It's not what you eat, it's how you eat it!
Why the slow down diet is the way to go!
When it comes to weight loss, there are thousands of diets, supplements, superfoods, and approaches all vying for our attention and dollars. However, what all these approaches ignore is that fact that even the ‘best’ food in the world, will simply not digest properly if you don’t know how to eat it.
It seems absurd that most humans of the so called ‘intelligent’ species, haven’t got a grasp of this most simple and basic life function. Apart from domestic pets and livestock, all other life forms seem to have sorted out what they need to eat, and how to eat it, for their maximum health.
Putting aside the what for now, if we just observe how animals eat, two things are clear. They eat with full focus and they stop eating when they are satiated. Many people eat whilst distracted by TV, conversation or at least their own thoughts. This leads us to finish our meal, barely registering the tastes, smells, textures or bodily sensations, and then want more.
Overeating actually comes from not really eating in the first place. Or at least not being aware of eating. Digestion starts with the mind, with the engagement of all the senses, and then finally in the process of chewing, after which the body takes over. In fact, the body’s reaction to seeing, smelling, seeing and anticipating the food is known as the Cephalic Phase Digestion Phase, and it estimated by scientists to contribute 20 – 80% to metabolic efficiency.
Many of us eat as if someone will take the plate away if we don’t finish it as soon as possible. We often have mixed feelings about what we are eating, guilt, fear, self-reproach. We eat as if we want to get it over with as soon possible. We also tend to eat in the way we live, with too much speed and not enough savoring of the simple pleasure of being alive in a body with incredible sense organs. All this adds up to stress. And stress is the number 1 enemy of weight loss.
When we are stressed, especially when we are eating, we activate what is known as the sympathetic nervous system. This is the brains way of keeping us save in danger, activating adrenalin, cortisol, insulin, and diverting the blood away from the digestion process and into the muscles for flight or fight. Our breathing also becomes shallow when we are stressed, reducing oxygen which is the fuel for the metabolism, acting like bellows on a fire.
Stress also has the result of helping us retain salt, destroying gut bacteria, reducing thyroid function, causing acid reflux, allergy reactions, reducing the functioning of the kidneys, mitochondria and causing aging oxidative stress, amongst many other negative effects.
Experiments with rats and monkeys shows that under stress, whilst not increasing caloric intake, their weight increases. This is due to cortisol production and is known to especially increase belly fat.
By taking time to breathe and relax before we eat, we activate the para-sympathetic nervous system resulting in stomach acids begin to churn, enzymes secretions being created to help the digestion process and blood flowing for absorbing nutrients. Plus, all that lovely oxygen flooding the blood and firing up the metabolism.
Rather than focusing on the perfect diet, we would be better off focusing on a perfect state of relaxation. It can take a lot of effort to slow down, especially if you have a lifetime habit of wolfing down your food. But if you want to make peace with food and with being alive and conscious in your body, it is absolutely a must to learn to eat in a relaxed state.
Towards this end, it can be useful to turn off the tv, computer, or whatever else keeps you in a hyped-up state. And commit enough time and space to sit down, relax, breathe deeply, appreciate the food, engage all the senses, and chew properly. Preparing the food in a relaxed state, setting a proper table, sitting up straight, creating an atmosphere around this sacred act of feeding your body, all can help make eating something which enriches your life, rather something a source of confusion, conflict and mindless consumption.