You’ve got so much to get done today. Up early, racing around getting yourself and perhaps your family all ready for the day ahead. You’re brushing your teeth as you check a message on your phone and look for clean socks.
No time for breakfast, you’ll have to grab a takeaway coffee and muffin to eat on the trip into work.
As the hectic day just keeps getting busier, you realise there’s no time for a lunch break again today. You’ll just have to eat at your desk/in the car/on the go again and keep working through.
Finally home and you sit down exhausted on the lounge to watch your favourite TV show and shovel in some dinner.
Does this sound familiar? Do you eat on the go like this most days?
If so, did you know that eating this way means you aren’t digesting your food properly or absorbing nutrients? And you may suffer from digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, constipation, heartburn or
reflux. If not now, then possibly down the track.
Plus, you are more likely to over-eat and gain weight.
YOUR BODY’S CONTROL CENTRE
Our nervous system controls much of the communication between our brain and our body, via the spinal cord and many nerves that run like a highway throughout our body.
Your nervous system has two states of being; ‘fight or flight’ or ‘rest and digest’.
When you are operating in ‘fight or flight’ mode, all your blood and energy is sent to the brain, heart and muscles so that you can either fight or run away from danger. Adrenalin is surging through your body making your heart beat faster, your mind is whirring and you are on high alert.
At the same time, body systems like digestion and reproduction ‘pause’ as these are not necessary for immediate survival. Even though the dangers of our caveman ancestors are no longer troubling us on a daily basis (thankfully, Sabre-toothed Tigers are extinct!) our nervous system has not changed much since primitive times.
Stressors like work deadlines, finances, exams, driving in traffic etc are still triggers that put us in ‘fight or flight’ mode. In ‘fight or flight’ mode you are not in the best state to digest your food.
There is a 2000% reduction in the amount of digestive enzymes secreted by the body when you are under stress, so if you eat when your nervous system is preparing for combat, you are more likely to suffer digestive symptoms like heartburn, indigestion, bloating, gas and either constipation or diarrhoea. Your body is not focusing on digesting food, so you won’t absorb as many nutrients from whatever you are eating.
EAT WHEN YOU ARE IN ‘REST & DIGEST’ MODE
Your body digests food best when the nervous system is in ‘rest and digest’ mode. This is when blood flow is going to the digestive tract, the mind is at peace, your heart rate is calm and you are focusing on your food.
MAKE TIME TO EAT
How hard would it really be if you took 10-15 minutes out of your day to stop and eat a meal? Is the whole world really going to fall to pieces if you take a break? Probably not. But if you don’t start to eat mindfully, YOU may fall to pieces!
Stopping what you are doing to sit down at the table to eat is so simple, and oh so important for digestive health. Don’t work on your computer, watch TV or drive when you are eating.
When you are eating, just eat!
So How Do You EAT MINDFULLY??
STEP 1: MEDITATE ON YOUR FOOD (as in think about it, don’t sit on it!)
Look at your food. Imagine how good it is going to taste. Think of all the wonderful nutrition inside every tasty bite. Picture all the lovely people who had to work to bring this food in front of you…
Smell it. Yes… put your nose near your meal and take a long, deep sniff. Breathe in those aromas.
You may be wondering why I’m asking you to meditate on your food (it’s not because deep down I’m a hippy).
It’s because this kicks off your Cephalic Phase of digestion. This is your brain realising that your body is about to eat something and it signals for your digestive juices to get going.
Your whole digestive tract prepares for the impending arrival of your meal. This then helps you digest your food.
STEP 2: CHEW YOUR FOOD
Were you ever told as a child to chew each mouthful 20 times before swallowing? There is some sense in that.
We have teeth because we need them to chew, grind, mush and pulverize our food before it enters our stomach. This is really important for good digestion and it is a step that is often missed.
Inhaling your food like a hungry Labrador means that it hits your stomach barely broken down, making your poor stomach work really hard to digest your food. Dogs have incredibly acidic stomach acid, so they can do this. But we humans can’t. We have those back molars for a reason and we need to use them!
I remember one of my nutrition professors telling a story about a cancer centre in Germany where the patients are put on a strict diet of literally bread and water while they are receiving treatment.
They are instructed to take a small bite of bread, a sip of water and then chew and chew until the mixture dissolves and all they are swallowing is liquid. It can take these patients more than an hour to eat their one slice of bread. Still, because they have chewed their food so well, all the nutrition they could possibly derive from that bread has been absorbed!
So eat slowly. Chew your food. Allow the saliva to mix in with it and get it all nice and mushy before you swallow it.
I promise the side effects like zero heartburn, no more bloating, no more over-eating (because you are focusing on your food, your brain has time to realise it is full) will be worth it.
STEP 3: SAVOUR YOUR FOOD
While you are doing all that slow eating and chewing, take a moment to really taste your food. I mean, really taste the different flavours. Notice the saliva build up as you chew each mouthful. Explore its texture in your mouth. Move it around with your tongue. Feel it crush between your teeth and explode against the roof of your mouth.
STEP 4: STOP BEFORE YOU ARE FULL
Unless this really is the last meal you will get before your 5 day trek through the Andes, it really is best to stop BEFORE you feel full.
Eating too much in one sitting puts a huge strain on your digestive system. There’s not enough stomach acid to break down your food, your stomach gets stretched and can’t work effectively and anything that cannot be made into energy gets stored as fat.
Plus, on a metaphysical level, overeating is kinda saying to yourself and the universe,
‘I don’t have enough’
or ‘I am never satisfied’
– not really going to bring you the best in life.
The Japanese have a beautiful way of saying this.
They say, “hara hachi bu”
translated to “eat until you are eight parts (out of ten) full”.
STEP 5: SHARE A MEAL
As much as you can, eat with people you love (or at least those you get along with!) We are inherently social beings and cultures from the dawn of time have shared meals together.
Sitting with another person or a group of people to all eat together just feels right, doesn’t it? Friends, family, work colleagues, fellow students – whoever it is, make sure that you enjoy some conversation with your meal from time to time. This means that if you are at work, you need to leave your desk and go sit someplace else to eat your food. Just don’t talk shop while you eat as this will likely put you into ‘fight or flight’ mode pretty quick!
Maybe, while you are sharing your meal you could tell your fellow diners how to ‘eat mindfully for better digestion and easy weight loss’