    So my healthy isn’t never been stable so as my weight and my character.
    When I eat healthy options, I go out and mingle with people and smile nicely.
    When I eat unhealthy options, I hide my own place and don’t want to be appear to the people as a failure. I set myself eating bad options would make me failure of diet and my life and no one would like me because I am fat. Ironically these two characters are all in me. I am confused who is real me. I found one of the clues of my bulimic. Thank you Marc David.

  • Judy

    good to see different approach towards eating.

  • Robert Goodal.

    One possible answer arises from understanding what happens to DNA before it is expressed as a personality characteristic.DNA is a code for building proteins, hormones, and neuropeptides that serve specific cellular functions within the body. One thing that early gene-personality work overlooked is that a lot has to happen to allow DNA to code for specific hormones/neuropeptides, that then have to act at the cellular level to subsequently influence personality. In short,genes need to be expressed at a cellular level in order to influence personality, and so one place where a genetic researcher might want to look to examine gene influences on personality is at this expression–that is, what genes are being unzipped by RNA, so that specific hormones/proteins are produced?

    • http://psychologyofeating.com/ Marc David

      Hi Robert –

      Thank you for sharing this detailed, scientific perspective.
      It definitely provides some excellent food for thought.

      Best wishes,
      Marc

  • http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-968195 Harry Minot

    Excellent! You bring to this field a perspective which is largely absent from the “scientific” approach. Everyone’s path *seems* different, but we are each a “crowd” and we are all in this together. The judgments which we may make against others (including certain foods) mirror the judgments we make against our selves. And thoughts become things. And the elements of whimsy and mystery are an entertaining part of every “story”.

    You’ve wrapped it up nicely. We can collectively change the story. We can ensure a happy ending. Together, not apart.

    Thanks, Marc, for all you have done and all that you will do.

About The Author
Marc David
Founder

Marc David is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic and best-selling works Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet. His work has been featured on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His books have been translated into over 10 languages, and his approach appeals to a wide audience of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring and innovative messages about food, body and soul. He lectures internationally, and has held senior consulting positions at Canyon Ranch Resorts, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, and the Disney Company. Marc is also the co-founder of the Institute for Conscious Sexuality and Relationship.