How’s your relationship with food?
One of the most fundamental building blocks of health is our relationship with food.
We human beings eat with our minds as much as our stomachs, so how we think and feel about eating certain foods can effect this relationship.
A relationship dependant on our goals
A plate of meat, potatoes and vegetables, can be seen by someone trying to lose weight as too starchy, though to someone trying to gain muscle, it will look like good quality calories and a vegetarian will frown at the sight of the meat.
Each person will metabolize this same meal quite differently in response to their unique thoughts.
So what you think and feel about a food can be as important a determinant of its nutritional value as the actual nutrients themselves.
So what’s going on in our brain when we eat?
Let’s say you are going to eat a bowl of ice cream. The notion and the image of the bowl of ice cream starts in the Cerebral Cortex, which is involved with higher brain function such as thought and action.
This information is sent down to the limbic system, which is our emotional centre.
It regulates key physiological functions such as hunger, thirst, temperature, sex drive, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Then, it’s passed on to the Hypothalamus, whose job it is to take the information it has received and turn that into physiological response in your body.
What happens when we eat ice cream
So for example if you love the ice cream and you consume it with no guilt, the hypothalamus will modulate this positive input by sending activation signals via parasympathetic (rest & digest) nerves to the salivary glands, stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver and gallbladder.
Digestion will be stimulated and you’ll have a fuller metabolic breakdown of the ice cream while burning its calories more efficiently.
If however you’re feeling guilty or judging yourself for eating the ice cream, the hypothalamus will take this negative input and send signals down via the sympathetic (fight or flight) nerves.
This can inhibit responses in the digestive organs, which means you’ll be eating your ice cream but not fully metabolizing it and it may stay in your digestive system longer.
This would cause you to store more of your guilt-infused ice cream as body fat.
Enjoy your food
You could being eating the healthiest meal on the planet, though if in your mind, you are not enjoying it, the digestive quality of your food goes down and your fat storage metabolism can go up.
Likewise, you could be eating an unhealthy and nutritionally deficient meal, though if you are enjoying what you are eating, then the nutritive power of your food will be increased.
This doesn’t mean you can just eat rubbish.
The nutritional quality of the food you eat over a period of time will have a positive or negative effect, though the intensity of that will depend on how you feel about the food you are eating.
So let me introduce you to the concept of mindful eating, which is really about rekindling our relationship with our food.
Your brain likes variety.
When it comes to food, if you experience the same taste over and over again, then you start to get less pleasure from it. We are creatures of habit and eat the same foods over and over, right?
So make sure you eat a variety of seasonal foods!
The sensation of eating food, which includes what it tastes like (salty, sweet, sour, etc.), what it smells like, and how it feels in your mouth, has a huge impact on how your body digests the food.
So slow down your eating and start to think about the smells, flavour and textures of the food you are eating.
Mindful eating does not have to be an exercise in super-human concentration, but rather a simple commitment to appreciating, respecting and, above all, enjoying the food you eat every day.
And while the focus becomes how you eat, not what you eat, you may find your notions of what you want to eat shifting dramatically for the better too.
Connect with Expert Dean Griffiths