How Does "Wise Mind" Relate to Nutrition?

Dr. David Wiss

February 10, 2021


Wisdom can be defined by the qualities of experience, knowledge, and good judgment. Typically, wisdom is accrued over one’s lifespan, often resulting from challenging circumstances or obstacles. However, in some instances, wisdom can be learned through the experience of others without having to experience the hardship firsthand. Wisdom can be passed down through families and countless other social networks. Wisdom is more than just information—it is the synthesis and utilization of it.

While wisdom is generally assumed to live in the mind, many people report detecting wisdom in their gut. Recent evidence suggests that this may be linked to the microorganisms that inhabit our gastrointestinal tract and communicate bidirectionally with our brains [1,2]. This is the basis of the growing fields of nutritional psychiatry and nutritional psychology, generated from groundbreaking research on the gut-brain axis.

The ubiquitous term “trust your gut” suggests there is perhaps a biological wisdom or intuition that exists inside all of us. This inner-connectedness of different body systems is sometimes referred to as “wise mind” which captures the intersection of emotions and reason. Scientists have begun referring to the gut as the “second brain” which suggests an intelligence that lives outside (but not independent of) the brain itself. This research has really put “gut health” in the spotlight.

The term “wise mind” represents that subtle voice that we sometimes have to pause in order to gain access to. For many people, body wisdom can become blocked for various reasons, which is often associated with trauma, anxiety, depression, addictions, eating disorders, and other behavioral health challenges. The recovery journey then becomes about getting unblocked in order to use our “second brain” and access that “wise mind.”

One reason that wisdom and intuition can become blocked is from the loss of trust in oneself. Other reasons include the accumulation of negative emotions, heightened sensitivity to the perception of threat, unresolved resentment, and more. The result is a dysregulated emotional state. Is it time to get unblocked?

Collectively and cumulatively, stress, trauma, and adversity can block one’s ability to access their wise mind, and even lead to various forms of disordered eating [3,4]. Recent evidence suggests that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with alterations in gut bacteria [5,6]. Thus, there are biological as well as psychological reasons that our ability to access our body’s innate wisdom can become compromised. Is it time to heal?

With respect to nutrition and eating behavior, it appears that more and more people are losing their ability to successfully navigate food choices. Many people lose their intuition because they have relied on external information (e.g., diet gurus) for too long. For example, chronic dieting can lead to a loss of body trust and disconnection from hunger and fullness cues [7].

Extreme forms of eating such as eliminating macronutrient categories (i.e., carbohydrates, protein, or fat) can also eventually lead to a loss of wisdom around food. Regaining “wise mind” with respect to nutrition is an individualized process. For some people, being intuitive as an eater can include knowing what to eat more of, as well as knowing what to eat less of. It is also likely that our food environment is a major contributor to the loss of body wisdom, as chronic exposure to highly palatable foods can lead to addiction-like eating [8–10].

Wise Mind and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

The term “wise mind” has grown popular with the growth of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). DBT was originally developed with individuals for Borderline Personality Disorder but has since been adapted for other disorders involving emotion dysregulation. Dialectical thinking is concerned with replacing rigid dichotomous thinking generated by opposing ideas or forces with acceptance-based cognitive and behavioral strategies. The major mechanism of DBT is the reduction of ineffective action tendencies linked with dysregulated emotions [11]. DBT has been shown to be an effective treatment for eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa [12] and binge eating disorder [13]. Today DBT is used widely in many forms of mental health treatment.

In DBT, the “reasonable mind” is rational and task-focused, while the “emotional mind” is driven by feelings and moods, with the “wise mind” being the middle ground between the two. Utilizing your wise mind includes seeing the value of both reason and emotion while being able to see the middle path. As a result, one will be more mindful, more able to tolerate distress, regulate emotions, and demonstrate interpersonal effectiveness.


Wise Mind Nutrition

At Wise Mind Nutrition, we strive to teach people to recognize a middle ground, which often confronts a trade-off between physical and mental health. For example, going on an extreme diet that is purported to improve physical health might in turn compromise mental health, and therefore would not be a health-promoting strategy. This is why we need nutritional psychology.

Nutrition is not a fully logical process, nor should it be based on math equations. Nutrition should also not be something used simply to regulate negative mood and to improve negative affect. There should be a middle ground. We call this the wise mind.

Wise Mind Nutrition is about eating to improve mood and optimize brain health. This happens at the intersection of the gut, brain, and the mind. Science on this “second brain” has birthed the nutritional psychiatry revolution and has taken the concept of the gut-brain axis mainstream. Our goal is to help you access the wisdom that already is, using nutrition and lifestyle medicine. Join the revolution!

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