How are you eating your food?
One of the most overlooked components of supporting optimal digestion is the mental-emotional state in which we consume our food. In order for our food to be properly broken down and absorbed, our bodies need to be in what is called the ‘parasympathetic’ nervous system state, otherwise known as our ‘rest-and-digest’ state. This is the state of being in which we experience sensations of feeling calm, grounded, at ease, and focused on what’s in front of us. This contrasts with our ‘sympathetic’ nervous system state, otherwise known as our ‘fight-or-flight’ state. This is the state of being in which we experience sensations of feeling stressed, uneasy, distracted or overwhelmed.
When in our rest-and-digest state, our bodies are receptive to eating and therefore carry out the functions focused on consuming and absorbing nourishment. These functions span our entire digestive tract, from the production of saliva and stomach acid, to the release of digestive enzymes and stimulation of intestinal movement. All of these functions work in tandem to help ensure our food is broken down effectively and metabolized efficiently.
Alternately, if we consume food while in our fight-or-flight state, our bodies are not receptive to eating and do not carry out the necessary functions for healthy digestion. Without proper fluid production, enzyme activation, and intestinal activity, our food doesn’t get broken down and absorbed properly, and we are susceptible to negative signs and symptoms. These signs and symptoms may include acid reflux, indigestion, bloating, gas, inadequate nutrient absorption (which can be associated with any other number of concerns), and irregular bowel movements.
There are several small efforts we can make to help ensure we are eating while in our rest-and-digest state, all of which are focused on encouraging relaxation and being present while we eat:
- Cook or prepare your own food or be present in the kitchen while it is cooking – humans have an inherent sensual relationship with food which means that the sights, sounds, and smells of food cooking naturally stimulate our rest-and-digest nervous system and digestive functions.
- If you aren’t cooking or preparing your food or aren’t present while someone else is doing it for you, take a couple minutes to observe it before consumption – paying attention to the colour, smell, and texture of your food will similarly trigger your digestive functions.
- Avoid eating-on-the-run – whether driving, talking on the phone, or walking from place to place, eating while focusing on something else impairs your body’s ability to relax and shift into a digestive state.
- Avoid screens – while we may think we are relaxed and at ease while watching TV or scrolling through Instagram while we eat, our bodies are continually producing cortisol (our stress hormone) in response and preventing the shift into our rest-and-digest mode.
- Go slow – taking time to really chew your food, savour the taste, and breathe between bites is a great way to cue your body’s digestive processes and lean in to its rest-and-digest state.
- Nurture your relationship with food – explore what whole foods you enjoy eating and make you feel well; avoid adopting diets or states of restrictions that create stress and therefore prevent relaxation and enjoyment of your meal, both of which contribute to healthy digestion.
As always, it always begins with the gut! Any time we are thinking about health and wellbeing, our first stop should be nourishment, and adequate nourishment requires adequate digestion.
Eat whole foods, spend more time in the kitchen, turn off the screens, and go slow….
Dr. Danielle DeBlock received her undergraduate degree at the University of Western Ontario in 2013, where she completed a Specialization in Environmental Science and a Major in Biological Sciences. She then attended the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and graduated with a Doctor of Naturopathy Degree in 2018. She became a licensed and board-certified Naturopathic Doctor after completing exams through the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners and the College of Naturopaths of Ontario.
Dr. Danielle’s passion for naturopathic medicine is rooted in her passion for sustainable living and holistic wellbeing. She believes that every human is unique and shaped differently by their own lived experiences, and, as such, believes each person’s journey to health and wellness requires unique consideration and exploration.
To book an appointment with her, click here