Most people will begin to salivate or feel their mouths pucker with just the thought of the lemon juice. Salivation indicates that the mouth has secreted enzymes that begin the digestive process. Thus, just by imagining food in the mind, your body has started physiological processes to break down food! Ever hear the phrase, “You are what you eat?” It is more accurate to say, “You are what you eat, digest, absorb, and eliminate.” Digestion is a complex process that turns the food we eat into usable energy and nutrients for the body.
Digestion is also very heavily influenced by the state of mind or environment we are in while eating. All of the digestive processes are slowed or stopped, including saliva flow, digestive enzyme secretion, and intestinal contractions to move the food along. While the sympathetic nervous system is a natural and necessary part of our human reaction, our society tends to create the state of stress—more often than not—including when we are eating meals.
Rushing to work and school, balancing hectic schedules, dealing with financial stress, and the constant bombardment of negative news and media: all of these factors contribute to a chronic sympathetic state of mind. The parasympathetic state is known as rest and digest. In a calm, low stress environment with limited stimulation, the body will be in a parasympathetic state.
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Notice what happens with digestion when in a parasympathetic state: saliva and digestive enzymes are secreted, and the smooth intestinal muscles move the food along for optimal digestion and absorption. Digestion will improve, including a decrease in minor digestive complaints, such as gas and bloating that often accompany rushed eating. In a restful state, we are also more likely to notice when we feel full, decreasing the chance of overeating.
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