There are hundreds of thousands of ‘diet’ and ‘health’ books out there; you can find one to support pretty much any dietary theory you’re considering at any one time. We have long lists of recommended reading through IIN, yet I have to admit many of them look less than inspiring.
I was however really impressed with The Slow Down Diet by Marc David, and although many of the principles within are not complicated, they resonated and have certainly made me think more about the way in which I eat and the impact this has on my metabolism.
The book analyses the connection between stress, digestion, metabolism, weight and health and emphasises how our relationship with food has as much of an impact on our health as the food itself. It is segmented into an eight week plan to decrease cortisol and other stress hormones and boost metabolic power by nourishing the body and soul.
It is well worth reading if you believe you know the ‘right’ foods to eat, and classify yourself as a food lover, yet feel you lack control or willpower, and often even enjoyment around food, and are of course still looking for a way to become more comfortable with your weight and body.
This is rather a long post but i wanted to share some of my key take outs and hopefully inspire you to think a little more about how you eat rather than what you eat; which i’m discovering is more than half the battle with food:
Decision time… shall i run from this lion or finish digesting my bagel? - when we are stressed or anxious our bodies initiate the fight-or-flight response; our brain can’t tell that we’re not actually running from a life-threatening situation but actually rushing to a meeting whilst scoffing down a sandwich, or are overloaded with work and thinking about anything but food whilst we monotonously push salad into our mouth at our desk, or even when we’re working our way through a packet of biscuits, upset because life isn’t going our way. When experiencing stress we are genetically programmed to react: our heat rate speeds up, blood pressure increases, respiration quickens; hormones including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released into the circulatory system; blood flow is rerouted toward the head for quick thinking and to the arms and legs for the power necessary to fight or flee; and most importantly, the digestive system shuts down - all your metabolic functions become geared toward survival. Think about it, in a real life danger situation you wouldn’t be concerned about digesting your croissant properly, you want to make a quick decision and run as fast as you can away from your predator! So if you’ve ever eaten in an anxious state and had the feeling afterward that the food is just sitting in your stomach, then you’re not wrong. It is likely to have to wait between several minutes and several hours for the body to kick back into normal digestive functioning. Ultimately you can eat the healthiest meal on the planet but if you eat in an anxious state the enzyme content in your saliva is reduced, the breakdown of macromolecules in the stomach is impaired and blood flow to the small intestines is decreased, therefore inhibiting the assimilation of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
‘No matter what food you eat, choose the highest quality version of that food’ - Often, the reason we overeat is because our food is nutrient deficient. It lacks the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and energies we require whilst also containing an abundance of pesticides and herbicides which function as anti-nutrients and disease agents. Our brain senses these deficiencies and respond by instructing us to eat more food in order to satisfy our requirements. Of course different foods have different nutritional qualities, but if you can always choose the highest quality version, you are much more likely to be more satisfied. In addition, you will value the food more, eat with more awareness and respect, and therefore support you metabolism even further be being present.
'When you eat, eat' - so often we eat whilst performing numerous other tasks simultaneously; we're eating at our desks or in the car, watching TV or scanning the internet, yet we rarely focus on the actual food in front of us - what it smells like, how it tastes, if we're actually enjoying it, or if we’re even hungry. The problem is, that if we are distracted when eating, our brain doesn't necessarily register that we've eaten and will continue to be hungry. Scientists call this the cephalic phase digestive response, and researchers have found that 30-40per cent of digestion takes place in our head and is therefore linked to our full awareness of what we are eating.
'Eating to the point of energy' - more often than not we eat until we are full; sometimes until we're so full we can barely move. Naturally, when this happens we need to generate more metabolic force to process such a big meal, meaning an increased amount of oxygen and blood is sent to our digestive system at the expense of our other organs, namely our head, thus leaving us tired and sluggish. So, instead of eating to the point of being full, eat to the point of energy; keep checking in with yourself during the meal and asking how do your feel? Do you feel energised? Do you feel light? Are you starting to feel heavy? Marc suggests eating until you are filled with energy, and if there is any residual hunger remaining you will automatically translate this hunger and desire for more food into the next activity you take on after your meal.
'When you eat is as important as what you eat' - Eating is like an exercise and to build its metabolic strength your body must 'lift' food; when we fail to give the gastrointestinal tract its proper workout, it loses its tone and we grow metabolically weak. Your body temperature is naturally rising in the morning so you need to fuel the furnace. Otherwise your body believes there is a problem and slows down the metabolism in order to store fat and withhold muscle building in case of famine. Next comes lunch time, when your body is designed to optimally digest and calorie burn - your peak metabolic window; so enjoy a long and leisurely lunch! Night time is when the metabolic forces focus on maintenance, detoxification, repair and growth, so if you eat a large meal right before bedtime, much of this energy is rerouted into digestion, meaning you wont detox or rebuild fully during the night and will awaken feeling congested and heavy, and not necessarily ready to breakfast, which as we know is when you really need to stoke the metabolic fire.
'When you're turned on by food, you turn on metabolism' - the nutritional value of a food is dependent not only on the nutrients it contains but also the synergistic factors which help us absorb said nutrients. Adding pleasure to the process of eating optimises its metabolism. cholecystokinin is produced in response to protein or fat in a meal: it stimulates the small intestine, pancreas, gall bladder and digestion; when secreted into the hypothalamus it shuts down appetite whilst also stimulating the sensation of pleasure in the cerebral cortex. So, the chemical which helps us metabolize our meal also tells us when to finish the meal, and makes us feel good about the whole experience - ultimately we need to eat with pleasure… Conversely if you eat with guilt or judgement, the hypothalamus with take this negative input and send signals down the sympathetic fibers of the autonomic nervous system which initiates inhibitory responses in the digestive organs, meaning you won’t be able to fully metabolize it. It will therefore stay in your digestive system longer, potentially diminishing your population of healthy gut bacteria and increasing the release of toxic by-products into the bloodstream. This also decreases your calorie-burning efficiency which causes you to store more body fat. Our thoughts directly impact our hormones and therefore some of our most powerful metabolic chemicals. If you choose to eat something enjoy it, otherwise what really is the point?
‘Move in a way to celebrate your body’ - don’t undertake fitness in order to reprimand you body or punish yourself for eating; neither avoid exercise out of fear, shame or grief. Find a way of moving which you genuinely enjoy; breathe and take pleasure from it.
‘Whatever benefits you expect to receive at the end of your dietary efforts, simply receive them in the beginning’ - when i began my career i remember being told if i was looking for a promotion i should be working as if I was already doing the job; wearing the clothes, pre-empting questions from my managers, and taking on the additional responsibility. Why do we think it is any different with health, energy and diet? If you make a conscious decision to be happier, you inevitably are. Take on the personality, role or story of the person you want to be and you will literally develop the physiology of the character you are portraying.
I’ve always believed I love food; however, when reading this book it dawned on me that I have a tendency to rush my meals, rarely take the time to savour the flavour, am usually distracted by at least two other tasks and often feel guilt whilst eating - which doesn’t really sound like the experience of someone who loves food. It really made me think, if you love food why do you rush through and squander every eating experience?
There is a lot to take in here but if changing your attitude towards food and ultimately slowing down to be more present during eating can help you metabolize your meals and inhibit weight gain, whilst allowing you to actually enjoy each and every food you choose, then surely that’s the best possible diet out there!