Most of us have been taught that the true value of a food comes from the nutrients it contains. For sure this is true, but there’s much more to the story. Did you know that the power of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and all the activities of the mind can literally and scientifically impact nutritional metabolism? This means that our digestion, assimilation and even calorie burning capacity is influenced by what’s going on inside your head. It’s time to harness the power of mind over nutrition. In this fascinating video from IPEtv, Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, delivers some fresh insights on how to increase the nutritional value of a meal not by changing WHAT you eat, but by changing YOU, the eater. We think you’ll make some excellent connections and discoveries!
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Here is a transcript of this week’s video:
Hi, I’m Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.
Today’s Topic: Mind Over Nutrition
More specifically, we’re going to talk about how the power of thought, beliefs, and the activities of the mind can literally and scientifically impact nutritional metabolism.
On the one hand, this may seem like common sense to many of you. But on the other hand, science has been lagging behind in fully recognizing something that we’ve known for many decades, but have failed to put front and center when it comes to how important the mind really is in the nutritive process.
To me, this makes the conversation about nutritional health so much more fascinating and so much more empowering because the nourishment process is more magical, complex, and interesting than we could’ve ever thought. When science looks at food, it invariably tells us that the nutritional value of food is given in the nutrients it contains – meaning vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, and all sorts of ancillary substances and conditionally essential nutrients.
But in this new understanding, the value of the food is not just given in its chemical composition, but in who we are and what we bring to the table.
The Cephalic Phase
Digestive physiologists tell us that indeed, digestion begins in the mind. There is a scientific term called the cephalic phase digestive response. This is a fancy way of saying that there’s a component of digestion that begins in the mind. Cephalic means of the head. The cephalic phase digestive response is essentially the components of taste, pleasure, aroma, satisfaction, and the visuals of a meal.
Think of a time when you looked at a favorite food and your mouth started to water. That’s the cephalic phase digestive response in action – you’re producing more saliva and salivary amylase just by a visual cue. Or think of a time when you even thought about your favorite food and your stomach started to churn and get all excited – once again, that’s a clear-cut case of the mind preparing stomach acid and stomach contractions simply when we think of a food.
The bottom line is this:
The brain and its thinking have far-reaching effects in nutritional metabolism.
Now what’s interesting is that when you sum up all the research on the cephalic phase digestive response and do a meta-analysis of all the studies, what science tells us is that approximately 40 to 60% of our metabolic power at any meal, meaning our digestive and assimilative ability, comes from the head phase of digestion – meaning taste, pleasure, aroma, satisfaction, and visual cues.
Now please do the math.
If we’re not receiving and experiencing the head phase of digestion, then we’re metabolizing our meal at 40 to 60% less efficiency.
This is headline news.
This should be on the front page of every health magazine, in the science section of every newspaper, and prominently displayed on every nutrition-related website. The implication is that you can change the nutritional value of a meal without changing anything you eat, but by changing you, the eater. Meaning as we become more present, more aware, paying attention to the food, enjoying it, receiving pleasure, then we literally empower our metabolism.
We can even take a step deeper when it comes to talking about the power of mind over nutrition and metabolism.
The Placebo Effect
You’ve probably heard of the placebo effect. I’d love to share with you my favorite placebo study of all time. Check out the reference, it’s in the 1981 World Journal of Surgery. Scientists were testing a new chemotherapy. It was an injectable substance that was given to two groups of patients. One group of patients received the actual chemotherapy, and the other group of patients received a placebo – meaning a fake, harmless, inert chemical substance, which in this case was water.
So here we are with a group of cancer patients in a hospital ward. Again, one group gets the actual chemotherapy, one group gets the placebo. Why do we even give a placebo? Because if you truly want to understand the efficacy of a new prescription drug, pharmaceutical companies must test these against placebos because in approximately 50% of all cases – on average – you can get as much benefit or more from a placebo than the actual drug itself. That’s a mind-bending statistic, by the way. After a number of weeks, for the patients who received the real chemotherapy, just about 100% of them had a very common side effect – they all lost their hair. And 31% of the patients on the placebo chemotherapy also had a very interesting side effect – they, too, lost their hair. Now all they were doing was getting an injection of water and somehow, their hair fell out.
Why would they lose their hair? Well, according to what we know about placebo science, those people likely had the association, “Have cancer, go on chemotherapy, lose hair.” So what I’d like to suggest to you is that if the power of the mind is that strong that you could take a water injection, think it’s going to make you lose your hair, and you do lose it, what happens when you say – I know I shouldn’t eat that food, it’s fattening. Or, I shouldn’t eat that, it’s bad for me, or I’m allergic to it.
Now I’m not saying you could eat poison and think it’s not going to kill you and it won’t. I’m simply pointing out that there is a gray zone here where the mind is pretty powerful and can potentially influence the body when it comes to what we think. Thoughts are amazing. Thoughts are like powerful commands to our physiology.
So the moral of our nutritional story here is to remember that the mind impacts the meal. We cannot escape or hide the silent thoughts that we think to ourselves. We cannot expect to be bathing our chemistry in toxic thinking, harsh assessments about our body, insults about our own weight or looks, because on some level, it lands in our metabolism. The good news here, is that we can dramatically improve the metabolism of the meal without changing anything we eat, but by changing who we are as eaters, by evolving the conversation that’s happening in our inner world. What a beautiful power we have. What an amazing way to help the body digest, assimilate, and heal itself.
That’s a nutritional victory.
I hope this was helpful!