How often do you grab a bite on the go, eat while driving or munch down quickly while finishing a chore? Research tells us that this “stressful eating” has far more serious consequences for our health. Moreover, if we’ve made a habit of eating under dire conditions, never paying attention to the colour, flavour or aroma of the food, we are sure to hamper our body more permanently.
Eating your way to health and happiness is about eating nourishing foods while savouring them fully. Growing your own food and herbs and cooking your own tasty meals. Taking the time to sit down for a proper meal with your family. Turning off the distracting gadgets and devices and focusing on the plate. And truly enjoying the experience of a happy mealtime!
There are several ways you can begin doing this. Here in this blog post, I help you make the shift with a few simple suggestions. I uncover the inner workings of your digestive system as the food travels through it. And, hopefully, I will help you realize a better way of eating that will have your body, mind and soul brimming with satisfaction.
The Physiology of Digestion
Digestion begins long before you place food in your mouth. It begins before you stack your plate with delicious goodies. It truly begins when you imagine the taste, smell and texture of the food you want to eat.
Consider this experiment – Close your eyes and imagine biting into a juicy pear. Or, if you are not a big fan of fruits, consider roughly tearing-up a few salad leaves and placing them in a bowl. Dressing the mix with vinaigrette and sprinkling crushed walnuts on top. Now imagine dipping your spoon into the bowl and scooping out a mouthful.
It is hard not to salivate at the prospect.
However, salivation apart your body actually prepares to receive and process the imaginary food. Your stomach pumps out the stomach acid in preparation. The liver, gallbladder and pancreas too activate their secretions. Your intestines ready-up. All in all, if you were to eat something at this stage, chances would be that your body would absorb a whole lot of goodness from the food leaving you completely satiated.
The Food-Mood Connection
There is a deeper connection between mood and food that further impacts the digestive processes. For example, consider when you are hungry because you were stuck at work, or in traffic, or when you sit undecided about what to order at the dinner table. This automatically triggers a mood change and you are now hungry as well as irritable, angry, with a testy temperament.
As a result of digestion, the nutrients from the food are converted into simple sugars such as glucose. These sugars are then released into the bloodstream powering up your body. When mealtime approaches, and you are still hungry, your blood sugar levels begin to drop. In such a condition, your brain is rigged to go into survival mode. This is why the pangs last until you’ve had your fill of food and you’re back to functioning like a normal human being again.
It is important to avoid these situations where there is a large gap in between meals. Keeping fruits, nuts and healthy low GI snacks at hand is a must!
Generally, when the hungry + angry = hangry state is triggered in the body, there is a natural inclination to overeat or eat unhealthy carb-rich foods as a quick fix. This could wreak havoc on the body, causing blood sugar levels to spike and spiral.
When we make a habit of not eating on time or eating insufficiently during mealtime, being in a perpetual ‘hangry’ state, we let our brain’s survival instinct prescribe our next course of action.
Your gut is widely considered a second brain.
This second brain, or rather, the enteric nervous system, is a complex network of neural pathways (chemicals and hormones), that is in constant touch with your central nervous system and your brain. Your gut instinct, butterflies in your stomach, a sinking feeling in your belly – these strong drives you experience are all symptoms of this connection.
Not surprisingly, over 90% of our serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter, is produced in our digestive tract, proving that the way to a person’s heart can be found by appealing to their stomach.
The gut flora is perhaps the single most consequential element of our digestive system. Thriving inside the small intestine, the intestinal bacteria are responsible for boosting our immunity, processing certain minerals, bolstering our metabolism, synthesizing vitamins and balancing hormones.
Fibre-rich whole foods and grains feed these bacteria. And ensure that the gut-brain connection remains productive and intact.
A Few Simple Recommendations
If you are convinced of my suggestions, here are a few simple recommendations to follow:
- Be thankful for your meal. Acknowledge the person who has cooked the meal for you.
- Be mindful. Take in the aromas, textures, and colours of the food.
- Enjoy the food. Savour it.
- Chew the food well. This gives your stomach a chance to prepare for it.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water.
- Consider healthy low GI foods, homecooked meals, organic foods and drinks over processed or junk ‘sugary’ foods.
- Enjoy your food with friends and family, away from the distractions of your smartphone and television. Music can be a great accompaniment to good food.