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We Imagine the Body

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These days, many people think of the body as a sort of machine. It has moving parts and inner circuitry, and it runs on fuel – the food we eat. If a part breaks or goes “out of order,” or if we want to get an upgrade, we take it to the shop and have a doctor work on it, or we can give it a “tune up” by making changes in our diet or our exercise. This is how modern medicine and our high school biology classes have taught us to think of the body. But what if there was more to the story? What if we could impact our bodies through our thoughts? In this intriguing video from #IPEtv, Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, explores the ways that our imagination – the stories we tell ourselves – shapes our bodies in very real and physical ways. Tune in now – it’s guaranteed to give you something to think about!

YouTube video

Here is a transcript of this week’s video:

Hi, I’m Emily Rosen, Chief Operating Officer for the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.

Today’s Topic: We Imagine the Body

Bodies are not simply biological facts, a collection of chemical processes, static anatomical entities that obey scientific laws alone. Bodies are imagined. They are beautifully influenced by what we believe about them, and the dreams we have of them. We may imagine the body walking over red hot coals, running, biking, and swimming consecutively for hundreds of miles, being healed with needle insertions according to invisible acupuncture meridian maps, or responding “miraculously” to the channeled energy of faith healers or the rituals of a shaman. The way we imagine the body is a foundation for how it responds physiologically.

Likewise, the way we imagine the body will determine our relationship with food, the types of food we eat, and the kind of body we will help create. For example, if we imagine our body to be a necessary nuisance, a piece of luggage we are obligated to drag along, we will likely view diet and nutrition in a similar fashion. Nourishing the body will be treated as a chore, and healthy eating will be unappealing. Because we help create biologically the type of body we imagine psychologically, it’s not uncommon for those who imagine their body as cumbersome nuisance to reach for foods that enhance the condition of sluggishness and heaviness in the body – excessively fatty foods and high-caloric meals.

If we imagine the body differently, for example as if it were an important piece of athletic machinery to be well maintained and fine-tuned, we might reach for a completely different diet, perhaps one that includes high-energy supplements, healthy foods, and meals designed for their digestive efficiency. Over time, these foods would help create a body very different from my previous example:

One that’s leaner, more energetic, and better nourished.

And this difference in biology originated simply by imagining the body in a different way.

If you imagine the body to be this thing that you have no responsibility for whatsoever, it would be easy to adopt a diet where we could trash the body with the poorest quality food, overload our organ system with excessive alcohol, and never give even a second thought to the unhealthy future we’re likely creating for ourselves.

If one were afraid of the body, afraid of disease, afraid of getting old, and living in a hidden fear of death, then it would be easy to adopt a diet that we know is more prevention oriented, but we’d be eating such foods out of fear and stress. We would not be very fun at parties, we’d constantly be worrying about what we’re putting into our mouths, and by imagining the body to be a place of worry –

Our diet is now feeding that very mindset.

Next, if we see the body as this thing that’s all about weight, body fat, and a biological headache that we need to constantly keep thin, then our imagination will create a body that’s on a constant roller coaster with food. We will attempt to control our appetite, control our calories, control our fat grams, and we will likely be living in a weight loss – weight gain nightmare. The body will become a source of victory if we lose weight, or a source of pain if we don’t. And many people who indeed lose the weight can continue to live in a state of anxiety about gaining it back.

If you imagine your body to be a source of wonder, a brilliant mystery, a place to explore, and a place where magic can happen, then we will likely adopt a diet where we experiment with all kinds of fascinating herbs or supplements, natural foods, and different dietary approaches, and we can have the opportunity to celebrate our successes, smile at the strategies that didn’t quite work, and we can enjoy a life of possibility.

The body responds to how we imagine it.

Are you using your imagination in a good way? In a creative way? In a loving way?

You have a beautiful power at your disposal.

I hope this inspires you to use it. Thanks so much for your time and interest. In the comments below, please let us know your thoughts. We love hearing from you and we read and respond to every comment!

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