I was doing some research the other day on eating habits and happened upon an interesting read The Slow Down Diet, eating for pleasure, energy and weight loss contains lots of very interesting information on the importance of good digestion to our health and wellbeing.
Because we move through our lives at a very fast pace we often eat at a fast pace. I know that I have found myself rushing through a meal, not really paying attention to what I am eating and not feeling satiated but it never really occurred to me that this bad habit might be seriously affecting my health. In fact it’s obvious if you remember that digestion is one of the first things to shut down when we are under stress. Our digestive system is not essential if we are in fight or flight mode; this is why IBS is so common as chronic ongoing stress takes its toll, the brain considers that processing food is just not a priority as it prepare to deal with envisaged threats.
Even if you are not experiencing any health issues, are you absorbing all the nutrients and goodness from your food? As we consume our food in a stressed state, rushing through a meal as we think of the next commitment in our day or reading emails at our desk whilst we grab a mouthful of sandwich, what impact is this having on our digestion?
How often do you feel guilty about eating a particular food or eating a whole packet of something without even really savouring the taste, texture and flavours?
This book explains why and is a fascinating read, it details the complexities of our digestive system and it’s connection with our mental state. It goes into much more details than I can adequately cover in this blog but I have tried to extract some of the key learnings. Being more aware of how we eat and ensuring that you eat in a relaxed state is crucial to ensuring our food is digested effectively. In fact there is a long rather daunting list of effects of stress and if you want some motivation to take more time over your lunch reading the list below might help.
The effects stress has on your body include:
Reducing nutrient absorption by decreasing blood flow and enzyme production whilst increasing nutrient excretion of calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, chromium, selenium and various micro minerals. Even if you take supplements you can’t force your body to absorb them and if you are eating and living under stress you won’t be able influence your bodies natural reactions.
Stress will increase your cholesterol levels and make your blood platelets more likely to stick together, a major risk factor for heart disease. Salt retention goes up as will cortisol which leads to weight gain, abdominal obesity and inhibits the ability to build muscle, in the long term it prematurely ages the body.
Health gut flora populations will go down and this can lead to immune problems, skin disorders, nutrient deficiencies and general digestive disorders.
Thermic efficiency is also reduced which effects the bodies ability to burn calories. Stomach acid production goes up creating a higher risk of stomach ulcers. Growth hormones that help to repair and heal the body go down.
I am actually only half way through the list, but other highlights include insulin resistance, reduction in energy producing hormones, lower sex drive, inflammation within the body generally and reduced kidney function.
Taking time over our food and eating in a relaxed state is imperative to good digestion. Treating your meals and indeed drinks with reverence and appreciation helps your body recognise these substances and satisfy the part of our brain that needs to feel mental satisfaction before it can tell our stomach that it is full. If you savoured that first chocolate biscuit, took small bites and recognised the flavours and textures you might actually decide you have had enough after 1 or that in fact, it is the thought rather than the taste of it that is most attractive. I often crave a slice of chocolate cake and find it disappointing on consumption.
However the good news according to the author, Marc David (founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating and leading teacher of nutrition and eating psychology), is that no food should be considered good or bad. He has helped 1000’s to overcome health issues just by coaching them to slow down and savour their meals. When people savoured their food, stopped making it their enemy and just enjoyed it, their weight naturally balanced and their health issues improved and often disappeared.
Here are the top tips for food consumption and as we approach Christmas often a season of excess perhaps it is a timely reminder to us all that slowing down and savouring the mouthful and the moment will lead to a higher level of quality of health and life.
If you feel you might benefit from slowing down your food consumption why not try this introducing some of these new ways of being into your life and seeing if you feel the benefits.
Take a few deep breaths before you begin eating and chew your food well, stop after each mouthful, savour the taste, texture and flavour and deliberately take some deep breaths during your meal. Even if you are under pressure try to put these thoughts aside at mealtimes. It might feel odd to start with, but you will begin to notice a greater feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment from your meals.
Think about the quality of the food you eat. We can all be tempted by those offers at the supermarket but they usually encourage us to buy more of the type of food we don’t need. Think about trying to buy the highest quality of food you can afford. The less processed better. I am an advocate of organic foods where possible but I appreciate they cost more, fresh, locally grown food is always a good option. However health is our most precious commodity so investing in healthy fuel seems to make good sense to me.
Negative thoughts about food inhibit digestion so enjoy what you eat; there is often a lot of emotion tied up with food. This might stem back to our upbringing and past experiences; if we think about these rationally they don’t make sense but don’t stop to question them. Perhaps you feel you always must clear your plate even when you are already full, or you have a sense of obligation to eat something when it is offered to you even though it is not something you enjoy. Perhaps food gives you comfort but it does not truly effect the cause of your need. Perhaps it’s time to challenge these long followed patterns and start to set up new ones.
Eat with passion and enjoyment. Listen to your body and find the rhythm that suits you and your body. If you deprive yourself even though you are hungry that’s not the right pattern. Consuming food should be in sync with your bodies needs and provide you with pleasure and energy.
Eat regularly to keep your blood sugars regulated and aim to have your higher calorie meals at breakfast and lunch. Try to eat light in the evening and not too late, around 4 hours before bed is ideal, avoid rich, heavy meals.
If you have a difficult relationship with food I would recommend this book. You can check out some more information about Marc who has lots of interesting videos on You Tube.
This is one about brain health: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNjpyfed3PQ
Wishing you a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas.