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Digestion Begins in the Mind

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Waves coming ashore and an image of Emily Rosen

Do you remember learning about the digestive system back in elementary school? Maybe you tracked the progress of a bite of food from its entry through the mouth to its exit out the other end. But if your teachers gave you this classic exercise, they unwittingly sent you on a detour around the most important digestive organ of all: the brain.

When it comes to metabolism, the brain is much more than a silent partner. In fact, your thoughts, your attention, and your sensory impressions of the food you’re consuming play a much bigger role in digestion than most of us realize. If you’re ready to start maximizing the potential of the brain to support your digestive process, tune into this eye-opening new video from #IPEtv.

Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, will let you in on some surprising secrets about this under-appreciated digestive powerhouse!

YouTube video

Here is a transcript of this week’s video:

Hi, I’m Emily Rosen, Chief Operating Officer for the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.

Today’s Topic: Digestion Begins in the Mind

The power of the mind 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 pleasures of 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 percent 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 chemical 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, causes the stomach and intestines to rhythmically contract, and causes electrolyte concentrations throughout the digestive tract to shift in preparation for incoming food.

Awareness Is Metabolism.

So let’s do the math. If scientists say that 30 to 40 percent 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 are metabolizing our meal at only 60 to 70 percent efficiency.

Lack of attention translates into decreased blood flow to the digestive organs, which, as we’ve seen, 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.

Are you beginning to see why “sleepwalking” through a meal is an ill-informed nutritional choice?

When You Eat, Eat

Here are encapsulations of some of our 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 had 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 percent. 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 percent absorption. The simple act of attending to two stimuli at once dramatically altered their metabolism.

Digestion and Mental Stimulation

In an Italian study on digestion and mental stimulation, university students were shown a short film. Using electro-gastrographic (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 translated to lower enzymatic output and inefficient digestion. With lowered gut motility, food takes a longer time to traverse through the body, which can lead to autotoxicity – the production of 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 they 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.

It’s time to bring all of us to the table when it comes to optimum metabolic power, and a satisfying experience.

I hope this was helpful. Please email us at info@psychologyofeating.com if you have specific questions and we will be sure to get back to you.

In the comments below, please let us know your thoughts. We love hearing from you and we read and respond to every comment.

Waves coming ashore and an image of Emily Rosen

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