The Miraculous Body
Our bodies are miraculous entities, continuously striving for a homeostatic state. The inclination of each one of our trillions of cells is to move toward perfection. Perfect balance, perfect function, perfect synergy within and throughout all the systems in our body. This process occurs 24/7, with or without our conscious awareness.
The Digestive System is Complex
Each time we eat, our elaborate digestive system is set into motion. The moment we take a bite of food, the digestive process begins. As we chew, messages are sent throughout our gastrointestinal tract, alerting the system that a particular type of food is coming down the pipeline. Certain digestive enzymes are produced in our saliva, while others are produced in our pancreas. Some foods are acted upon by enzymes as we chew, while other foods are acted upon once they reach the stomach and small intestine. These enzymes are released and prepare for their specific job: Starches are digested by the enzyme amylase which begins in the mouth; proteins are digested by the enzyme protease in the stomach; and fats are digested by the enzyme lipase, completed in the small intestine. After the food is broken down, nutrients are extracted and assimilated into our bodies, and unusable matter like toxins, pesticides, and other waste material move into the elimination phase. There is a specific order and function to each step in the intricate digestive process, requiring energy and resources to come together for a smooth and efficient outcome. Although the majority of this process happens behind the scenes, by chewing mindfully and thoroughly you can contribute to a proficient and well-run digestive system.
Our Nervous System and Emotions
When we get angry or hear upsetting news, our brain kicks in, calling upon our sophisticated nervous system and recruiting resources from the endocrine system and adrenal glands to relieve that stress. Their job is to immediately rectify the unsettling situation and bring us back to a state of balance. Depending on the level of emotional unease, the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline may be released into the body in preparation for fight-or-flight because back in the day, a stressed body meant it was time to either run away or protect ourselves and our tribe. This is a response from the sympathetic nervous system, the opposite of the parasympathetic nervous system, or the rest-and-digest state, whose name infers the appropriate state to be in before, during, and after we eat.
Competing for our Body’s Resources
Since both the digestive and nervous systems require a great deal of our body’s resources to operate at their best, they are essentially competing with one another if we eat when we are upset. Under calm and normal situations, gastric juices are produced and the walls of the stomach pulsate to mix food with these secretions. However, when our emotions are in a heightened state, the production of gastric juices is compromised, as well as the rhythmic motion of the stomach walls. Both processes come to a halt in order to direct our resources to the potential life threatening situation that our emotional state is expressing. It is not a surprise that you end up with an upset stomach if you eat under these circumstances, for the simple reason that your food is not being digested. You can only imagine the havoc it wreaks upon your gastrointestinal tract to gulp down your food without chewing when you are upset. This adds tremendous stress on your digestive tract and results in a double whammy to your system.
The next time you find yourself upset at mealtime, I suggest taking a moment to yourself to settle down. If there is another person upsetting you, leave the room, find a quiet space, and sip on a glass of water. Focus on your breathe, slow it down, and wait until things are back to normal to eat.
Make Eating a Ritual
I also suggest making eating a ritual. What I mean by this is to prepare for your mealtime by thinking ahead and winding down before you sit down. A quick and simple way to do this is to sit quietly for five minutes after your table is set and just before serving your meal. Find a quiet spot and close your eyes and listen to the sound of your breath. If possible, this can be done right at the table. If it’s too distracting because other people are around, go in another room to attend to your five minutes of silence. If this is a new concept to you, and you think you don’t have extra time, pick one meal, such as dinner, to incorporate into this ritual. When you experience the benefits and enjoyment during and after your meals, it will feel like a natural next step to expand this into your breakfast and lunch routines as well.
In doing so, you’re respecting your body and its processes, and avoiding digestive issues such as cramping, bloating, and poor elimination related to your emotional state. It also brings your awareness to mindful eating which is always a good thing.
By becoming aware of the magnificent systems in your body and taking the time to slow down and allow them to efficiently do their job, they will take care of you as you take care of them. It is a mutual relationship.
Stay tuned for more Nutritional and Lifestyle Tips.
Melanie D. Larinde, Ph.D. in Holistic Nutrition, uses a comprehensive and straightforward approach to wellness, integrating science with common sense to achieve vitality and balance in her patients’ lives.