- Alyssa Abrahamson
Let's talk digestion.
Where do you think digestion begins?
What’s your digestion like?
Digestion & the Brain
Digestion begins in the brain. The sight, smell, and even thought of food can stimulate digestive juices and prepare your body for absorption. We’ve all experienced the smell of a delicious meal making your mouth water. From the moment your brain is alerted to the taste and/or smell of food, a stimulus is sent to your hypothalamus (the part of your brain that communicates to the autonomic nervous system, which controls body temperature, thirst, hunger, and more). Once signaled, the hypothalamus sends a message to the mouth and your digestive organs. This triggers the production of saliva, and salivary amylase (enzymes necessary for the breakdown of food in the mouth) as well as gastric juices in the stomach that are essential for proper digestion.
However, for digestion to properly work, you must be in a parasympathetic state.
There are two main parts to the autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic, which is your body’s “fight or flight” stress response, and the parasympathetic, which is responsible for “resting and digesting.” When you are relaxed and in a parasympathetic state, your body is ready to absorb, nurture, restore and heal.
WHEN STRESS IS ON, DIGESTION IS OFF.
Digestion & Stress
If you eat while you are working, worried, or tense, you send stressful thoughts to the hypothalamus. This activates your sympathetic nervous system, which in turn stimulates your fight or flight response. When you are in this sympathetic stressful state, your body does not produce the crucial digestive juices (such as hydrochloric acid) and enzymes necessary for proper digestion. Stress diverts blood away from the digestive organs towards our arms and legs, putting us in a primal fight or flight state of being.
Digestion & Conscious Eating
Tips to transform eating habits and inspire you to slow down and eat with awareness:
1) When you eat, eat and enjoy your meal.
Enjoying a meal means sitting comfortably at a table (or on the floor) with no other distractions. How many of you eat in front of your computer, standing at the kitchen counter, or while scrolling Instagram? Simply put, those distractions interfere with digestion. Eating for good health means eliminating distractions so you can fully nourish your body while enjoying the food in front of you. Healthy eating is not a multitasking activity.
2) Take 3 deep breaths before you eat.
Before you begin eating, take three deep breaths. Taking those few moments to consciously breathe at the beginning of your meal helps to transition your body into a calm, parasympathetic state. When you are present, the enjoyment of your meal is enhanced.
3) Acknowledge and give thanks.
Express gratitude. Whether it’s spoken silently in your mind or aloud with dining companions, giving thanks enhances your relationship to how you nourish yourself. It can also be as simple as thanking the person who prepared the food, or, if you’re the cook, thanking yourself!
4) Slow down and chew your food.
Chew your food thoroughly. And to support that, I recommend you put your fork down after each bite. This seemingly simple act of putting your fork down (which is actually kinda hard to it make a habit!) automatically helps you chew more thoroughly. The benefits of fully chewing your food are improved digestion and nutrient absorption (e.g. less bloating & increased energy). Plus, fully chewing your food helps make you feel more satiated. Cheers to that!
5) When you’re full, stop eating.
Sometimes it’s hard to know when you’re full. Overeating, even the most healthy nutritious food, impairs digestion. As delicious as your meal may be, remember you don’t have to clean your plate. When you pay attention while eating it helps you to slow down, connect with your food, and become more aware of when your body has had enough to eat.
6) Take 3 deep breaths after you’re finished eating.
Just as you begin your meal with taking three deep breaths, it’s important to end your meal by taking three deep breaths. Doing this before you get up from the table to rush off to your next responsibility, completes the cycle of eating with awareness.
IT’S NOT ONLY WHAT WE EAT, IT’S HOW WE EAT.
Digestion begins in the brain and when you eat in a relaxed, parasympathetic state, you set yourself up for a happy tummy and a healthy you.
With increased mindfulness of the ways your eating patterns directly affect your well being, you will make healthier choices and enhance ways to nourish yourself.
It is both exciting and reassuring to know you can make lifestyle choices that positively impact your overall wellness. You have the power to change old patterns and choose a path to health, happiness and vitality.
September 3, 2019