Friday, March 20, 2009

Gluten Nightmares

Maureen at Hold the Gluten mentioned the "gluten nightmare" phenomenon in her last podcast.  I've had several myself, and hearing about others' experiences with them provoked me into digging up an article I'd heard about a while ago about why, in general, we have nightmares.  The idea is that nightmares are essentially rehearsal for threatening situations that we may encounter, and that this rehearsal has actually been essential to our survival.  Just as martial artists practice incessantly to be able to react optimally without thinking, our brains put us through "a hellscape of danger" every night to keep us prepared for whatever might come.

This brought me back to a book I'd once read entitled "Descartes Error:  Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain" which argues that, fundamentally, the body is not just a puppet controlled by the mind, but rather it's just one tightly integrated system where the sensations experienced by the body are as important to decision-making as the work done by the brain to tie it all together.  One of the key elements of this theory was the somatic marker, which is something of a dead end in our decision-making processes that says "stop here, this way's no good", or "ooh, pick me!" without any further deliberation.  This prevents us from endlessly pondering the best way out of a situation while we're being eaten.  

I wonder if there's a connection between nightmares and the development of somatic markers.  We play out the consequences of various courses of action in our internal simulations and prune off paths that lead to bad feelings.

Living on a restricted diet is a choice.  While our intestines do make a forceful argument in favor of it, there are a number of competing forces at play that make us want to just eat what's there and worry about the consequences later.  Early on, continually making this choice is stressful and every day is a challenge.  But as time goes on things get easier, and, eventually, walking by that tray of regular human food is more of a reflex than a decision.  Apparently all it takes is a few nightmares.