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Could How We Eat Be As Important As What We Eat?

Could How We Eat Be As Important As What We Eat?

As I write this blog, I’m getting ready to heat up a bowl of crab bisque for lunch – leftovers from Christmas dinner. In fact, I had three celebratory meals this holiday season, all in the span of a week. I had beef roast, turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, dim sum, cake, pie, sugarplums – and yes, crab bisque.

Holiday meals are so enjoyable in part because of the food itself, but also because we are usually happy and relaxed when we’re eating those meals. And that, according to Marc David of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, means we metabolize the food more effectively than we do when we eat under stress.

I’ve read several articles by David recently and they’ve all intrigued me. He believes that our metabolic capacity – and therefore our ability to maintain a healthy weight – is influenced as much by the psychological states we experience when we eat as by the caloric and nutritional content of the food. For early humans, he explains, stress often came in the form of deadly predators. As a result, the body evolved to react to stress in a way that would prepare us to fight or flee from those predators. When we experience stress, cortisol is released, the heart rate increases, blood is channeled from the core to the arms and legs to enable running or fighting, etc. All of this, David says, slows our metabolism – which is fine for escaping the occasional bear but not so good when you’re living under chronic, low-grade stress due to pressures at work, financial stress and the like.

This makes perfect sense to me. Promoting organic, local food is important to me because I believe food is a powerful force in our lives. It has the ability to nourish our bodies and souls. We use it to celebrate and to bring together friends and family. But who wants to be fully present for a meal of fast food or a highly processed microwave meal?

But like I said earlier, the food itself is only part of the equation. When we wolf down our food in the car or over the latest episode of Honey Boo Boo – or when our minds are racing because we’re stressed out about something – this deeper nourishment simply can’t happen. When we eat under stress, we only get a fraction of the emotional nourishment the food has to offer and we metabolize that food more slowly, David says.

Everything I’ve read by Marc David recently has fascinated me. The body and mind are intertwined and inseparable, so of course emotional and psychological states would impact the body’s ability to metabolize food.

Do you agree? Have your emotional or psychological states impacted your metabolic capacity?

 

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Sarah Cooke

Sarah Cooke is a writer living in California. She is interested in organic food and green living. Sarah holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University, an M.A. in Humanities from NYU, and a B.A. in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University. She has written for a number of publications, and she studied Pastry Arts at the Institute for Culinary Education. Her interests include running, yoga, baking, and poetry. Read more on her blog.

52 comments

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2:08AM PST on Feb 11, 2013

This actually affects how we're taking the nutrients

7:45PM PST on Jan 23, 2013

I think everyone could benefit from using a combination of buying local and growing their own food.

2:39AM PST on Jan 16, 2013

Thanks

4:01AM PST on Jan 3, 2013

We should also eat slowly, taking the time to chew our food extremely well (20 times per bite) as well as waiting in between bites - 20, 30 seconds to several (up to five) minutes between bites. Taking small bites also helps digestion, weight loss, and feeling full without feeling overly full.

12:58AM PST on Jan 2, 2013

food for thought

10:56PM PST on Jan 1, 2013

I agree. I practice a family that eats together stays together. I eat too fast, my job allows a lunch break, but this rarely happens. Breakfast and dinner I have a 4 year old to contend with : )

11:17AM PST on Dec 31, 2012

Not only how we eat but when.

For instance fresh fruit and veggies should be eaten on an empty stomach. This prevents gas and helps with our digestion. Fresh fruit is particularly good for you first thing in the morning and helps jump start your digestive tract.

Follow up with fresh veggies and hummus or all natural peanut butter mid morning - after you've had time to digest your breakfast. You'll feel fuller and eat less junk food this way.

6:43AM PST on Dec 31, 2012

thanks

5:58AM PST on Dec 31, 2012

Anyone else have the bad habit of eating while standing or even walking? Sometimes I really need to have a quick something - I can't drink coffee on an empty stomach, or I need to take a pill that goes "with a meal" at an inconvenient time. I've tried to limit this to healthy snack foods (whole-grain cereal flakes mixed with shelled walnuts and cinnamon are my go-to).

Maybe I'm not getting the top nutritional value because of how I eat, but I recognize it's an interim solution. And this isn't "between meals" - I find eating light every few hours during the workday eliminate the torpid feeling I get when I have lunch at the company cafeteria.

6:55PM PST on Dec 30, 2012

Sounds reasonable, so I'll strive to be more positive during meals.

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