A client once said to me, “I need to get my body on board with my brain.” It was a succinct, well-articulated expression of what’s really a multi-faceted issue, and this lack of a mind-body connection is rooted (not surprisingly) in diet culture.

Floating head syndrome

One of the downsides of dieting, and diet culture, is that it can lead to a (metaphorical) separation of mind and body. Specifically, dieting can make us get all caught up in our heads — sometimes even obsessively — as we try to change or “fix” our bodies. Mind over matter, if you will. For some, this desire to shrink or reshape our bodies devolves into actual body hatred, and possibly to a full-blown eating disorder. Some people even activity wish that they didn’t have to have a body at all — especially if they have a rich inner life and tend to be more cerebral.

This disassociation of mind and body — with or without body hatred — is also a frequent effect of physical, sexual or mental trauma (especially if the mental trauma involves unwanted attention to the body, whether critical or complimentary). This is why more and nutrition and mental health professionals consider dieting a form of trauma.

Why disconnection is a problem

When your mind and body are disassociated from each other, a few things can happen:

Why you need “teamwork”

When you have a strong mind-body connection, when your executive/human/rational mind (which is distinct from your reptilian/instinctive mind) is on board with your body, that creates a powerful team. Your ability to care for your health and wellbeing in a deep, meaningful way skyrockets.

Your mind, in effect, becomes the “kind parent,” listening to your body and honoring its needs and wants while still setting some boundaries. For example:

  • Let’s say that you are eating something delicious, and even though you notice you’re getting full, you want to keep eating because, again, the food is delicious. Your mind can then say, “Hey, you could choose to keep eating, but if you end up overfull, we’re not going to feel very good, and that may dim the joy of this wonderful food. And don’t forget that this isn’t a ‘last supper’ situation — there will be more delicious food in our future. Let’s take one more bite, then stop eating.”
  • Or, let’s say you’re enjoying the feeling of luxuriating in bed on a weekend morning. Your body might say, “Let’s stay here all morning,” but your “kind parent” mind says, “Yes, this does feel good, but it’s also a beautiful morning for a walk, and I’m excited to make that new muffin recipe — it will be delicious with a cup of coffee. Let’s lay here for a few more minutes, then get up.”

Notice that these decisions are based on self-care, not self control. It’s not, “Stop eating this because it’s high in carbs/fat/calories” or “If you don’t get up and go for a walk then you don’t deserve a muffin because you’re lazy.” This may seem like a small distinction, but sometimes it’s the small things that really matter.

Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health. This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute individualized nutrition or medical advice.

Seeking 1-on-1 nutrition counseling? Carrie offers a 6-month Food & Body program (intuitive eating, body image, mindfulness, self-compassion) and a 4-month IBS management program (low-FODMAP diet coaching with an emphasis on increasing food freedom). Visit the links to learn more and book a free intro call to see if the program is a good fit, and if we’re a good fit!