How many people remember their parents telling them to wait 30 minutes after a meal before running outside to play? This piece of folk wisdom is based on some real science: the digestive system is able to function at its best when the body is in a state of rest and relaxation. As adults, we’re likely to have other things keeping us from feeling relaxed during or after a meal. Instead of racing back out to a baseball game after dinner, we might feel like our thoughts are racing with all of the tasks we still need to get done before the end of the day. We might even be feeling anxious about the food itself, and what consequences it could have for our body and health. But if we can let go of these worries for a little while, we’ll be able to receive measurably more nourishment from our meals. In this illuminating new video from IPEtv, Marc David, Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, explains why we’re physiologically wired to digest our food better when we’re relaxed, why stress can short-circuit our metabolism, and what we can do to get back in the flow.
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Here is a transcript of this week’s video:
Greetings, friends. I’m Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. I want to talk to you about this: the more we relax, the better we metabolize.
Most people think of good nutrition as a numbers game, meaning if you have the right amount of certain nutrients and if you eat the lowest amount of certain junk food or toxins, the lowest amount of calories, then it gives us the best chance for greater nutritional health. And true. But there’s more to the story of good nutrition.
And that is because what we eat is half of the story of good nutrition.
The other half of the story is who we are as eaters, what you bring to the table, meaning your thoughts, your feelings, your beliefs, your emotional state, the level of stress, the level of relaxation, how much pleasure you’re getting, the attention that you’re bringing to the meal, the story that you’re telling yourself. All of that will literally and scientifically impact how we digest, assimilate, and calorie burn a meal.
This is one of the best-kept nutrition secrets on the planet. It should be headline news. That’s the thrust of the work that I do here at the Institute. It is so important because we can no longer neglect what’s going on inside of our being when it comes to how we metabolize a meal.
Human beings are genetically designed and hardwired at the most fundamental level of our DNA to digest and assimilate a meal in the physiologic relaxation response, also called parasympathetic nervous system dominance. This is literally, again, the optimum state of digestion, assimilation, and day-in, day-out calorie burning. This is just how we’re designed. It’s a hard wiring. It’s a simple on and off switch in the central nervous system. That’s how you’re wired. When we discovered the central nervous system, this is what we saw.
So when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, the relaxation response is turned on. And full, healthy digestive, assimilation, and calorie burning capacity is in play. When the sympathetic nervous system is more active, the stress response is turned on, which means we will go into some degree of digestive shutdown, nutrient excretion, and potential weight gain.
So what does this mean? It means that eating during stress will generally lead to digestive upset, appetite dysregulation, decreased nutrient assimilation, increased nutrient excretion. You literally piss it out of your body when you’re in a stress response, when you are feeling fear, when you are feeling anxiety, when you’re self-judging.
Again, you can eat the healthiest food in the universe. But if you are not in the optimum state of digestion and assimilation, which happens to be relaxation, you will not get the full value from that meal.
So this means stop eating in an anxious rush.
Slow down. Take in life. Make a meal part of your day.
It means you let go of negative thoughts while you’re eating. It means you start to monitor all the stressors that we self-create, the self-limiting beliefs, because what’s going on in mind and in heart will impact our stress chemistry. And when we are in any kind of fear, upset, anxiety, we create this unwanted cascade of stress chemistry that shortcuts the body’s nutritional efficiency.
So the good news is the days of looking at food alone as the royal road to good nutrition is over. You have to have more power over your food than you ever thought, because even if you’re eating junk food, you will digest and metabolize it better if you are in a relaxation response. If you’re getting stressed out, “Oh, my God. I shouldn’t eat that. It’s bad for me. It’s no good for me,” you’re actually limiting the metabolism of your body.
So I’m not saying you can eat junk food all day long as long as you are relaxed. What I’m saying is that there is a middle ground that you have to start to find. And really what I’m saying is life, the wisdom of the universe, the greater intelligence that figured out this whole deal – and it does exist – figured out a way to build in a personal growth program such that when you step into your greatness, when you step into your honor, your dignity, when you step into the best of who you are, your body can then step into the best of what it’s meant to be. That’s how it works, my friends. We can’t deny it. The science says it. Our experience says it. Your inner knowing says it.
And that, my friends, is the magic of the world.