When we’re trying to eat healthy, most of us pay a lot of attention to the nutritional content of our food. Whether we’re counting calories, watching sodium levels, or monitoring the amount of fat or protein we consume, we tend to play the numbers when it comes to our diet. But if we only look at the food we’re eating and ignore the hidden factors that we, as eaters, bring to the table, then we’re missing out on an important piece of the metabolic puzzle. Abundant research has shown that our thoughts, beliefs, feelings and attitudes about food have a dramatic impact on the way our body will process any meal, whether it’s an ice cream cone or a chef salad. Tune in to this enlightening new video from IPEtv, with Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, and learn how you can harness the power of your mind to turbocharge your metabolism.
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Here is a transcript of this week’s video:
Most of us have been taught that everything we need to know about the nutritional value of a food can simply be found by looking at its ingredients – vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and so on. But in reality, one of the most fundamental building blocks of nutritional metabolism is not a vitamin, a mineral, or a molecule. It’s our relationship with food. How each of us thinks about eating is so profoundly relative that if a group of people were looking at the same plate of food, no two people would see the same thing, or metabolize it the same way.
Say, for example, we were examining a plate of pasta, chicken, and salad. Someone wanting to lose weight might see calories and fat. They’d respond favorably to the salad or chicken but would view the pasta with fear. An athlete might look at the same meal and see protein and carbohydrates, each useful in its own way. Someone trying to heal a disease through diet would see either potential medicine or potential poison. A scientist studying nutrient content in food would see a collection of chemicals.
And what’s truly amazing is that each of these eaters will metabolize this same meal quite differently in response to her unique thoughts. In other words, what you think and feel about a food can have as much impact on how we metabolize that food as the actual nutrients themselves. This is the essence of Mind Body Nutrition, the new field we teach about here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.
Here’s a bit about how the science works:
Let’s say you’re about to eat an ice cream cone. The idea occurs in the cerebral cortex. From there, information is relayed electrochemically to the limbic system, which regulates emotions and basic survival functions such as hunger, thirst, temperature, sex drive, heart rate, and blood pressure. A tiny organ called the hypothalamus takes sensory, emotional, and thought input and translates this information into physiological responses.
If the ice cream is your favorite flavor and you eat it with delight, your positive thoughts and feelings will activate increased function in the salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder.
Your thoughts play a big role in how you metabolize food.
If you’re feeling guilty or judging yourself for eating the ice cream, your body interprets this as a form of stress, and responds accordingly. The hypothalamus will take the negative mental and emotional input and send signals that actually slow down the digestive organs, which means you’ll be eating your ice cream but not fully metabolizing it. It may stay in your digestive system longer, which can diminish your population of healthy gut bacteria and increase the release of toxic by-products into the bloodstream. This will also decrease your calorie-burning efficiency via increased insulin and cortisol, which would cause you to store more of your guilt-infused ice cream as body fat.
The thoughts you think about the food you eat instantly become reality in your body via the central nervous system.
Consider the placebo effect, which occurs when someone is given a fake, harmless, inert substance such as water or sugar, but is told that it is a life-saving medication. Countless studies have shown that the patient’s belief in the healing power of the “medicine” creates a measurable physical response. Researchers estimate that the placebo effect is responsible for 35 to 45 percent of the effectiveness of prescription medications, and anywhere from 65 to 90 percent of the effectiveness of over the counter drugs.
If the power of the mind is strong enough to make our body heal from a disease when all we’ve taken is a sugar pill, what do you think happens when we think to ourselves “I’m going to eat this fried chicken even though I know it’s bad for me,” or “I enjoy eating my salad because it’s really healthy?”
The placebo effect is built into the nutritional process. It’s profoundly present every time we eat. It’s like phoning in a prescription to your own inner nutritional pharmacy. What we believe is alchemically translated into the body through nerve pathways, the endocrine system, neuropeptide circulation, the immune network, and the digestive tract.
The bottom line is that what we believe about any substance we consume can powerfully influence how it affects the body. Every day, millions of people eat and drink while thinking strong and convincing thoughts about their meal. Are you ready to explore how YOUR inner world and your beliefs are impacting your metabolism?
I hope this was helpful.