By Kristin Lehar –
The kind of food we eat has an enormous impact on the health of our bodies and minds. This is not news. The classic statement “you are what you eat” has truth to it in the sense that your cells build and renew themselves from the fuel you give them and your cells all together make up your body. Thus, limiting the amount of processed and refined foods while nourishing your cells with a variety of high quality whole foods is vital if supporting vibrant health within the body is a part of how you choose to live.
However, there is one overlooked but ever so significant detail when it comes to eating and that has less to do with what you eat, but rather how you eat. I am referring to what is known as mindful eating. In many scenarios, how you eat can be more powerful than what you eat and you can use it to your advantage in times of mediocre eating though that is not to say that eating poor quality foods won’t do any harm so long as you eat them mindfully.
More often than not, we find ourselves totally absent minded when eating a meal. Does eating your toast or smoothie while rushing to pack the kids’ lunches in the morning sound familiar to you? Or perhaps you eat breakfast in the car while navigating through the hustle and bustle of the morning? Maybe you skip breakfast altogether despite the growing void in your stomach that calls for your attention. In the ever-increasing business of our schedules and countless distractions meal time has become a time of multi-tasking much like any other time of the day and even if we have the time to unhurriedly enjoy a meal we often feel the need to occupy our minds with something other than the food we are eating—browsing through eye-catching posts online while eating is likely something we are all guilty of doing.
The way we eat has significant impact on the digestive process. Compromised digestion is the root of numerous disorders and ailments, big and/or small. The topic of digestion is in fact so vast in its implications that it would require an article or two (or three) of its own but knowing that mindful eating is where it all begins is a perfect start.
The importance of eating in a relaxed manner cannot be overstated. It is all too common to eat in a hurry, on the run, or while the mind continuously plays exasperating, agitating, and anticipating thoughts on repeat. These circumstances are no friend of the digestive process, quite the contrary, in fact. While under stress induced either by physical or mental conditions, the body’s sympathetic nervous system is running the show. This sets the body up to deal with stress and what is known as the fight or flight response is activated during which blood is shunted away from the digestive tract and enzyme secretions needed to break down food are diminished compromising stomach and intestinal function. Thus, eating under stress will lead to food not being properly digested.
I have come to learn that many people think food that doesn’t get digested by the body simply passes right through them; sure, they didn’t get the nutrients from the food, but at least it’s not going to do any harm. Not so. Food particles are absorbed into the body – digested or not – and undigested food particles have the ability to wreak havoc on your immune system over time. Chewing food is a critical part of the digestive process. We have all been told to properly chew our food at one time or another but its importance is usually unrealized. Since our stomach does not have teeth, it is our job to consciously break down the food in our mouth so the stomach can do its job in the next step of digestion. The stomach is taxed if it must compensate for a job not well done in the mouth. Furthermore, our saliva contains enzymes that begin the digestion process of carbohydrates. There have been studies demonstrating that up to 80 per cent of carbohydrates can be digested by saliva enzymes alone. So, chewing foods for even just a couple seconds longer could have some real benefits, as can taking a deep breath before eating a meal and putting the stress aside until you finish. If you absolutely cannot do this, try eating small snacks until you can find a quiet, relaxing space to eat a full meal.
Mindful eating is being aware of your body before, during, and after a meal. Take a moment to pause whatever you are doing and put your full awareness in your body. When we pay attention to the way we feel before, during, and after eating a meal, we are suddenly more in touch with the body and its needs and discover things that would have gone completely unnoticed otherwise. We realize that we may not actually feel like eating any meat today but rather, our body longs for the vitamins and lightness of a more expansive meal such as a salad. Or we may realize after a week of eating nothing but vegetables and fruits we crave a more grounding and substantial meal. Perhaps we are in fact not even hungry at the moment. Our body has its own profound intelligence that can truly amaze us if we listen to it. It has the ability to bring itself back to balance when we have veered far off in one direction.
It seems like a simple concept yet it is so rarely implemented. It is not an easy task in this day and age, but if we choose to make it a priority to be mindful at and around mealtime, we can make the experience that much more enjoyable and beneficial, and it will extend deeper than we may think.
Kristin is a holistic nutritionist whose main goal is to live a simple and awesome life. She loves to inspire others to realize the power of the body and its amazing capabilities to restore and maintain health and to realize we each have the power to bring our bodies back into well-being. Having love for and being connected to the language of the body is the first step on the path to a thriving life and planet.