September 26, 2023

You are How You Eat

Essential Healthy Eating Habits

You've probably heard the saying, "You are what you eat," meaning eating healthy food is crucial for good health. However, the right food is not enough. How you eat matters just as much as what you eat.

When I say "how you eat," I'm referring to factors such as where you eat, how you chew your food, and your state of mind while eating. There is a lot of focus and advice on what to eat, such as reading food labels for the ingredients, searching out organic foods, and whether gluten is okay or not. But what about how to eat? Unfortunately, research and advice on how to eat is less prevalent, but, as stated, how you eat is just as important as what you eat. Even more so, I will argue.

Caterina and her family at the dinner table outside in the garden

In this post, I will share two fascinating pieces of research that highlight the importance of how your state of being influences how your body metabolizes, digests, and absorbs the nutrients in what you eat. As you will see, even a healthy meal can be sabotaged by how you eat it.

My friend Signy sent me a video of an interview with Deepak Chopra last week, illustrating how your mental state affects how you metabolize food from a scientific perspective. As soon as I watched it, I knew I had to share it with you. Here is what Deepak Chopra said:

"A study [was] done at Ohio State University where they were feeding rabbits diets that were extremely high in cholesterol, and they found, to their amazement, one group of rabbits that never caught the high cholesterol levels. After a while, they found out that when the technician was feeding these rabbits instead of just throwing the food at them, he would stroke them and pet them, cuddle them, and kiss them, and then feed them the same food. But now, because of that experience of happiness, they made chemicals inside their brain and their body that turned the cholesterol into a completely different metabolic pathway. So, it's not just the food you eat, but what your awareness, what your consciousness and your state of emotions [are] at the time you're eating. What happens inside your body is influenced by your consciousness. One of the things I tell people is, if you're not feeling good, skip the meal at that time till you feel good, till you can relax. Eating is a very enjoyable act, and when we eat, if you're enjoying it, then we metabolize it correctly." - Deepak Chopra.

What do you think about this? Can you have your cake and metabolize it better if you're relaxed and happy? Here is some more interesting research for you to ponder.

Parasympathetic vs. Sympathetic Nervous System

The parasympathetic nervous system is known as the "rest and digest" state. "As part of its rest-and-digest function, the parasympathetic nervous system stimulates the production of saliva, which contains enzymes to help your food digest. It also enacts peristalsis, or the movement of the stomach and intestines, to digest food and release bile for the body to digest fats." Healthline. Eating while in a parasympathetic state is optimal for metabolizing, digesting, and absorbing nutrients.

The opposite of the parasympathetic nervous system is the sympathetic nervous system, known as the "fight or flight" state. The sympathetic state is not ideal for eating, as digestion slows or stops so the body can divert all its internal energy to face a perceived threat. Besides impeding digestion, it can block nutrient absorption and store calories as fat. This can sabotage even the healthiest meals.

You can easily activate the sympathetic nervous system- fight or flight state - without realizing it. For instance, if you eat while walking, watch upsetting news on television, or eat while in a hurried state, you activate the sympathetic nervous system. On the other hand, it's also easy to activate the parasympathetic nervous system- the rest and digest state - when you are relaxed, happy, and calm while eating.

It's Logical

If this research does not convince you that if you eat while driving, walking, or shoveling in dinner while standing at the kitchen counter, your body may store the food as fat and not absorb the nutrients. Or that you will metabolize cake differently if you eat it while feeling happy and calm. Then, consider what is logical and the risks.

It makes sense that your body will respond positively if you are relaxed and calm. It also makes sense that it is easier to eat mindfully while relaxed and, therefore, eat slower. Eating slowly aids digestion. In addition, you are less likely to overeat when you eat slowly because your brain has time to know when you are full. Logically, eating while relaxed and enjoying a meal is ideal, rather than eating in a stressed or hurried state.

There is no risk in spending a moment to relax before eating, and with the obesity rates in the U.S. and stress and disease on the rise, it is logical to take the time.

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Roughly two out of three U.S. adults are overweight or obese (69 percent), and one out of three are obese (36 percent)- Harvard School of Public Health. Why? Many factors, including genetics, food quality, exercise, and calorie consumption, contribute. And, as the research above suggests, your state of being affects how you metabolize foods. One of the easiest habits to form is to eat while in a relaxed state and avoid eating while in a stressful state.

