I ate an alu paratha with butter and felt perfectly at ease while eating. At the next table, you ate the same but worried about weight gain. Both of us will gain the same weight after this meal, right? Wrong!
That is because digestion is not a mechanical process where an input burns same amount of fuel each time, giving same output. Rather it is affected by chemicals being cooked in the brain and in our belly in the moment. As it turns out, feeling worried makes very different chemicals in the brain and belly compared to feeling relaxed.
When we are at ease and feeling safe a system is at play in the body, called parasympathetic nervous system. Specific brain cells become active. These, along with chemicals called hormones that are released into the blood stream, take messages to our vital organs. These messages are received by our gut. Gut is the system of organs like stomach through which food passes, to be digested, so we get energy and waste is removed.
Our gut is surprisingly rich in nerve cells, running into millions. This is called the Enteric Nervous System or simply, gut brain. The gut brain receives signals and can send signals back to the brain. It even experiences emotions (butterflies in the stomach, anyone?). When gut brain receives parasympathetic signals that we are relaxed and safe, it decides to power digestion forcefully. Enzymes perform at their best. Food is fully digested. The signal is to not convert food to fat but to release energy for short-term use. At the end of digestion we feel energized, alert and happy.
In contrast, when we worry about weight gain, parasympathetic nervous system is not as active. Depending on how stressed we are, different hormones are released into the blood. These tell the body to shift its focus away from digestion process. As a result digestion is seriously weakened. Also we may go into a fat storage mode. This basically means that the body tries to convert all nutrients to fat cells and store it around our belly or thighs. Yes, we can do that! So the same alu paratha and butter is not giving us energy but rather more fat cells for long term use. As a consequence after the same meal we feel dull, heavy and unhappy.
So, if you would like to weigh less, focus not just on what’s on your plate but what’s on your mind! Eat whatever makes you feel good. And feel good eating it. Trust your gut to know its job. Help along by not eating processed foods and resting your gut by not eating at night. Bon appetite!