By Dr. Karen Bender
Slowing Down Improves Digestion
Nutrition is not just about what you eat, but also about how you eat it. Studies have shown that the amount of absorption you get from the food is affected by how you eat it. If you are distracted or preoccupied when you are eating, you absorb less nutrients from the food you are eating. Why is this? One reason is because digestion begins before you put food in your mouth. When you smell food, it stimulates the production of saliva with the digestive enzyme amylase to prepare for digesting carbohydrates. This effect can be maximized by taking the time to slow down and smell your food before beginning to put it in your mouth.
In our modern on-the-go society, many of us do not take the time to slow down and eat. We eat in our cars, at our desks, or while doing other things. Our digestion can be greatly improved by applying the principles of mindfulness and slowing down to eat our food. Simply put, mindfulness means being fully aware in the present moment by engaging all the senses and being attentive to all the sensations we are experiencing.
How to Bring Mindfulness into Mealtime
One strategy for being more mindful while eating is to have some routines and habits around how we eat that optimize engaging all our senses and remove other distractions. Eat at a table that is clear of clutter. Make your table beautiful–have a placemat, maybe light a candle or have some flowers. There is a reason why restaurants go to the trouble of making an attractive dining environment and displaying food on the plate in an appealing manner. These things affect the way we perceive how delicious the food is and how satisfied we are with the dining experience. If we are intentional about the dining environment and take a little effort to make it enjoyable, we are more likely to find satisfaction in our dining experience and will be less unlikely to overeat.
Rest and Digest
Another strategy to be more mindful when you eat is to take three deep breaths before beginning to eat. Try breathing from the diaphragm with exhales twice as long as the inhale. When we breathe this way, we engage the parasympathetic nervous system. The nervous system is divided into two different modes, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. It is in the parasympathetic mode in which we optimally digest our food. In this mode our heart rate slows down and blood flow is directed to the digestive system so that digestive juices like stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, bile, and saliva are produced and secreted to help us digest our food. If we are on-the-go–whether we’re standing, walking, driving etc.–we are engaging our sympathetic nervous system where blood flow is directed away from the digestive system and the production of digestive juices are not encouraged resulting in overall decreased digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food we eat.
Awareness Leads to Better Choices
If we are not taking the time to slow down and eat our food, we are more likely to be dissatisfied by the experience and therefore are more likely to overeat. Think about how many times you have been on a long road trip or watching a movie and ate a whole bag of chips without even realizing it. Despite having done so, we end up still feeling the need to continue to eat. On the other hand, if you sit down and take the time to mindfully engage your senses, you might be surprised how little food you need to eat to feel satisfied by the experience. Try an experiment. Next time you want to indulge in a food, find a clutter and distraction free environment, take three deep breaths before, and express gratitude for the food. Smell it, look at it and observe something about the food you had not noticed before. Then, eat it one bite at time, taking the time to chew completely.
You might be surprised how different your experience is with food and how much more satisfaction you have while eating it. To learn more mindfulness techniques to improve your health go here or call the office to schedule an appointment with Dr. Karen Bender.