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What and Where Is the Mind?


When we say, “I’m going out of my mind,” where is it exactly that we’re going? When we insist that, “Food’s on my mind all the time,” where is it? “Scientists Say Your ‘Mind’ Isn’t Confined to Your Brain, or Even Your Body” by Olivia Goldhill provides some answers along with a definition and general description of “the mind.” (Quartz, 12/24/16,, accessed 2/10/20).

Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and the author of the 2016 book, Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human, defines the mind as “the emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within and among us.” He says that the mind contains our perception of our experiences as well as the actual experiences themselves. “Borrowing tenets from mathematics, Siegel explains that the mind is a complex system and, as such is “optimal self-organization is: flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized and stable.” Considering this description as the “foundation to mental health,” he says that without the “self-organization piece, you arrive at either chaos or rigidity.”

This description of chaos or rigidity reminded me of the minds of dysregulated eaters going from dieting to bingeing, from hyper-consciousness to unconsciousness. So, let’s look at Siegel’s mind facets. Is your mind flexible? If you’re inclined to take in new facts or experiences and change your mind because of them, you’re mentally flexible. But if you insist the world or a person or you are a certain way because that was your perception decades ago, you’re thinking in a rigid manner. Is your mind adaptive? Flexibility and adaptivity go together. For instance, do you recognize that dieting was thought to be a helpful way to prevent overeating, but now adaptivity means following what scientific research says—that weight-loss dieting is a cause of overeating.

Coherence means that the parts of something consistently relate to each other and the whole. Is your mind coherent or do you base some ideas about eating and weight on facts and others on how you feel? If you’re all over the map on dieting and intuitive eating, you’re going to have a hard time improving your relationship with food. Is there energy flowing in your mind? If it’s a dead zone with little activity, it’s not a very healthy mind. Healthy minds are curious yet rational. Is there stability in your thinking or feelings or are you easily swayed and sometimes feel differently about things and yourself from day to day or even moment to moment? Take a minute to consider if your mind is working at its optimal level for you to become a “normal” eater.