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HOW You Eat Is Just As Important As WHAT You Eat


WHAT we eat is of course important to our overall health and wellbeing, but HOW we eat it is just as important. It’s something that often gets overlooked which can keep us feeling stuck.

If we regularly eat fast, don’t chew well, eat while we’re multitasking and not focusing on our food, or even second-guess our eating habits and feel guilty after eating – these trigger our sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system to activate when we eat, rather than our parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system.

When this happens, it can ultimately trigger us to eat more than our body really wants and needs, make us crave more sweet and processed foods, negatively affect our absorption of nutrients, reduce our day in/day out calorie-burning capacity, increase our fat storage hormones, and lots more.


How does HOW we eat affect how much we eat?


If we miss the experience of taste, pleasure, and satisfaction from our food, the brain often interprets this missed experience as hunger. That’s because we’re biologically wired at the most primitive level to get those things from food…so that way we keep wanting to eat and survive. (1)


How does HOW we eat affect our metabolism?


Research shows 40-60% of our digestive and calorie-burning power when we eat comes from something called “cephalic phase digestion.” Cephalic means “of the head” so it literally describes the “head or brain phase” of digestion.




The cephalic phase of digestion is the stage in which the stomach responds to the mere sight, smell, taste, or thought of food. About 20% of total acid secretion occurs before food enters the stomach.

Say you’re at a party, you’re chatting and drinking, not paying attention to what you’re eating, eating fast, and eating under stress because you feel a little awkward, you’re only metabolizing your food at 40-60% efficiency. And on top of that, since your body is in a stress response, you’re also signaling the body to store more fat and making it harder on your digestive system, increasing likelihood for bloating or indigestion.


5 Ways Your Environment Influences What You Eat


Where you Eat

The places you eat, the way you choose the foods you put on your plate, the people you surround yourself with, where you buy your food, and how that food is presented to you by the culture you live in, all have a serious impact on your decisions.

So it’s up to you to take control of your health. By identifying the contributing elements to your choices you can have a serious leg up in the fight for better nutrition. (2)


How You Eat

What about the utensils you eat with?

You probably only think about your fork as a means of shoveling food into your face, but could its size actually affect how much you eat?


Who You Eat With

The people who you eat your meals with can have a powerful effect on what you choose to put on your plate and into your mouth. The Harvard School of Public Health says that many of the food preferences you take into adulthood are based on what your family of origin ate as you grew up.

Depending on your heritage, you may gravitate towards meals that reflect your cultural background. While foods that come from your heritage may be delicious, they aren’t always the most nutritious option you can find.

Not only will your built-in subconscious biases toward certain foods affect what you eat – anyone you eat with can influence what you choose.

A researcher named Solomon Asch conducted a study on social influence and found that when people are left alone to find the answer to a simple question, only one person out of 35 will get it wrong.

But when you put that same group of people together and have some of them give intentionally wrong answers, 75% of all participants will ignore their own reasoning and side with the group’s wrong answer.

Social pressure can be overwhelming, and you may not even realize that you’re giving into these pressures, especially when you’re in a casual, comfortable environment surrounded by your peers.


The best way to counteract these forces is to go into meals with a game plan. Know what you’re going to eat beforehand, and stick to it. If you have to actually make the effort to announce to your friends that you won’t be swayed by their food decisions, do so.


Advertising and the Media

Advertising is pretty brilliant in a lot of ways. When we see a commercial, sometimes we shake our heads and scoff – how could anyone fall for it?

The way food is packaged alone can have a huge impact on what we choose to buy. When healthy, organic foods come in simpler, more economical packaging, unhealthy foods are often displayed in bright colors with exciting imagery.

Thehalo effectis a cognitive bias that convinces us that a product has more valuable traits over others simply because the perception of that product has been subtly altered.

Marketers are fully aware of this effect and use it to their advantage – that’s why bold health claims on packaging may influence you to buy one product instead of the same item sitting next to it without those words on the box.


The Grocery Store

The items people need most in grocery stores, eggs, milk, bread, are strategically placed for the maximum effect.

Baked goods and fresh meats are often put nearer to the front, where their pleasurable aromas assault your senses, putting you into a better mood and increasing your hunger ever so slightly.

Eggs and milk are often placed nearer to the back corners of stores so you have to pass the myriad of other temptations on your way to find them.


Before you go to the grocery store, create a shopping list and follow it. Buy only what you need to create nutritious meals.


HOW do we eat more mindfully?


At a high level, aim to eat with intention and attention.

I have my clients create what I call a Pre Eating Ritual. It’s a way of tuning in and connecting with their body before (and during) eating to stimulate that rest and digest nervous system and make empowered choices to give the body what and how much food it wants and needs.

Any practice that grounds us and centers us, has a positive effect on our digestion by putting our nervous system into the rest and digest state.

From the Ayurvedic approach, mealtime prayers are an opportunity to pause before rushing food into our stomach. They are an opportunity to calm down, relax our body, adopt the right posture, be grateful for the food that we are receiving and evaluate the strength of our Agni.


A great way to start is by taking a couple of long, slow deep breaths. This scientifically stimulates that rest & digest nervous system right off the bat. Then see what food is available to you, and ask yourself what would feel good in your body. What you really feel like having.

No matter what you choose, when you do eat, aim to be fully present, minimize distractions, take small bites, chew really well, eat slowly, and fully savor and enjoy it.

Eating mindfully helps prevent overeating because when our body feels satisfied, it will signal fullness sooner.


(1) https://healthyeaton.com/how-you-eat-is-just-as-important-as-what-you-eat/

(2) https://legionathletics.com/ways-your-environment-influences-what-you-eat/

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