Is this blog about another diet programme? Or more advice on what to eat? No. Not at all. Interestingly, it is about how you eat. Do you ever pay attention to how you eat? And I am not talking about table manners here. How you eat – that is, the state of your body during eating as important – or perhaps more – than what you eat. Your body state dictates how much of the energy you are consuming is converted to fuel (protein) and how much goes to sit in those unwanted areas of your body!
We try a number of diet plans in our lifetime. We make endless resolutions related to our eating. And we give them up because they do not seem to be working. Why is that so? Why does a diet work for one person and not for the other? Why is a diet not working for you now, while it had done in the past?
Without more riddles, let me pull up the central point of this blog: The impact of food – any food, be it a binge food or a diet plan – is directly related to the stress level of your body! When we are relaxed, our body is in parasympathetic mode which enables digestion to work at its optimum level. When we are stressed, or in a hurry, our body is in sympathetic mode. This is a state similar to anxiety or when we are in danger. At this stage our body is channelling most of the energies towards being aware of the anxiety or the reasons for danger. Hence, the digestion works at a minimal efficiency, leaving a lot of undigested waste and causing bulges (fat deposition!).
So when was the last time, you sat down to a ‘relaxed’ meal, ate slowly and enjoyed every morsel? Today, family dinners and weekend meals are getting dominated by emails, and TV. As in stress, catching up on your email, or watching TV while eating has a similar impact of ‘diverting’ your body’s attention from eating to other activities (causing stress) and leading to a sympathetic mode.
Couple of years ago, my husband was working in Italy and he commented on the length of time Italians took for lunch. They just could not be hurried. A ‘quick lunch’ or a working lunch was an alien concept to them; something which he was perfectly used to! He was frustrated at their attitude; I was ecstatic! Wow! Despite their busy lives, Italian executives take time to enjoy their food. To relax and connect! That’s so wonderful! And so do the French! Have you seen the French eating? It is similar to appreciating a work of art. Or listening to a good piece of music. Their portions are small, but prepared with care and love. And the expectation is to ‘enjoy’ these pieces of art. Not to gobble them and wash them down with a cuppa. Or chew them while catching up on your emails.
Slow eating is similar to conscious breathing. When we breathe slowly, we inhale more oxygen which makes us feel better. Remember, when you are stressed, people advice you to ‘slow down’, ‘breathe slowly’? When we breathe fast, we inhale less oxygen, causing us to breathe more. But when we inhale slow and deep, more oxygen enters our system and we get the desired result (i.e., more metabolism) using less oxygen. The same concept works with food. When we eat fast, or do pay attention to eating, we tend to eat more than what is required. And we don’t get the desired results because we do not have time to appreciate the activity. While, when you are relaxed, a simple meal opens up its flavours, you recognise flavours which you had not done before and the meal is more satisfying than before. Why do they say, ‘Nothing better than a home meal?’ Without disregarding the culinary prowess of whosoever cooks at our home, the meal at home tastes much better simply because at home, you are under less stress and hence enjoy your meals better.
Slow eating helps in our metabolism. It has a positive impact on our biochemistry. Science uses the term CPDR. It means ‘of the head’ or being aware. Our digestive process starts much before the first portion has entered our mouth. We become aware of the food – the various food items, their colours, their aroma. Then we take a helping and we become aware of its texture. During the entire process, our body starts preparing itself in anticipation of the experience. The taste buds are activated, the enzymes starts secreting and saliva is formed. And after this, when the food is taken in, the experience is near perfect.
On the contrary, when your attention is diverted to something else – say your inbox, or your laptop or telly – you deny the body of these preparations. Which results in the food tasting ‘bland’, or tasteless. To compensate that, we add a lot of dressings, sauces, ketchups and condiments! This is just short of murder! It is akin to a receiving a spine-tingling novel with no covers and the first and last chapter missing!!
Thinking of food itself can make you fat!
Can I see your brows raising? You don’t believe it? Well, it is a fact. In CPDR we have an insulin response. Insulin is a hormone produced in our body to help metabolise carbohydrates (rice, sweets, sugar etc.). So when you think of food (and typically you think of those food which are denied to you, like chocolates, pastries!), your body suspects this to be a phase when you are going to eat it and in response, produces insulin to digest it. In absence of any carbohydrates to act upon, unused insulin increases your Cortisol level, which is another fat storage hormone. So there you are! Without eating sugar, you have just added some more fat I your body, simply by ‘fantasising’ about it!
And here’s a tip. If you fancy something, don’t deny it to your body. Eat is and be fully aware of it while eating it. Do not gobble it up. Eat it like it was the last piece on earth. Hold it; observe it, savour the aroma and slowly eat it while enjoying the impact in different areas of your mouth. Eating is as much sensory as metabolic. When you are aware of the food that you eat, you are satisfied in much less quantity than usual. As your metabolism increases, your mind gets a signal of sanity and fulfilment quicker than before.
Conscious eating does not stop when your plate is empty. After a conscious eating, you realise that your body is sending signals to you how your digestive system is responding. Remember those burps, or acidic attacks, or discomfort after some meals? They are all part of the communication which your body sends to you about your meals. Unfortunately, rather than listening to them and learning from them, we smother them with another mindless ingestion – an antacid or many such pills.
Have you heard of the ‘brain in your belly’? It is called ENS – Eccentric Nervous System or the ‘gut brain’. When scientists counted the number of nerve cells in our gut brain, they were more than hundred millions of them – more than the number found in our spinal cord. And there were more neural traffic from the ENS to the head brain than from the head brain to ENS. So there you have it – a powerhouse in your belly which directly impacts the brain. A disturbed gut-belly can overflow the capability of your head brain, rendering it with little power to do other things. Did you feel trouble concentrating on your work when your tummy was upset, or when you had over eaten? Or not eaten for a long time? There you go! Your gut brain was chocking the normal head brain functions with its own messages!
Summing up, how can you be more gut aware and gut intelligence? Here are a few tips for you:
- Eat slowly and chew your food.
- Avoid distractions while eating. Give sufficient time for eating your mail meals – breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Take deep breathe. Be aware of the feeling of a fully oxygenated gut.
- Asking your wisdom is an art in yoga. It is said, “where attention goes, energy flows”. Elevate your ENS wisdom: what nourishes me, what food my body needs, what combination works for me, which phase of nutrition I am in.
- Listen to answers without judging or forcing conclusions.
- Observe your energy, satisfaction and station levels.
- Food measurement or portion control is a source of disempowerment and an energy drainer. Concentrate more on getting relaxed, breathing deep and bring awareness to grow your metabolism.
That’s all for this blog. But it does not end here. In the fourth part of my blog on relationship with food, I will focus on the importance of rhythm. Till then, thanks for reading this and as always will look forward to your comments.