The Mind-Body Connection: Illness, Addiction & Eating Disorders

The Mind-Body Connection: Illness, Addiction & Eating Disorders

Summary:

“Think positive thoughts” isn’t just exaggerated advice; your thoughts actually do directly impact your health. The mind-body connection explains it all.

Neuroscientists debunked the limited perspective that illness has nothing to do with the mind when they found neurological evidence of a mind-body connection. 

Numerous studies have shown that your thoughts and emotions have a direct impact on your physical health. They can even develop addictions and eating disorders.

The mind-body connection explains why keeping your body in mind is essential for your well-being:

Understanding the role of the mind-body connection will help you prevent illnesses, overcome addictions, and maintain your mental and physical health. 

What Is a Mind-Body Connection?

The mind-body connection is how your physical health is interconnected with your emotions, thoughts, and beliefs. In other words, it’s the neural link between your physical and emotional body.

The science behind the mind-body connection

Scientists don’t fully understand how the mind-body connection works, but 300 studies show that stressful emotions directly affect your immunity by decreasing your immune system response. 

Neuroscientists have uncovered the sheer number of neural networks connecting the cerebral cortex to the adrenal medulla, the inner part of the adrenal gland. It’s responsible for the body’s rapid response in stressful situations, which means there’s a neural basis for a mind-body connection. 

Specifically, these findings shed light on how stress, depression, and other mental states can alter organ function and cause psychosomatic illnesses.

Simply put, stressors make your physical body extremely vulnerable to bacteria, viruses, and infections.

stressed woman holding her head

Stress Differs

What exactly is stress, and is it all the same? The word ‘stress’ initially was a physics term that described an object being placed under an undue influence that might cause it to break.

Later, Hanse Selye, founder of the stress theory, was the first to apply this term to people when he observed them in the ward that looked like they were facing some undue pressure.

He determined that there is positive and negative stress or distress. In fact, stress is a natural function of the body which is designed to protect us.

Eric Edmeades, the pioneer in the field of evolutionary biology, nutritional anthropology, and behavioral change dynamics and trainer of Mindvalley’s Immunity Blueprint Quest, explains that it’s the evolutionary mechanism that helps us act immediately in a dangerous situation. 

The challenge is that most modern threats that cause stress aren’t real threats. But our system doesn’t know the difference. 

On top of that, unlike our ancestors, we don’t know how to use it properly. And if you experience stress continuously, it weakens your immune system because your body takes resources from it. And this makes you susceptive to infection.

So managing your stress by removing things that cause undue stress is crucial for your immunity.

Let’s look at the three most prevalent types of stress:

Toleration

Toleration has to do with the conditions you don’t like, but you put up with them. In other words, you allow a certain amount of stress by tolerating things in your life.

These are the things that irritate or stress you out, and by tolerating them, you are wasting your energy. So you want to become aware of everything you’re tolerating and start removing them.

According to Eric, toleration isn’t a virtue. “Every little thing you’re tolerating is taking a little bit of your energy away from important functions of the body, like an immune response,” he adds.

Worry

Unlike toleration, worry is something you are always thinking about. And most worries never even happen. Even if they do, they are not as bad as you imagined them.

Sometimes what we worry about is that we forget to worry about it.

— Eric Edmeades, creator and trainer of Mindvalley’s Immunity Blueprint Quest

So you want to become aware of everything you worry about by writing them down. It will help you let your worries go or, at least, worry about them less.

Anxiety

When your concerns get magnified, it turns into anxiety. Like with your worries, you are anxious about things that don’t actually threaten your life. In fact, only 10% of people have at least once in their lives faced actual death.

Unlike our ancestors, who encountered real, serious threats daily, we live in the safest time.

Anxiety can seriously suppress your immune system as it fires up the same mechanisms in your physical body as if you were threatened by a lion. 

Marisa Peer
Marisa Peer, the formidable hypnotherapist and trainer of Mindvalley’s Rapid Transformational Hypnotherapy Quest

Mind-Body (Dis)connection: Illness

Your physical symptoms all originate in your thoughts, according to Marisa Peer, the formidable hypnotherapist and trainer of Mindvalley’s Rapid Transformational Hypnotherapy Quest

Scientifically speaking, “the causes, development, and outcomes of a physical illness are determined from the interaction of psychological, social factors, and biological factors.”

This could be why unhappy people get sick more frequently than happy people.

According to Marisa, if you give a tiny dose of poison to a person who’s madly in love, it won’t affect them at all.

If your immune system doesn’t seem to do a proper job, chances are, you are dealing with some trauma.

She elaborates that every illness has a role, function, purpose, and intention. Until you find out what these are, it will come back.

Disease means that your body isn’t at ease.

— Marisa Peer, the formidable hypnotherapist and trainer of Mindvalley’s Rapid Transformational Hypnotherapy Quest

So the first thing you need to do is identify what thought causes your illness and change it. 

The good news is that changing your thoughts is easier and quicker than changing your body. Your mind is always listening, so you have to be very careful with how you dialogue with it.

Mind-Body (Dis)connection: Addiction

The most apparent addictions are cigarettes, drugs, gambling, and alcohol. But there are many other addictions that are less obvious but not less common nowadays.

Food addiction, shopaholism, workaholism, and millennial addictions such as screen time, online shopping, gaming, social media, you name it.

