The Food Mood Connection
We are approaching the winter season which is an internal time of year, we aren’t being distracted by long days, blasting sun, so it gives us an opportunity (whether we are fond of this or not!) to look inside.
Like many things in life, when we dig a little deeper, we get closer to the source – in medicine, we can get more in the neighbourhood of the underlying root cause. The source of good health-wellness-vitality, or the root cause of imbalance or disease.
Just over a week ago, I held some workshops that looked at the relationship between STRESS and food choice and digestion.
Whether it is weight issues, poor digestion (reflux, heartburn, constipation, bloating) skin problems (exema, acne), mood swings and blood sugar imbalance STRESS is one of the underlying triggers that sets off a cascade of events that contribute to our body getting out of balance.
In my clinical practice I spend a great deal of time talking about how to guide the body back into “rest and digest mode” where all good things happen : METABOLISM, DIGESTION, ABSORPTION of nutrients and ELIMINATION. Many of us get tempted to jump to “heroic measures” (cleansing, detoxing, laxatives, colonics) and completely bypass the more simple body basics that should be in the owners manual if we had one for our bodies!
To meet your long term health and short term goals ( like aging well, clear skin, healthy weight, good digestion, clear and easy elimination) there are a few basic rules to observe.
When the body is in STRESS MODE (aka Flight or Flight) it turns OFF Rest and Digest Mode.
How to get the body into REST and DIGEST?
We can re-educate the body how to get back into this Relaxation mode of the nervous system through herbs, hormone balancing, acupuncture treatments, practicing yoga, meditation, etc. In addition, there are some simple actions you can take at home every day that can get your body back into Rest and Digest.
This is not to charm dinner dates by using the right fork! This is about how to persuade your one body into being in agreement with your plan to get the most out of the meal you are are about to consume!
1. You need to be out of stress mode. This means not multi-multi-tasking in front of the computer, erasing emails, making to do lists or even perusing health-blogs! No listening to voice mail, talking with colleagues about stressful work -related issues in the lunch room.
How-to? Take your meal elsewhere, wherever is quiet/peaceful, nice weather is not always provided for our dining pleasure, esp. on the west coast, but it is ideal if you can find a location where you aren’t surrounded by work and digital distractions.
2. Pause– do not dive in! Take a moment to feel your breath. Do what is called elemental breathing – through your nose, out your nose, 5 times deeply. This re-wires your nervous system (when in stress mode- we shallow breathe to get more O2 to lungs to run from that bear /life-threatening situation, so this let’s your body know that it is NOT in stress mode. Youc an also do diaphragmatic or deep belly breathing.
Potential challenge: Your heart still racing despite changing breath. mind still wired but tired?
Ok, You ID that you are still in stress mode:
Solution: do legs up the wall, child’s pose, or if you can’t find a space to do this, go for a short walk, come back close your eyes and do the deep breath again. Think about your goal (focusing on eating)
3. After the pause- Take a moment to look and smell your food (again- the physical senses- olfactory and visual give your body the cue to re-orient, and get those digestive juices secreted. This is digestive foreplay and it really works– generates the release of salivary amylase. Here is where if you are koom-buy-ya inclined, you may say a prayer of gratitude– to the creator/spirit/powers at be to bring you the bounty, the farmers who grew the food, the dedication of the person who created the meal– thank yourself for taking the time if it was You ! or thank your lucky stars if it was a partner, parent, or someone who loved you and packed you a lunch!
Potential Challenge: this sounds way too who-who.
Solution: Take a moment to marvel at the fact there are 7 billion people out there and you are one of the fortunate few that gets to dial up a warm meal of your choice at any moment– hard to take that for granted!
4. When you take a bite, really chew it. How many times is necessary to full masticate that mouthful? Sometimes numbers are floated around- like chewing 20 times before you swallow. You can use a number if you find it helpful– the point is, inhaling our food is really counter-productive! When we actually chew our food, we start to secrete salivary amylase in our mouth (breaks down starches) and lingual lipase (breaks down fats) and then a message gets sent to the parietal cells in the stomach to release HCL (hydrochloric acid) which starts to break down food into smaller particles so that other digestive enzymes (like those from the pancreas) will have a chance to work on them.
5. Do not drink water at your meal. This is contrary to many ill-advised diet gurus recommendations to “fill up” in water– but it is going against your body’s physiology to drown your stomach in the water that you should be re-hydrating with all through the day, not at your meal!
This dilutes your HCL — which we talked about in #4. that HCL secretion is a necessary initial trigger for setting off that domino cascade– the messages must go down the line to the pancreas and gallbladder to let them know they need to get going! If we interfere with our HCL, particularly by washing it away in COLD water, our body completely misses the critical signal to start secreting those necessary digestive enzymes ( fat dissolving, starch bond breaking etc.) and bile from the gall bladder etc. etc.
You are thirsty.
Solution: you can have a little bit, to cleanse your palate, but don’t mix up REHYDRATING with eating– you should do these separately. REhyrdration should take place all through the day (with a water bottle you tote for instance, at the at a red light, waiting in line at the store, at the gym, at your desk reading emails…. the possibilities are endless for drinking– that doesn’t have to be in “rest and digest” mode, but your Digestion obviously does!
To sum it all up: From the sensory stimulus of smelling food, to really chewing it, away from water/dehydration, not in stress mode, we charm/ trigger a physical process of being in Rest and Digest Mode, of getting the enzymes and acids mobilized that need to carry out the task of getting the benefits out of our healthy food choices!