A friend gave me a book two years ago. I glanced at it, The Slow Down Diet by Marc David, and said, “Yeah, right. That’s the last thing I need to do. Too much going on!” Plus, diet is definitely a four letter word. But something called me back to this book. Amongst the many titles on my shelves, this one seemed a little different. This weekend, I made it through the chapters, and my perspective on nutrition and nourishment has changed. It seems there’s more to metabolism than you’d ever imagine.
We’re more like a chemistry experiment than a bank account when it comes to food and nutrition. And the metabolic chemistry lab of our bodies does not have a black and white procedure manual. It goes beyond calories and carbs, target heart rate and reps, and vitamin D and omega-3s. Studies show that metabolism is actually a product of our mind, emotions and spirit as well as our body’s inputs and outputs.
David cites eight universal metabolizers in his work:
1. Relaxation: He blames our cultural emphasis on speed and business that got us into our predicament with weight issues. Food consumed at a fast and furious pace, often in the car or at a desk, activates a stress response and actually slows digestion. The fight or flight response diverts blood flow away from the gut. Contrast this with the French, who dine under relaxed, parasympathetic dominance and maximum digestive function. Even when stressed, the French focus on the meal, take time to savor it and enjoy the company of family or co-workers. Some red wine may help relieve tension too!
The author suggests a more relaxed, but focused meal time. He recommends deep breathing exercises to minimize stress and activate digestion.
2. Quality: No food is specifically forbidden, but should be of high quality and of the greatest nutritional value. For some this may be gourmet dark chocolate, organic produce and home-cooking. Even if this food more expensive, it pays dividends over the long term.
3. Awareness: Awareness helps us focus on the taste, aroma and visuals of food even before we start to eat. This “cephalic phase” is responsible for 30-40% of the total digestive response and greatly impacts the nutritional delivery of the food, depending on the receiver’s state.
4. Rhythm: Rhythm has to do with timing of meals. Breakfast should be substantial. Lunch should be the biggest meal of the day, and dinner should be lighter since digestion slows at night. Rest and playful movement should also have a rhythmic schedule for sustenance.
5. Pleasure: When we eat, we are wired to seek the pleasure of food, and avoid the pain of hunger. Pleasure catalyzes the parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. the opposite of the fight or flight response.) This fully activates our digestion. My son delights in sliced bananas, each slice topped with a dab of Nutella. Arranging the slices on the plate to look like a smiley face adds to the fun and enjoyment of a simple snack.
Our favorite meal is well digested. However, if you put it in a blender and make it mush, we don’t absorb the same nutritional value because the meal is less desirable, even though the calories, vitamins and minerals are the same.
Stress and anxiety desensitize us to pleasure, so we need to eat more food to register the pleasurable effects.
6. Thought: Negative thoughts about eating and food inhibit digestion through neural signals, hormones and neuropeptides. Positive thoughts enhance digestion along these same pathways. Healthy actions motivated by inspiration rather than fear produce the best results.
7. Story: Sometimes food triggers behaviors that are deeply rooted in your past history. Your memory can put a spin on the past that can have positive or negative manifestations. Do certain situations trigger your inner rebel and cause you to pig out? If you look back, you might understand the story and the trigger, and come up with a healthier response.
8. The Sacred: Love, truth, courage, commitment, compassion, forgiveness, faith, surrender and gratitude are potent metabolic enhancers. Rituals such as a prayer to begin the meal can activate these qualities.
David suggests that metabolism is a life force journey that we travel every day. It works best when we slow down enough to be present and balanced, allowing our intuitive body to guide us toward a healthier life.