Unfortunately, meeting a person free from addictive patterns is as rare as encountering a unicorn.

We used to believe that the chemical imbalance in the brain causes addiction, but it’s not true.

What’s the root cause of addiction? A lack of connection.

Studies in the US show that people in solitary confinement are the hardest to rehabilitate because of their disconnection.

For example, Marilyn Monroe was an orphan and disconnected very early on. The only way for her to hyper compensate for the lack of connection was through sex.  

When you’re unable to connect to a person, you find other ways to compensate, like connecting to a needle, a bottle of alcohol, or a gambling table. You develop an addiction in pursuit of connecting to something that makes you feel good, even for a short period.

In other words, disconnected people become connected to something and become addicted to it. So the connection is what we need in life to battle addictions.

woman eating a hotdog

Mind-Body (Dis)connection: Eating Disorders

Marisa points out that relationships with food impact everyone directly or indirectly. And nowadays, more and more people suffer from illnesses that affect a person’s relationship with food and body image. On top of that, the modern dieting culture promotes anxiety.

People with eating disorders have excessive thoughts about food, their body weight or shape, and how to control their food intake. 

Statistics show that global eating disorder prevalence increased from 3.4% to 7.8% between 2000 and 2018, and it’s more prevalent among women than men.

They turn to control and restrict food intake. Or become addicted to binging and purging. These are always a symptom or effects of an underlying feeling the person lives with. 

Another extreme in our food relationship dynamic is food addiction.

Marisa clarifies that we are wired to crave sugar and unhealthy food because of primal fear of death from hunger. So if you keep craving donuts over and over, don’t beat yourself up because you’re wired to do that.

She says, “It’s our ‘default setting’ that makes us come back for more and more food because back in the day, food was scarce.”

It was a very great evolutionary mechanism for survival thousands of years ago, but not anymore.

When you understand that your mind is wired to crave sugar because of fear of hunger, you can change that by dialoguing with your mind.

There are different types of emotional eaters. It’s essential to identify what type you are and dialogue with yourself accordingly.

Six types of emotional eaters:

  1. Angry: someone who eats their feelings.
  2. Destructive: someone who sabotages every effort to be healthier and thinner.
  3. Habitual: someone who’s been trained to overeat.
  4. Ignorant: someone who believes eating junk food is okay.
  5. Addictive: someone who’s addicted to food.

Whatever type you are, to change your eating pattern, you need to change your mindset.

For example, vegans easily stick to their eating habits naturally because they identify with what they eat. In other words, it’s what they are. And this is the mindset that you want to have.

If you opt to switch to healthy eating, you should identify yourself with a person who eats healthily.

Juan Pablo Barahona performing tai chi
Juan Pablo Barahona, founder of Quantum Flow Method, performing quantum health movements

4 Steps to Build a Healthy Mind-Body Connection

Here are essential steps you can take to create a healthy mind and body connection.

Step #1: Breathe deeply

Your breath is a bridge between your mind and body. It’s your inborn tool to regulate and maintain your mind-body wellness.

You communicate with your body through how you breathe. Chances are you breathe shallowly most of the time, conveying a message that you are in danger. 

On the contrary, when you breathe deeply, you communicate to your body that you’re safe. So breathing with your diaphragm is an incredible tool for your physical and mental health, and it is the first measure you want to take. 

Step #2: Practice mindfulness

When you practice mindfulness meditation, it activates links with the adrenal medulla. When you are mindful, your body becomes bodyful. On top of that, mindfulness strengthens your mind-body-spirit connection. This is how powerful this practice is.

Since mindfulness practice involves focusing on your breath, it amplifies your awareness of your breath as well. So if you don’t always remember to breathe deeply regularly during the day, you can use your mindfulness practice to deepen your breath.

Step #3: Move your body

Neuroscientists have found that motor areas in the cerebral cortex, responsible for movement and posture, substantially contribute to your adrenal medulla. 

This input to the adrenal medulla may explain why core body exercises and practices such as yoga, pilates, and tai chi (even dancing!) are helpful in regulating stress.

Step #4: Be kind to yourself

When you make a mistake and beat yourself up over it, think of some traumatic experience and replay it in your head; it influences the adrenal medulla in the same way as the actual event. (These scientific findings also shed light on treating PTSD).


So you want to turn your inner critic off and be kind to yourself. Instead of ruminating on negative events, think positive thoughts and focus on what’s going well.

Love Your Mind-Body Connection

The root of your most problems is unmet needs, such as the need for love, acceptance, appreciation, understanding, and connection.

You’re the only person who can change yourself internally.

— Marisa Peer, the formidable hypnotherapist and trainer of Mindvalley’s Rapid Transformational Hypnotherapy Quest

As Marisa puts it, “We get out in the world with the idea that someone will meet these unmet needs. But the world can’t fix your problem. Only you can fix it.

You can expect your needs to be met as a child by your parents. But as an adult, you have to meet your own needs by prioritizing self-love.

When you say to yourself, “I’m lovable,” your mind will never question it. So tell yourself great stuff, and your life will get better and better.

If you want to dive deeper into rewiring your brain and cultivating a healthy mind-body connection, join Marisa Peer at Mindvalley’s Rapid Transformational Hypnotherapy for Abundance Quest. Welcome in.


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Written by
Irina Yugay - Mindvalley Writer