The Digestive Process

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” – Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

I was lucky to have grown up with a lot of home cooked meals, with farm fresh ingredients, and an understanding of how important it is to connect with food. Family meals were always a thing in my house growing up, and eating was always a really joyful experience. In my teens I got into a lot more of “convenience” and processed foods, eating out more because I thought it was cool (much better than the home cooked food I was used to!), and lost the connection I previously had with food. In that disconnect I started to develop issues around food obsession and a poor relationship to what I was eating, body image issues, anxiety and depression, which all contributed to a high degree of stress on my digestion that manifested as a complete shut down of the system.

My experiences with poor digestion (and elimination) have been a main source of motivation in my pursuit to understand how nutrition and yoga can support the efficacy of these systems. In the process of empowerment that my yoga practice was taking me through, I recognized that I couldn’t sustain a poor relationship with the food that I loved and needed. One of the most important aspects of this process was dropping stress around what I was eating, and freeing up space in my mind and body to connect with the enjoyment of eating once again. I began to use every opportunity I had to challenge my thoughts around my body and food, and over time my mentality and perceptions completely shifted.

What and how you eat can provide tremendous insight into potential imbalance, as well as how to correct any dysfunction. The relationship you form with food and your body creates both the environment and conditions for your health. We tend to miss out on the experience of growing our food from seed or even shopping for fresh produce, cooking or seeing, smelling, experiencing our food being cooked. Many of us eat in a hurry, eat by ourselves, in stimulating environments that don’t support our digestive health. We’ve been lulled by the idea that convenience foods are somehow an easier way to live, that restaurant foods are superior to our own home cooking, and that making your own food takes too much time and effort. This severe disconnection hinders the digestive system, and because it’s so intimately connected to the body and mind, the entire system.

“While it is true that many people simply can’t afford to pay more for food, either in money or time or both, many more of us can. After all, just in the last decade or two we’ve somehow found the time in the day to spend several hours on the internet and the money in the budget not only to pay for broadband service, but to cover a second phone bill and a new monthly bill for television, formerly free. For the majority of Americans, spending more for better food is less a matter of ability than priority. p.187” 

― Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

A key aspect of resolving many of the digestive ailments and extensive health concerns of our society will involve reconnecting with what and how we eat, to move away from the consumerist notions of eating, and return to a more systems approach to nourishing ourselves as individuals and parts of communities. It’s going to involve demystifying the novelty of the Western diet and the corporate power behind it, and getting people reacquainted with one another and with what/how we’re eating. This means deconstructing diet fads and movements that dictate “healthy foods” to allow people the space to get back to their own intuitive connection with food.

The Digestive Process

1 — Food is eaten (chewing and swallowing)

2 — The body secretes the enzymes, acids, and chemicals needed to break food down for digestion

3 — Some of what’s been broken down is absorbed

4 — The food that’s been absorbed gets moved around the body via the bloodstream and used by the cells

5 — Whatever is left over (undigested food particles) are expelled

“The brain must experience taste, pleasure, aroma, and satisfaction so it can accurately assess a meal and catalyze our most efficient digestive force.” — Marc David

The cephalic phase digestive response demands slow and conscious consumption so that the brain can receive the right messages about what the food eaten and how we relate to it. The digestive process starts when you begin to think about food. If you’re excited, and inspired by what you’re eating, then when you start to think about your meal you’re going to initiate a response that will enhance the digestive experience. Conversely, if you’re less into what you eat or feel like you have to eat a certain way for a reason, then you might find yourself thinking of this meal begrudgingly with little excitement, telling your nervous system that you’re really not that into eating. The messages you send to the brain create the environment to either enhance or inhibit digestion. Likewise, eating too fast with little awareness sends a signal that you didn’t eat anything because you didn’t spend time connecting with the food. The CPDR requires you to be conscious of what you’re eating from the first thought to each breath you take before, during, and after. This helps to ensure parasympathetic dominance and optimized digestion.

Compromised Digestion

Digestive disorders intrude on our awareness, our bodies, and create a dull aching discomfort that can be both distracting and problematic. Dietary turbulence arises from:

  • Poor lifestyle and habits
  • Misinformation or under-education
  • Food neuroses and fear
  • Poor chewing, eating too fast
  • Environmental degradation that impacts nutrition security
  • Food insecurity and inadequate nutrition
  • Reduced or faulty flow of prana
  • Stress/sympathetic dominance

Digestive disorders and issues affect millions of people each year, but for some reason it’s still kind of a hushed topic. Our stressed out society, in all its forms of disconnection, really doesn’t do much to foster a healthy digestive system. With advances in understanding the gut microbiome and its relation to mental health, it’s becoming even more a necessity to find balance and wellness for the digestive system. My number one suggestion? Slow down. In slowing, find more pleasure, more connection, more awareness.

Read Optimizing Digestion Through Awareness

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