A Deeper Look into Vitamin O
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People often talk about burning calories but few realize that a calorie is simply a measure of heat released when something is burned. Food scientists determine the caloric value of a food by placing it in a special apparatus that essentially torches it to a crisp and measures the heat given off. It shouldn’t surprise you, then, that just about everything has a measurable caloric value. A fortune cookie contains about 30 calories. A page of a typical book you read has at least 60 calories. The chair you’re sitting in has upwards of 200,000 calories. And all of these calories need oxygen if you want them to burn. So if you’re interested in maximizing metabolism, breathing is one of the most effective tools because the greater your capacity to take in oxygen, the higher your metabolic “burning power” will be.

Breathe in more oxygen and you burn food more fully.

It’s really that simple. The digestive system is hungry for oxygen. Certain parts of the stomach lining consume more oxygen than any other tissue in the body. The intestinal villi, our site of primary nutrient absorption, are charged with the job of extracting large quantities of oxygen from the blood during the breakdown of a meal. When the blood lacks oxygen for the villi to pick up, absorption decreases.

The more we eat, the more the body naturally wants us to breathe. After a meal, the parasympathetic nervous system generates synchronous changes in breathing, blood circulation, and oxygen uptake. In other words, the brain automatically increases air intake to accommodate the need for more oxygen. Breathing more if you eat a lot is the same as exercising more if you eat a lot. If you interfere with the body’s natural switch to deeper breathing because of anxiety or overstimulation, you limit your ability to burn calories. The simple rule here is this: If you eat more, breathe more.

To further examine the relationship between oxygen and calorie burning, have you ever had the experience of going on a low-calorie diet and not losing any weight, or dieting and losing weight with the first week but leveling off despite continuing your low-calorie fare? Many people are perplexed by this mysterious phenomenon, but the reason is quite simple. Your metabolism changed. The body learned to tolerate the meager portions of food you served it by lowering oxygen uptake—decreased oxygen means decreased metabolism. In many cases, weight loss diets actually teach the body to need less oxygen. So by going on a low-calorie diet you may think you’re doing what’s right for shedding pounds, but you’re actually working against yourself.

Another way to think of this phenomenon is to consider that the act of eating creates a “demand” on metabolism. Just as lifting weights puts a demand on your muscles to grow bigger and stronger, eating puts a demand on your metabolism to grow more powerful and efficient. Food is literally like a weight that your body lifts. So it’s not just the nutrients in the food that determines the nutritional and metabolic value of a meal; the value is also determined by the process your body goes through to break the food down.

Indeed, the simple act of eating, by itself, raises metabolism. If we looked at one of the most common measures of metabolism—body temperature—we’d see that each time we eat, body temperature automatically rises. That’s the reality behind the old folk-medicine adage to “starve a fever”—if you already have a high body temperature, don’t eat because that will raise it even more.

It should come as no surprise that if chronic under-eating can lower the amount of oxygen we use, and hence lower metabolism, then eating more food for such individuals could increase metabolism. Indeed, many people I’ve worked with who honestly had weight to lose and were on a long-term, low-calorie diet without success lost their weight once they ate more food. Do you know someone who’s had this unusual experience? Eating more food literally created a demand for metabolic force and hence for oxygen uptake. The resulting increase in calorie-burning capacity far “outweighed” the extra food on their plate.

Certainly, many of us gain weight simply because we eat too much food. But when we shift to the opposite extreme—eating too little food—we will likely slow down our calorie-burning capacity. On any given day approximately 80 million Americans are on a diet. If low-calorie diets—meaning 1,400 calories a day or less—were truly effective in the long-term, then we’d see a lot more success and a lot less dieters. The point is not to overeat and expect to lose weight. The point is that neither extreme—too much food or too little—will take you where you want to go.

So if you truly want to achieve your optimum weight and metabolism, you can’t get there by denying yourself and going against biology. Losing weight means gaining life. Eat while relaxed and breathe while full of generosity and you access nature’s plan for greater health and inner satisfaction with food.

How has the power of “Vitamin O” changed your eating experience?

My warmest regards,
Marc David
Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014

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The digestive system is hungry for oxygen
The more we eat, the more the body naturally wants us to breathe.

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  • Joli Stieber

    I like this article, it makes a lot of sense.

  • Coach Debbie

    I believe that calories are a worthless measure of food energy. What matters is actually how much energy your body is “able” to draw from that food.
    This is a great article! Thank you.

  • Marc, thanks for your insights on metabolism and oxygen. I frequently remind myself to “breathe girl, BREATHE!” It’s kept my weight stable for at least a decade. 🙂

  • Emdadul Haque

    Important post.
    Now I understand why rest is required after dinner or lunch.

  • Very insightful, drawing the connection between the origins of calorie and the burning capacity of our body. After all, nature has designed our body in a way for us to enjoy the deliciousness of life without getting sick and fat, if being applied wisely, with moderation. Thank you!

    • Hi Sue,

      Nature is truly powerful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      Warmly,
      Marc

  • Pandelis Perakakis

    The main reason why we need to breath more after a heavy lunch is the excess of CO2 produced by the increased work of the digestive system, probably accompanied by metabolic acidosis that the body needs to compensate with respiratory alkalosis (deeper/heavier breathing). If you feel you need to breath more after a meal then you know you had too much!
    Actually if you want to increase oxygen uptake you should breathe less. This increases CO2 and produces vasodilation (increased blood flow) and more efficient oxygen delivery to the tissues through improved oxyhemoglobin dissociation (Bohr effect).

  • Hi Pandelis Perakakis! Thank you for sharing this great information, and for being part of our community! Warmly, Marc

    • Pandelis Perakakis

      Thank you Marc for this interesting post and initiative in general. I will recommend it to some good colleagues in our research group working in nutrition. All best, Pandelis

      • Thank you for your kind feedback, and for passing the article on. Wishing you all the best! Warmly, Marc

About The Author
Marc David
Founder

Marc David is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic and best-selling works Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet. His work has been featured on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His books have been translated into over 10 languages, and his approach appeals to a wide audience of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring and innovative messages about food, body and soul. He lectures internationally, and has held senior consulting positions at Canyon Ranch Resorts, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, and the Disney Company. Marc is also the co-founder of the Institute for Conscious Sexuality and Relationship.