We’re now two months into the new year, and for me, the annual transition was pretty great. I had three celebratory meals this holiday season, all in the span of a week. I had beef roast, turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, dim sum, cake, pie, sugarplums and crab bisque.
Holiday meals are so enjoyable in part because of the food itself, but also because we are usually happy and relaxed when we’re eating those meals. And that, according to Marc David of the Institute for the Psychology of eating, means we metabolize the food more effectively than we do when we eat under stress.
I’ve read several articles by David recently and they’ve all intrigued me. He believes that our metabolic capacity – and therefore our ability to maintain a healthy weight – is influenced as much by the psychological states we experience when we eat as by the caloric and nutritional content of the food. For early humans, he explains, stress often came in the form of deadly predators. As a result, the body evolved to react to stress in a way that would prepare us to fight or flee from those predators. When we experience stress, cortisol is released, the heart rate increases, blood is channeled from the core to the arms and legs to enable running or fighting. All of this, David says, slows our metabolism – which is fine for escaping the occasional bear but not so good when you’re living under chronic, low-grade stress due to pressures at work, financial stress and the like.
This makes perfect sense to me. Promoting organic, local food is important to me because I believe food is a powerful force in our lives. It has the ability to nourish our bodies and souls. We use it to celebrate and to bring together friends and family. But who wants to be fully present for a meal of fast food or a highly processed microwave meal?
But like I said earlier, the food itself is only part of the equation. When we wolf down our food in the car or over the latest episode of Honey Boo Boo – or when our minds are racing because we’re stressed out about something – this deeper nourishment simply can’t happen. When we eat under stress, we only get a fraction of the emotional nourishment the food has to offer and we metabolize that food more slowly, David says.
Everything I’ve read by Marc David recently has fascinated me. The body and mind are intertwined and inseparable, so it of course emotional and psychological states would impact the body’s ability to metabolize food.
Do you agree? Have your emotional or psychological states impacted your metabolic capacity?