Did you know that stress can cause the body to not properly digest food which can lead to digestive problems and even weight gain? When the body is in fight-or-flight mode, induced by stress – it can’t properly digest food. In this state, oxygen and blood are diverted away from the gut, and the body produces less saliva, digestive enzymes, and stomach acid. Your body is using the energy that should be used to digest food to try to manage the stress.
No matter how healthy your diet, your digestion will be compromised if you are not able to get into a state of rest and digest when eating. In other words, HOW you eat is as important as WHAT you eat!
Before sitting down to meals (or snacks), take a few moments to breathe, get grounded and put other thoughts/stress aside. Your body, and in particular your digestive system, will thank you for this!
Here are 5 tips to create a relaxed meal for optimal digestion:
- Don’t bring your problems to the dining table.
Focus on the current moment and not your current stresses. Try arranging your food nicely on a plate to make it more aesthetically pleasing or setting the table with silverware. These simple rituals can bring the body into a calm state, reminding it that meal time is a time for NOURISHMENT. When you set the intention to put problems aside and make mealtime sacred, you give the body a chance to relax. What you feel impacts your gut, inflammation, and the entire digestive process.
- Eat without distraction.
This is a tough one for so many of us because our lives have become so fast paced that most of us either intentionally use this time to multitask or compulsively reach for a device. Try to create a work and technology-free zone during mealtimes. It is imperative to reduce stress while eating and that is probably not possible when we are thinking about projects, work, current events, or anything else that distracts us from the task that deserves our complete focus – eating! Make a rule to ban phones and devices from the table. Even seeing or hearing notification pop-ups can be stressful so remove that stress from your dining experience.
- Dine in pleasant surroundings.
Set the scene for a calming meal. Clear the table of clutter, put on soothing music, and light a candle. Weather permitting, eat outside! Whenever possible, try to eat with friends or loved ones. There are regions around the world called “Blue Zones” that are studied for their longevity. Each blue zone has a different diet, but a similarity that has been found across all of the regions is that those who live longer frequently share meals with friends and loved ones in some sort of celebratory manner.
- Create body awareness.
Don’t let your mind wander and become distracted from the process of eating and digesting. When we do this, we don’t hear or feel the body’s cues. This is how you may eat a whole plate of food and not even realize it is gone. Try savoring each bite and notice the tastes and textures. Pay attention to your breathing; try taking three deep breaths before a meal or focus on an image that gives a feeling of peace. Tune into the sensations you get when eating different foods (and write it down!)
- Express gratitude.
Expressing gratitude for your food doesn’t have to be a religious act, although for some, saying a prayer or blessing is a common practice. Taking time to reflect on the abundance in your life and to acknowledge what you have can be grounding and relaxing. This sets the tone for the upcoming meal. Gratitude for the food itself and/or for what you’ve appreciated that day is a calming way to begin the meal. Visualize the nourishment in the food and all of the effort that went into getting it on the table (from the farmers, producers, transporters, etc.) Allow your salivary glands to get ready to their jobs by taking a moment to smell the food and anticipate the enjoyment.
Try implementing each one of these tips for a week to see positive changes in only about a month. The GI tract works best when the mind and body are calm, allowing the majority of circulating blood to go to the abdominal areas and allowing the nervous system to focus on digestive functions.
So the next time you think about “multi-tasking” during a meal, think again. Your body deserves a calm state so choose to digest rather than stress!
Leave me some comments about what works for you to “rest and digest”! I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for veggin’ out with me, The Happy Vegan!