Stress can occur while you read work emails, are in traffic and running late to get to an appointment, are in a hurry to get out the door, or look at a piece of cake and think, "I shouldn't eat this because I will regret it. "

Stress is known as the silent killer because we do not always recognize we are stressed. More and more of our days are filled with "short term" stress - and eating while stressed. Short-term stress is stress over time, work, deadlines, rushing, traffic, and to-do lists…

According to the American Psychological Association, short-term stress affects all systems, including:

  • Musculoskeletal (i.e., muscle tightening and tension)
  • Respiratory (i.e., rapid breathing or shallow breathing)
  • Cardiovascular (i.e., heart rate increase, blood pressure increase)
  • Endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive: stress hormone release, flight or fight response kicks into gear.

Stress affects every part of the body and activates the sympathetic nervous system. With stress so prevalent, what if eating while stressed is the root cause of disease and weight gain because the body is not in an optimal state for digesting, metabolizing, and absorbing nutrients in food? Ultimately, I conclude that quality food, consumed in the right balance and while in a relaxed state, leads to something positive for your health and happiness. Therefore, it is logical to strive to be relaxed when you eat.

Although it could be fun, you don't have to have someone pet and cuddle you while eating. You just need to be relaxed. Here are the simple steps to create the optimal state for eating.


I always feel silly when I write that the first step is to sit down to eat. My dad or sister-in-law would say, "You don't need to say that. How else would anyone eat?" But every day, I see people eating while walking down the street and in the car while driving. Kids tell me they eat while lying on the couch, standing at the counter, and even in bed. So yes, sit upright with good posture. Bring the food to you, not you to the food. But before your first bite, breathe.

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Get relaxed. It just takes a minute. One deep breath and a pause before eating can be all that is needed to put your body in a relaxed state. Be present and calm. This naturally occurs if you take a moment to admire your food. We eat with our eyes first. Take in the beauty. Embrace the anticipation That's part of the pleasure.

If you are eating with others, this moment to settle and relax comes naturally when you wait for everyone to be seated, put their napkins on their lap, greet each other, and wait to eat until everyone is served.

Use a Fork and Knife

Even when a fork is sufficient to cut food, there are many benefits to using a knife. Using a knife to push food onto the fork and keeping everything organized on the plate creates a visually appealing meal. Taking time to cut, organize, and use two utensils also slows down the pace of the meal, allowing for more enjoyment and satisfaction. Since it is hard to eat too quickly when using a knife properly, it serves as a tool for food and maintains a slow, relaxed state of being.

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Nasturtium Leaves, Flowers, and Boursin Cheese

Small Bites

As you cut food, take small bites. Small bites are more elegant, slow the pace of eating, and make the meal last longer, thus increasing the satisfaction and pleasure of the meal- without increasing the quantity of food consumed.

Chew Well – Eat Slowly

Chewing well is not only the first step of digestion; it breaks down the food, so it's essential for health. When you eat slowly, you savor and enjoy the moment more. It is more relaxing.

Eat Repeat Maintain

Maintaining this routine throughout the meal takes minimal effort, and the results are priceless.

Take it Everywhere

If you must eat in your office, sit at your desk to eat, and begin with a deep breath, not reading an email that will upset you.

Can you pull over for a few minutes if you must eat in the car? Because when you are driving, your body is likely in fight or flight mode to keep you alert and safe.

If you are out and about and must eat on the go, can you find a bench, chair, or ledge to sit on and breathe the fresh air instead of eating while walking down the street?

If you order in, set the table and have a seat. How you eat applies to every meal.

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You are How You Eat

As Deepak Chopra states, the body metabolizes food differently based on its emotional state at the time. The bunny who was cuddled and kissed was happy and relaxed and turned the cholesterol into a completely different metabolic pathway. The bunny who had his food thrown at him was not able to do the same. Perhaps he was startled by the food being thrown at him, which in turn caused some stress and activated the fight-or-flight response.

Even if you aren't convinced by the research, rely on logic. It is logical that when you relax and eat slowly, you will appreciate your food more and give your body a better chance to perform more optimally than if you gobble something down in 5 minutes. The best way to know if it matters is to try it. Follow the routine: sit, relax, eat slowly, and see what happens. Did you feel you digested better? Ate less, enjoyed more, felt happier? You can feel the benefits immediately, and they will continue to compound over time.

Caterina and family at the dinner table in the garden toasting before dinner


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