How You Eat Is Nearly As Important As What You Eat
There’s more to the saying, “You are what you eat.” Find out how your eating habits can affect the way your food digests.
In this article:
- There’s More to Nutrition
- The Principle of Eating Hygiene
- What Is Fight or Flight?
- What Is Rest and Digest?
- Establish Food Discipline with These Tips
You Are What You Eat and Then Some | When Your Eating Habits Also Impact Your Long-Term Health
There's More to NutritionGo over the many health journals and blogs, and you’ll know the consensus: you are what you eat. There’s truth to that. The dietary or the food choices you make can affect your body down to gut bacteria and fungi. Whether you love to eat processed food or whole food, they can help determine how your gut microbes will work. Depending on how they function, they can contribute to some of the chronic diseases you know such as heart disease or cardiovascular disease. They may also increase your risk of weight gain or obesity. This then becomes a risk factor for certain types of cancer, type of diabetes, and hypertension, to name a few. Because of this, we are more conscious of the food we eat. We take the steps we think count toward good gut health:
- Cut back on calories in the hopes of promoting weight loss
- Focus on certain food groups such as whole grains or fruits and vegetables
- Reduce consumption of dairy products and red meat
- Increase our intake of essential fatty acids, healthy probiotics, and vitamins and minerals
- Avoid junk food, fast food, and artificial sweeteners
- Boost our physical activity, especially exercise
What are probiotics? These are live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial to the body.
What are essential fatty acids? These are the fatty acids the body needs but doesn’t produce. It may come from the foods you eat or the supplements you take. We may even follow certain types of diet such as the Mediterranean diet, which some experts claim is the best diet in the world. Others, meanwhile, are into keto. It is a high-fat diet mixed with moderate protein and low carbohydrates. Here’s the thing, though: when we start down the rabbit hole of healthy lifestyles, things can quickly get complicated—but they don’t need to.
The Principle of Eating Hygiene
There’s nothing wrong in believing you are what you eat, but you need to go further than that. For example, you need to pay attention to your eating hygiene. If you’re thinking of implementing a restrictive-elimination diet, buying a food journal to count your macros, or pounding fistfuls of supplements, pump the brakes. There are a multitude of simple and free things you can do to improve your eating hygiene. They will also boost your digestion and overall health. Often overlooked, eating hygiene doesn’t mean washing your hands before picking up your fork. Instead, it relates to how and where you’re eating. Before we jump into what that means, let’s take a step back and explain two different states of being:
- Fight or flight (our sympathetic nervous system)
- Rest and digest (our parasympathetic nervous system)
What Is Fight or Flight?We activate our fight-or-flight response when we’re stressed out while rest-and-digest engages when we’re relaxed. Fight or flight exists for those times we need to either fight a predator or flee from one. These days, that situation is rare. The problem is, our bodies haven’t evolved to know the difference between running from a lion and fighting with our spouse. It can’t tell the difference between getting stuck in a traffic jam, smoking a cigarette, or dealing with a difficult client at work. Unfortunately, most of us are walking around in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight. It’s because of the high levels of internal and environmental stress. That’s not beneficial for our health or our digestion. Our bodies cannot withstand a near-constant onslaught of stress. For example, when we activate our fight-or-flight response, our metabolism changes. Digestion slows down which causes symptoms like cramping, bloating, gas, and constipation. After all, why would you care about digesting your food when a black bear is already chasing you?
What Is Rest and Digest?
On the other end of the spectrum, rest and digest allow our bodies to take their time while digesting. Our brains tell our mouths to produce saliva. Our stomachs also start pumping out hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. These help to break our food into small particles so the small intestines can absorb them. When this doesn’t happen, our food sits in our bellies. There, it is rotting, putrefying, and rancidifying. Because the body doesn’t break down the food effectively, our bodies can’t use the nutrients for fuel. This then leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Those undigested food particles can also “leak” through our intestinal walls. They can then enter the bloodstream. When this happens, the immune system recognizes them as invaders and attacks. This leads to inflammation and, in chronic cases, autoimmune diseases. To minimize or eliminate these outcomes, eating hygiene is very important.
Establish Food Discipline with These TipsHow do you add more meaning to the saying, “You are what you eat?” The answer is simple: watch how you eat by improving rest and digest. Here are seven ways to engage your rest-and-digest system:
1. Begin a Meal with a Deep BreathTake five deep belly breaths before eating. This simple act signals to your body that there aren’t any immediate threats and it’s okay to relax. Doing this can also help you better manage your emotions such as anxiety. Studies show both your eating habits and moods have a strong interrelationship.
2. Engage Your Senses
3. Eat at a TableAs Michael Pollan says, a desk is not a table. Your car is also not a table. Nor are the bleachers at your daughter’s basketball game. Why is it important to sit down? It turns out it can make you more mindful about what you eat. You learn to pay close attention to the plate, utensils, and the food itself. Sitting down and being mindful about eating goes a long way in activating rest and digest.
4. Chew WellIf you watch most people eat, they chew 3 to 4 times per bite. Almost all mechanical digestion happens in your mouth, so give your body a helping hand. Aim to chew 20 to 30 times per bite. Your food should resemble the consistency of peanut butter before you swallow.
5. Enjoy What You’re Eating
It sounds like a no brainer, but you should like what you’re eating. If you feel guilty about what you’re eating, you’re unintentionally activating fight or flight. Perhaps now you know foods rich in saturated fat are not food for you. If you’re going to eat the cake, though, just eat the cake and drop the negative feelings about it.
6. Keep Stimulants to a MinimumCaffeine, sugar, and starchy carbs can rev up your system. They throw your body into a sympathetic state. Reducing your consumption of these can help your body digest better. If you do consume these things, pairing them with healthy fat and protein can regulate their metabolism into your system. Good fats such as avocado and olive oil, as well as protein, can satiate you longer. They can also help regulate blood sugar spikes.
7. Consider Your Toxic Load
Household cleaners, heavy metals, smoke, and other chemicals can wreak havoc on your body’s natural defenses. By eliminating chemicals from things like your beauty and cleaning products, you lessen the burden on the body. You prevent it from staging a revolt in the form of chronic disease. When your toxic load is high, especially because of the bad foods you eat, consider detoxing. For example, you can do a colon cleanse.
There’s no denying “you are what you eat” is true. If you love to eat fruits and vegetables, you may be less sick than the others because of the nutrients you receive. Keep in mind, though, it’s not enough you’re eating right. To fully enjoy the health benefits of your food, you need to bring down your stress levels by activating your rest-and-digest system.
Do you believe in the saying, “You are what you eat?” Share your thoughts about it and eating hygiene in the comments section below.
- Episode 12: What’s Functional Medicine’s Role In Gut Healing?
- Episode 13: Is Your Deodorant Killing Your Microbiome?
- Chocolate Superfood Brownies