There’s more to nutrition than just the food you eat. Let us consider two parts: part 1 is the food itself, and part 2 is our emotional and mindful state when eating. It’s this second part that many people overlook when considering nutritional intake, digestion, and general state of health.
Consider these questions:
- Are you enjoying your food or choking it down?
- What type of mood are you in as you chew? Are you sitting down for a relaxing meal with family and friends? Are you frantically scarfing down your food, rushing to the next task? Are you eating while watching a funny movie, or sad movie?
Your thoughts and emotions while you are eating and about what you are eating actually affect your digestion, absorption of nutrients, and metabolism. So, while you nutritionally may need to eat a broccoli, your body will have a much harder time making use of the broccoli’s nutrient value if you are grimacing with each bite or are in a negative emotional state.
Just like feeling sadness can cause a physiological response of tears, emotions can create physiological responses in the digestive organs. This mind-body connection is primarily managed by the hypothalamus and vagus nerve.
Positive feelings around your food and while you are eating – joy, peace, gratitude, love – signal the hypothalamus that you are at ease. As a result, your digestive system is at full alert, ready and willing to receive food, break it down, and absorb what it needs.
Alternatively, when you have negative feelings surrounding your eating – stress, guilt, loneliness, grief, distaste, fear – the hypothalamus sends signals that inhibit digestion, recognizing your body is in a state of stress. The salivary enzymes in your mouth become more acidic, the production of pepsin and bile are retarded, and digestion slows drastically. This results in less than optimal breakdown of your food, which then leads to an inability to utilize all potentially available nutrients. The food may also end up sitting in your digestive system for an extended period of time, increasing fermentation, diminishing the population of healthy bacteria in your gut, and increasing the release of toxic by-products into the bloodstream. And it doesn’t end there. More of your food will probably be stored as fat due to cortisol and insulin surges caused by the negative emotions. Upset stomachs, gas and bloating may develop…
So how are you eating?
It might be time to “bring back that loving feeling” to your plate:
- Give thanks before (and after) you eat.
- Hover your hands over your food and send it loving thoughts.
- If you don’t like it, doctor it up until you do, or just eat something else!
- Instead of feeling guilty or tense about eating that cookie or extra servings of fruit, enjoy every single bite. And then, if you need to, take note of how you would like to approach the situation differently next time — a much more productive use of your heart and head space.
Love your food no matter what it is, and let your food love you!
Physiology of the Gastrointestinal Tract, 5th edition, Volume 1