How You Feel is Data

Do you ever wonder if your diet is responsible for your vague symptoms, like headaches, moodiness, fatigue, and cravings?  Ever think about testing that hypothesis and not know how?  You're in luck!  Here we interview Dor Mullen, founder of The Suppers Programs, who coined the phrase "how you feel is data." She offers tips on how to start exploring how your diet affects you.

The goal is to avoid what triggers negative symptoms and to incorporate more of what makes you feel great, but first you must learn to recognize what's doing what.

You’ve coined the phrase "how you feel is data." What exactly does that mean?  

It means that everything we experience--in the way of physical sensations, symptoms, mood, energy, often even thoughts and attitudes--is feedback from your body. I work primarily with food and building community around food so I am particularly interested in the data we get from our feelings and symptoms about how our bodies interact with what we eat.

If I feel sluggish after I eat, that's data. If I'm craving sweets an hour after a big breakfast, that's data. If I feel a drop of energy after I eat a sandwich, thats data.  If I become rageful the day after I had too much to drink, whoever I'm yelling at is not necessarily an idiot; I may just be getting data from my body about how I interact with what I had the day before.

What sorts of “data” does the body provide? 

When you start seeing the world through the lens of data and feedback, everything starts looking like data and feedback. A rash is rash, but it's also an indication that there is inflammation and the inflammation may relate to some behavior or some food that you have the power to change. Fatigue is fatigue, but it's also feedback that you may be sedated by something you've eaten. It's extremely common and yet the eating public has no idea how very common foods sedate us and make us sleepy.  Anxiety and anger are anxiety and anger, and they are also sometimes feedback about how highly processed foods are affecting our blood sugar. The list goes on and on. 

How does recognizing that how you feel is data change one’s perspective toward food?

As soon as you start looking to your body as a source of data, you can no longer deny the connection between what you eat and how you feel. The food and pharmaceutical industries rely on your feeling disconnected.  The people that I work with find themselves endlessly fascinated as their bodies reward them with rich, meaningful information that allows them to find the energy and happiness that eluded them before. 

Is there a best practice for observing your data? 

The best place to start is wherever you are the most willing to work. Some people are designed to go cold turkey. Some people love writing a journal. Some people are ideally designed to make healing a social experience and share their observations with friends. 

Whatever experiments people are willing to do usually involves changing a behavior and observing the results. It could be eliminating something. It could be eliminating many things simultaneously. It could be adding things you hadn't eaten before. It could be changing how you deal with stress; it's not just about food.  

In the ideal world, people would be a little bit scientific. But this isn't the ideal world. In our program, we start by making observation a social experience. We simply plant the thought that a lot of symptoms are data and suggest experiments for people to test their hypotheses.

What are the most common dietary culprits triggering symptoms? 

Processed foods and beverages, which are more like drugs than food.

What surprising patterns or lessons emerge when people experiment with how food makes them feel?

In groups, what emerges is that everyone is so biologically different from everyone else that we really can't draw any general conclusions.  Within individuals, probably the most dramatic revelations relate to blood sugar and inflammation caused by foods to which you had no idea you're sensitive. 

When you realize they may be evidence of a food sensitivity, depression, anxiety, rage, mood swings, impulse control problems, cravings, headaches and muscle pain start looking optional.  The most exciting lesson is that you either have or can get control over these things when they are food-driven.

Have you seen cases in which the data reveals something counterintuitive with conventional nutrition wisdom?

All the time. I think I live on a different planet from the people who recommend starting the day with oatmeal to manage blood sugar. I know one person who does very well eating whole-grain for breakfast. She reduced her A1c on quinoa.  Just about everyone else I see finds a personal best combination of protein, fat, carbs, fiber, and enough water.  

Mind you, I'm not saying bad things about oatmeal. It's a wonderful food if you don't already have problems with blood sugar. But half the country already has problems with blood sugar.  Plus, how many people whose food preferences have guided them down the path to type two diabetes eat oatmeal without sweetening it?  Also, this whole conventional wisdom thing about reducing fat needs to become passé very soon.  Whole food means whole food, including delicious crispy chicken skin.

What advice would you give someone who is just learning to interpret how they feel as data?

Begin. Start anywhere that you are willing to do experiments and observations. The clearest data can be gathered at breakfast time because your body is the cleanest slate after fasting. Take some symptoms that you're wondering about, like bouts of fatigue, mood swings, cravings and impulses to eat. Eat a range of different breakfasts--fruit one day, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, bagels and coffee or whatever you usually have--and start taking notes.  

For more information, visit Suppers' How You Feel is Data and Breakfast Challenge pages.

The first step to improving how you feel is to cut back on processed foods. Start by taking our 10 Day Real Food Challenge.


Dor is the Founder of The Suppers Programs and a leader in the community gardening movement in central New Jersey.  Suppers is a network of nearly free-to-users programs for people who are willing to make diet and lifestyle changes to achieve more vibrant health. The Program design reflects her combining of addictions models, her background in garden-based education, her passion for preparing delicious food, and her respect for the wisdom and longevity of the 12-step process. The program has no biases in favor of a particular diet; rather, it simply removes all processed foods from the menu and make delicious meals with everything else-real food! She is the author of Logical Miracles, a collection of stories by, with and for members of the Suppers Programs who have turned around serious health problems with food.

Connect with Dor

The Purple Apron Blog

Suppers on Facebook

Dor on LinkedIn


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