Something To Digest

A short overview of the journey food takes when going through the body.


Think of your favourite meal. Perhaps it’s a Sunday roast with all the trimmings. Perhaps it’s a pizza with several toppings. Perhaps it’s just a traditional family recipe. Whatever it is, it goes on a journey through your body. Allow me to summarise that for you.

Your meal first checks in to the grand hotel of your body via the mouth. Immediately, your teeth chew it into pieces and saliva digests any carbohydrates. Your teeth are like that overly chirpy receptionist. You know the one. The one who tries a little too hard and ends up making you frazzled when all you want is to continue through and explore the hotel. The saliva, meanwhile, is like the porters, who take the largest of your bags.

Now, you have to pass the security guards who stop you from accidentally stumbling into the ‘staff only’ corridor. These security guards are the epiglottis. That’s the flap at the back of your mouth which stops food from ‘going down the wrong hole’ as it were and blocking your windpipe. Once in the oesophagus, food gets pushed downwards towards the stomach by contracting muscles. Imagine it is check-in day and you’re on a long corridor trying to find your room, whilst being surrounded by other holidaymakers and various staff trying to push you along your way. That’s basically what’s happening in this part of digestion.

When you finally reach your hotel room, you stay there for a while to relax and make full use of all of the facilities which the room has to offer (because when else would you need a tiny sewing kit?) It is also when you would relieve yourself of the smaller baggage items which the porters failed to take earlier. This is basically what happens to food in the stomach. Acid kills any bacteria in the food, and digestive juices blend everything else together. Any proteins which were in the food are also broken down at this point.

Now, because you’re staying in a super hotel, and obviously as there are classy people around and you want to look your best, you might go and check out the gym facilities. You might not actually go into the gym, just have a look at what it has on offer. That’s similar to what the liver does. It secretes bile, which breaks down any fats that were in the food. It is essentially offering the food the gym facilities it may or may not need, without the food actually going to it.

The pancreas are similar to the liver in the sense that they also offer a variety of services without the food actually going to the organ itself. Insulin is key in the breakdown of sugars, and is made in the pancreas. If the liver is the gym facilities on offer, the pancreas is the little leaflet you get in your room upon arrival, or the hotel website. The thing which throws a load of options your way for you to use if you need them.

You finally decide, throughout your stay, to venture out of your room. It is at this point where you will find yourself losing money left right and centre as you realise that the many facilities actually have charges. This is the small intestine (fun fact: the average human small intestine is six metres long – that’s twenty feet!) Here, all of the important minerals and nutrients are drawn from the solution of food as it passes through. The juices from the liver and pancreas assist in this.

The bar of the hotel is obviously where you decide to reside in the evening. Here is where liquid moves freely, and the food that is available is mediocre at best. That’s the large intestine. Here, the majority of water is absorbed, and indigestible food is processed. What is left at this point is a small remnant of the original meal which was eaten. Much like you are probably a shadow of your earlier self when you’re slumped across the bar at one in the morning having had one too many vodka shots.

Finally, the morning after, you check out of the hotel you had the pleasure of staying in. Probably with a leaflet asking you to leave them a glowing review. You might, as long as the checking out process is smooth. You’ve reached the end of your hotel stay. The remnants of the meal at this point pass out through the anus, ‘checking out’ from your body.

So there you have a pretty whirlwind tour of just what food goes through when you shovel it down. It is in no way detailed and the process is obviously more complex than this scenario makes it out to be. But I hope that is a decent summary for you. And go easy next time you’re at a hotel, yeah?



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