Sandra Tonn, RHN
Food eaten without relish and appetite may remain for hours in the stomach undigested. There's no end to nutritional advice about what we should eat. We can barely make it from one meal to the next without information about food choices from our televisions, radios, books, newspapers, and magazines.
Food eaten without relish and appetite may remain for hours in the stomach undigested. There's no end to nutritional advice about what we should eat. We can barely make it from one meal to the next without information about food choices from our televisions, radios, books, newspapers, and magazines. Yes, what we eat is important, but what about how we eat?
In a recent issue, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that how we eat is often more important than what we eat. Groundbreaking news? Hardly the publishers were reprinting advice from their 1904 issue. The author cited the classic studies by Pavlov on gastric secretion in dogs.
When we hear the name Pavlov we automatically think of his dogs salivating at the sound of a bell. However, Pavlov himself said that his strongest conclusion was that food should be eaten with interest and enjoyment. Pavlov's studies showed that "food eaten without relish and without appetite, although in itself most nutritious and supposedly easy of digestion, may remain for hours in the stomach undigested."
How often do you anticipate and enjoy your food choices? Many meals today are eaten at our desks, while driving, in front of the television, or on the run. The gastric juices that we, and Pavlov's dogs, need for proper digestion are stimulated by the sight, smell, and taste of food. When we don't allow ourselves the time to anticipate food or enjoy the sight and smell of our meals, we are inhibiting our timely and efficient digestive process. Without proper digestion, the metabolization of nutrients is affected, and our cells do not receive the nourishment they require.
Even the thought of food will trigger the nervous system reflex to increase secretion of gastric juices by the stomach glands. Pavlov also concluded that when food is eaten while the mind is diverted to other thoughts, especially in the case of anger and anxiety, food sits undigested in the stomach.
The body's fight-or-flight stress response is designed to help us survive. When we are stressed, blood rushes to our skeletal muscles so we can fight off our attacker or run away from danger. This withdrawal of blood from the digestive system leaves it in shut-down mode because the body thinks digestion isn't a priority at this time. Therefore, if we are eating while stressed, we are unable to digest our food. When food sits undigested it rots, causing physical distress and providing food for microbes that excrete waste and give off gases. This is how even the healthiest foods can become toxic in your body.
Paul Pitchford, author of Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition (North Atlantic Books, 2002) says, "The way you eat is an expression of who you are, regardless of the quality of the food." Take time to plan and anticipate your meals. Enjoy the smell and sight of your food. A plate featuring a variety of colours and textures will help to ensure a balanced meal. Share meals with family and friends and enjoy good food and conversation. Relaxing after a meal will encourage good digestion. If dinner is well digested, the body is better able to rest and repair during sleep.
Go ahead and enjoy your food. These days, when we are inundated with nutritional advice, the fact that we can improve health by enjoying food is welcome news even if the information is as old as Pavlov's dogs.