Have you ever looked in the mirror, liked what you saw, and suddenly felt your mood elevate and your energy perk up? That’s awareness sparking the chemistry of metabolism. Have you ever been somewhere in nature, taking in the beauty of your surroundings, and felt an immediate and deep sense of relaxation? That’s also awareness acting upon the physiology of the body. Or have you ever noticed when being watched that you seem to perform and express yourself with greater energy and focus? That’s the awareness of others impacting your biochemistry.
Awareness is presence. It’s our ability to be awake to what is. It’s our capacity to experience what life is doing in this moment. And when we bring awareness to our eating experience, it’s a wondrous metabolic force.
The power of awareness to catalyze nutrient assimilation, digestion, and calorie-burning ability is best exemplified in something scientists call the cephalic phase digestive response – CPDR. Cephalic means “of the head.” CPDR is simply a fancy term for the pleasure, taste, aroma, satisfaction, and the visual stimulation of a meal. In other words, it’s the “head phase” of digestion. What’s amazing is that researchers have estimated that as much as 30 to 40 % of the total digestive response to any meal is due to CPDR—our full awareness of what we’re eating.
Can you recall a time when you saw your favorite food and your mouth started watering or your stomach began churning? That’s the cephalic phase digestive response. Digestion quite literally begins in the head as chemicals and mechanical receptors on the tongue and the oral and nasal cavities are stimulated by smelling food, tasting it, chewing it, and noticing it. A hearty awareness of our meal initiates the secretion of saliva, gastric acid and enzymes, gut-associated neuropeptides, and production of the full range of pancreatic enzymes, including trypsin, chymotrypsin, pancreatic amylase, and lipase. In addition, it causes blood to rush to the digestive organs, the stomach and intestines to rhythmically contract, and electrolyte concentrations throughout the digestive tract to shift in preparation for incoming food. Simply put: awareness IS metabolism
So let’s do the math. If scientists say that 30 to 40% of our total digestive response to any meal is due to CPDR, and if we choose not to be aware of our meal – that is, if we “fall asleep at the plate” and fail to register any sense of taste, smell, satisfaction, or visual interest – then we’re metabolizing our meal at only 60 to 70% efficiency.
Lack of attention translates into decreased blood flow to the digestive organs, which means less oxygenation and hence a weakened metabolic force. With less enzymatic output in the gut we become susceptible to digestive upset, bowel disorders, lowered immunity, and fatigue. Can you see why “sleepwalking” through a meal is an ill-informed nutritional choice?
Here are encapsulations of some of my favorite research studies that illustrate the nutritional power of awareness. The first involves something called “dichotomous listening.” Test subjects are asked to concentrate as two people talk simultaneously—one person speaks into your left ear about intergalactic space travel while the other chats in your right ear about the joys of financial planning. If you’ve had the experience of listening on the telephone while someone nearby in the kitchen starts talking as if you have the superhuman ability to be in two conversations at once, then you know what this feels like.
During a relaxed state, test subjects consumed a mineral drink. Absorption was measured in the small intestines for two minerals—sodium and chloride. They assimilated at 100%. When the same individuals were exposed to dichotomous listening and then given their nutrient drink, they showed a complete shutdown in sodium and chloride assimilation that lasted for up to one hour afterward. In other words, there was 0% absorption. The simple act of attending to two stimuli at once dramatically altered their metabolism.
In an Italian study on digestion and mental stimulation, university students were shown a short film. Using electrogastrographic (EGG) methods, researchers could determine each student’s digestive activity before viewing the film and during. A snack eaten before the film stimulated normal digestive contractions. But with a snack eaten during the movie, EGG rates dropped. This means gut motility decreased, which translates to lower enzymatic output and inefficient digestion. With lowered gut motility, food takes a longer time to transverse through the body, which can lead to autotoxicity—the production or irritable and poisonous substances being released into the bloodstream.
So if viewing a film or listening to several people at once can depreciate your metabolic bank account, what do you think happens when you eat and watch TV? Or when you eat while driving? Or when you eat while working at your desk? Metabolizing a meal is like absorbing a conversation. If you were talking with a friend and she didn’t pay any attention, you’d walk away feeling incomplete and wishing for more. The essence of your exchange would have been minimally assimilated at best. The same goes with food.
The point of all this is not to convince you to become a lone boring hermit when you eat. The idea is remind ourselves to bring more attention to our meal no matter what we’re doing as we nourish ourselves. The goal is to eat with the kind of presence that has us celebrate the moment, the food, and the preciousness of life. We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on the power of Vitamin “A”: What causes the most distraction for you while you eat (phone, family, work, etc)?
Digestion doesn’t begin in the mouth, it begins in the head! Tweet
Metabolizing a meal is like absorbing a conversation. Tweet
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