Have you ever wolfed down a meal in the car while rushing to your next event? Have you ever eaten quickly at your desk while trying to finish a work project? What about eating breakfast standing up while you make your lunch or get the kids ready for school? Or snacking mindlessly while watching a big game on TV?
If you’ve done anything like this (and who hasn’t?), you’ve practiced mindless eating.
Have you made the connection between mindless eating, having indigestion and feeling bloated and burpy for the next couple of hours? Or feeling gassy and rumbly several hours later? Maybe you grab a Tums or take a Gas-X without thinking much about it.
Get in “Rest and Digest” Mode
The way we eat and the state of mind we’re in when we eat plays a big role in how well we digest our food. When we are in a “fight or flight” or “sit and stew” state, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. This part of our nervous system is designed to react to stressors, such as running away from something dangerous. In our culture, the stressor often means rushing to the next event, dealing with deadlines at work, or juggling many obligations at once. Though we are only designed to be in this state for short periods of time, we often spend much of our time here. When we’re in a sympathetic state with stress hormones pumping, our digestion slows down and becomes inefficient.
On the flip side, when we are in a “rest and digest” state, our parasympathetic nervous system is activated. We are designed to be in this state most of the time, calm and steady. In this parasympathetic state, our digestive system works well. We make enough stomach acid and digestive enzymes, food breaks down and moves through our digestive tracts properly, and we absorb our nutrients well. Digestion is easy and smooth.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that the first thing you need to do for good digestion is to get yourself into a “rest and digest” state. This requires creating an environment and mindset in which your brain and gut are communicating reassuring and calming messages to each other.
Of course, this feels easier said than done with the often-frazzled lives we lead. But making this an active practice will eventually lead to a change in habits, just like committing to an exercise routine or meditation practice. You have to practice it to master it.
How It’s Done
To get ourselves into this “rest and digest” state, we need to practice mindful eating. In a nutshell, this means slowing down, being present in the moment, quieting that inner voice telling us what we “should and shouldn’t” be doing, and savoring the meal. Here is how it is done:
Before you eat
- Begin by scheduling enough time to prepare the meal and at least 15 minutes to eat it without distractions.
- Sit down for your meal. This is important. Bring everything for your meal to the table, then have a seat.
- Remove all distractions, including the phone, the TV, podcasts, the mail, magazines, books, etc. No multitasking. Instead, turn on some relaxing music or eat with someone you like.
- Close your eyes and take 5 slow breaths.
- Observe your meal and plug in to all your senses. Look at all the colors and textures. Put your hands on your plate or bowl and feel the heat or cold. Smell the variety of smells.
- Think about everyone and everything that went into bringing the food to your table. This can be the farmers, the animals, the transporters, the grocery store workers, and the preparers. Take a moment to express gratitude for these and for the delicious meal in front of you.
While you eat
- Eat slowly. Take a bite and chew thoroughly. Your food should be a paste when you swallow, not chunky. Swallow before taking the next bite and put your fork down between bites.
- If you’re eating with someone, take time for pleasant conversation between bites.
- Pay attention to your body’s cues. Stop eating when you start to feel comfortably full, even if there is still food on your plate (put it in the refrigerator for a snack later). You’ll notice that you feel full after eating less food when you practice these steps.
After you eat
- If possible, take at least 30 minutes to “rest and digest” after your meal so your body gets a good jump-start on its best digestion. This doesn’t mean continuing to sit at the table. It simply means to keep yourself in a relaxed state, and not going into a stressful mental or physical situation right after eating.
You’ll be surprised at how much better your digestion is by simply following these steps. This is the first place to start if you are experiencing digestive problems. If you still have on-going digestive concerns after putting these steps into place, give us a call here at Radiance Functional Medicine to speak with Dr. McCubbin or one of our Nutrition Therapists.
At Radiance Functional Medicine, we believe that food is medicine. We hope that you will allow us to help you heal your gut, balance your hormones, or find a way of eating that helps you thrive! Schedule an appointment to get started. Whether you are looking for a Nutritionist or Functional Medicine Doctor in Denver or your local area, we see patients in person and virtually. Call our office at 303.333.1668 to schedule your Initial Nutrition Consultation.