The Metabolic Power of Awareness

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A girl sits on top of a hill overlooking green mountain peaks and meditates

There are all kinds of products out there that promise to boost our metabolism; from vitamins to diet plans to fancy exercise machines. But what if you could increase your metabolic force by 30 to 40%, without buying a single thing? We all have access to an incredible inner resource that can help us metabolize our meals with greater efficiency, but far too many of us are unaware of this hidden power. In this fascinating new video from IPEtv, Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, explains how the quality of awareness that we bring to the act of eating powerfully impacts our ability to absorb nutrients from our food. Tune in to learn how to use the power of your mind to turbocharge your metabolism.

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Here is a transcript of this week’s video:

Awareness is not just an experience that happens in the head. As the mind body sciences have revealed over the last 4 decades, awareness has a profound impact on the body, on our physiology, and on nutritional metabolism.

Have you ever looked in the mirror, liked what you saw, and suddenly felt your mood rise 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.

Awareness is presence.

It’s our ability to be awake to what is happening in this moment. And when we bring awareness to our eating experience, it’s an amazing 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 anticipation, pleasure, taste, aroma, and visual stimulation of a meal. In other words, it’s the “head phase” of digestion. What’s amazing is that researchers in the field of Mind Body Nutrition 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.

If you see, or even think of, your favorite food and your mouth starts watering, that’s the cephalic phase digestive response. Chemicals and mechanical receptors on the tongue and in the oral and nasal cavities are stimulated by smelling food, tasting it, and noticing it. Awareness initiates the secretion of saliva, gastric acid, gut-associated neuropeptides, and pancreatic enzymes. It sends more blood and oxygen to the digestive organs, the stomach and intestines begin to rhythmically contract, and electrolyte concentrations throughout the digestive tract shift in preparation for incoming food.

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, 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.

In one study, test subjects were asked to concentrate as two people spoke to them simultaneously about two different subjects – a phenomenon called “dichotomous listening.” If you’ve had the experience of one person talking to you while you’re on the phone with someone else, then you know what this feels like.

During a relaxed state, the participants 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% nutrient absorption. The simple act of attending to two stimuli at once dramatically altered their metabolism.

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 not have been fully assimilated. The same goes with food.

The point here is not to become a 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. We want to eat with the kind of presence that celebrates the moment, the food, and the preciousness of life. The higher the quality of our attention, the the more we’ll be able to receive ALL of the gifts of the meal before us.

I hope this was helpful.

Emily Rosen

A girl sits on top of a hill overlooking green mountain peaks and meditates

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