Food can impact us in many ways. What food do you love… or hate? How do you regard food and how does it impact your life? Is it something enjoyable, or a chore, something you think about all the time or something you feel guilty about?
“You are what you eat”. The impact of what we eat on our health has been well discussed and there is more information than ever before, but this does not seem to change our complex relationship with food. It is used to reward, to show love, to comfort, to celebrate and commiserate. We can also feel guilty about it when we indulge or ‘good’ if we resist temptation.
If we stop for a minute and think about what we are eating. What are our habits? Where did they come from? What influences what we eat? Do you see food primarily as a fuel to fill you up and give you energy? Is it completely based on taste? Are you aware of flavours, aromas, emotions and sensations or thoughts as you eat? Do you eat mindlessly and maybe quickly, the urgency of work on your mind, or watching TV, mobile in hand, catching up on news?
Digestion is a process which begins in the brain with the stimulation of smell, sight and anticipation of food. Our senses prime the digestive juices which help to turn the food into nutrients and energy. Our emotional state as we eat affects our digestion. The gut contains the enteric nervous system which talks to the brain, connecting thoughts and emotions which affects digestion and mental wellbeing. Our ‘gut feeling’ is very real and important to recognise.
Our bodies are designed to enable us to get away from stress, whether that is waking suddenly to a loud noise, an angry boss complaining about our work or being in a car with someone driving erratically. The physiological response is the same, ‘fight or flight’. Adrenaline is pumped out, heart rate increases and blood supply is directed away from the digestive system so we can escape. If we are eating while stressed (or in response to stress), the digestive system cannot function efficiently. Food is not broken down or absorbed properly. We don’t digest the nutrients, blood sugar is unstable and energy fluctuates. If this happens frequently and long term, the result is deteriorating health. Equally, eating poor quality, processed, high sugar & high fat food can irritate and alter the gut environment. The gut bacteria also communicate with the enteric ‘brain’, influencing immune response, hormones and wellbeing. Like different nationalities, this microbiome of bacteria also have their food preferences and if they don’t get what they want, they may leave….and can be replaced with less friendly inhabitants. When this happens we get symptoms of bloating, food intolerance and worse.
An unhappy gut may also produce an unhappy mind. Looking more closely at what, when, why and how we eat may help us to make better choices for better health. Recognising the link between the mind, body and emotions is the first step. Food for thought………