TW: Before reading this article, a little caveat to remind you that my blog posts are not intended to substitute medical advice, they are solely intended for information purposes. Also, if you are currently suffering from digestive discomfort while dealing with HA, disordered eating or in eating disorder recovery; the first step to address these digestive issues, is to make sure you eat ENOUGH food, and are truly free of a restrictive or dieting mindset. Three meals and two snacks per day is considered a minimum. More on this thanks to the excellent work of Dr Nicola Rinaldi. If you are not sure whether you suffer from disordered eating or an eating disorder, feel free to reach out to me for a free evaluation consultation.
From drinking celery juice to avoiding whole food groups, we sometimes go to extremes for the sake of our “gut health”, or to avoid digestive discomfort. What many sources forget to mention (because this can’t be ‘sold’ as much), is the crucial role of pleasure and satisfaction in optimal digestion and a healthy metabolism. Let’s explore exactly how it works.
1/ The ‘head’ phase of digestion starts before we even start eating
Even before the first morsel of food passes our lips, our brain is involved in the process of digestion. This ‘Cephalic phase digestive response’ is our brain’s ability to record taste, pleasure, aroma, satisfaction from eating, but also just seeing and smelling the food, or thinking about it. This phase influences 40 to 60% of your digestive power by preparing our digestive tract for food to come, including secreting necessary food enzymes or digestive acids.
2/ Eating awareness and speed
In today’s fast-paced world, a lot of our eating is done unconsciously and in stress. We eat on the go, we eat while working, we eat while scrolling through Instagram, we eat at the cinema, we eat in the car, we eat while cooking dinner for the kids, we eat while watching TV, we eat in fear of gaining weight, we eat while hating ourselves for it, we eat fast, we eat stuff we hate ‘because it’s healthy’, we eat without knowing it, we eat without giving a chance to our body to even record it’s been fed and to send us satiety signals.
Regardless of our food choices, this lack of awareness, this inability to take more time to relax, to feel NOURISHED and SATISFIED when we eat, negatively impacts our digestion.
When we eat in a fast, unaware, joyless way, our metabolism, affected by the rise of cortisol and insulin, is burning less calories and assimilating less nutrients. Muscle building is left aside because it is considered too energy demanding, our satiety cues are toned down, our appetite gets overpowering and our digestion sluggish.
This is where consuming ‘healthy’ foods we don’t enjoy – just for the sake of ingesting nutrients – totally defeats the purpose, as we might not be able to assimilate them in the absence of satisfaction!
It is exactly why some of us see our digestive issues diminish or subside when we are on holidays, for example, or in a familiar environment like a parent’s home. It also means that attempts at finding the ‘perfect’ diet tend to backfire if pleasure is left completely out of the picture.
Joy, relaxation, awareness as powerful digestive aids
So, before hopping on an elimination diet or deciding to give a try to the latest health craze, it might be a great experiment to try and set aside at least 20 mins per meal and make a habit of being fully aware of our five senses, without distraction. To choose food we truly crave and aim to focus on tasting every bite and recording the textures, the delicious smells, the beautiful presentation of a plate, the circumstances and company you get to eat with. To slow down with food, making our meals part of a mindful practice and to appreciate the joy associated with meals, the love and connection we get to share with others through food. To give ourselves permission to choose the foods that really bring us pleasure, instead of the ones we picked based solely on their alleged nutritional value.
As usual, you do you. I am not judging or forcing anyone to do anything, I just believe it’s important to bring this information in the light of day, because it allows for a better connection between our mind and our body and is usually lost in the constant diet culture chatter we bathe in, every second of every day. Let me know if you try it out by commenting below!