Why it Matters How We Eat
Developing conscious eating habits can go a long way towards reducing the likelihood of common problems such as bloating, diarrhoea, cramping and constipation. Not only that, but when we give our attention to the food that we are preparing and how we eat it, we increase the absorption of nutrients from our food and lay the foundations for optimum gastrointestinal health.
Bodily functions are controlled by either the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) or the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest). We need our ‘fight or flight’ capability for survival but we don’t need it all of the time! Chronic stress due to busy lives and long to-do lists puts us frequently into this survival mode, leading to a reduction in gut motility (the propulsion of food through the digestive system) and gastric secretions, causing our digestive system to suffer. Conversely, when we switch into parasympathetic nervous system, our ‘rest & digest’ mode, gut motility and secretions are high and the body can focus on breaking down our food effectively.
Mindful Eating Tips
Eat when you are hungry
Learn to notice and pay attention to the signals of the body such as stomach rumbling or low energy. Consider whether you are hungry or thirsty.
Prepare your food with love and care
The process of digestion begins with our eyes, nose and brain, even before we have put food into our mouths. The sight, smell and anticipation of food triggers salivation and gastric juice secretion produced in readiness for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. A hurried sandwich wrapped in plastic and eaten on the hoof denies us the vital initial cues for the digestive process to begin. So learn to savour your food noticing the flavours, smells, textures and colours.
Eat in a pleasant and relaxing environment
We don’t always find ourselves in the ideal environment, but taking small steps to create a little peace and relaxation around meal times can go a long way towards ensuring good digestion can take place. Aim to sit at the table and be fully present without distractions when you are eating.
Chew well because the stomach has no teeth!
Digestion begins in the mouth. When we chew (a minimum of 6–10 times) we are breaking down food to reduce the burden on stomach digestion. Salivary glands produce digestive enzymes that begin the process of breaking down fats and the starch in carbohydrates.
Eat slowly and stop when you are full
Eating slowly naturally leads to eating less as it takes around 20 minutes for your brain to signal to your stomach that you are full. The action of eating itself can become a meditation if we eat with awareness. When we savour and appreciate our, we not only increase its nutritional benefit but also our overall sense of wellbeing.