Why WHAT we eat is only half the equation when it comes to our diet.

So what is the other half of the equation? FUN FACT – it’s not nutrition or exercise!

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Getting ready for work while trying to gulp down your breakfast?
  • Eating lunch at your desk?
  • Eating while driving?
  • Grabbing a sandwich as you rush from one appointment to the next?

Don’t worry…you’re not alone! We all do it, but do you really understand the impact that stress has on your body’s ability to digest food and make sure you have the energy for all the things you want to do?

Most people focus on what they eat but that is only half the equation.  How we eat is the other half and is equally as important.

When your body is experiencing stress of any sort, it is not in an ideal start to digest food and absorb nutrients, because it can’t digest well. It stems back to ancient times and our body’s innate ‘survival’ instinct, where in times of stress our body goes into fight or flight mode and blood is directed away from digestion to other parts of our body that would enable us to flee or fight! Even though most of our stress these days isn’t related to survival, we still experience the same effects on our body:

  • Cortisol which is the primary stress hormone increases
  • Nutrient absorption decreases
  • Nutrient excretion increases
  • Gut flora decreases
  • Salt retention increases
  • Our ability to burn calories is reduced because thermic activity decreases
  • Blood cholesterol increases

We all experience stress in our lives, in fact 84% of the world’s population are experiencing stress[1] .

1 www.cigna.com

Sometimes it’s not that easy to ‘turn off’, but when it comes to mealtimes, here are 5 simple steps you can take to reduce the level of stress when you eat to help your body relax, digest your food and be able to assimilate more nutrients which is ultimately going to help your body keep going and have the energy you need for the things you want to do.

1. Slow down and extend your mealtime. Do you ever get that feeling where your meal feels like it is sitting like a lump in your stomach? One of the reasons might be because you’ve eaten too quickly which can also lead to over-eating. Ideally you should be aiming for the ’20 minute meal’. Why? Because that’s how long it takes for your stomach to start to feel full! I know when I first heard this I thought, ‘I don’t have 20 minutes for breakfast!’ If I told you that taking a break for 20 minutes was doing to make the difference in your digestive issues, your ability to lose weight, your energy levels, would you be willing to try it? Would it be worth stretching outside your comfort zone to see if it made a difference? If you can’t take 20 minutes, you can take the 7 day challenge!  Try experimenting every day for 7 days by increasing your mealtime, even if it’s just a few minutes. Put on a timer and challenge yourself to make your meal last the entire time. Tune into your body and start to notice how you feel. Is your meal sitting better in your stomach? Did you notice you felt satisfied more quickly? Did you enjoy it more? Try and keep making small changes and develop a new habit of slowing down your mealtimes. 

Slow down! Experiment with taking time to stop and extend your meal times.

2. Eat with your senses and chew your food. Eating isn’t just about your gut, your brain is also involved too! There is a feedback loop going on between your gut and your brain. Your brain needs time to assess what’s coming in and if you do struggle with over-eating, one of the reasons might be that your brain hasn’t had time to experience the pleasure, so sends messages to keep eating.

Eating Psychologist Marc David in his book “The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy & Weight Loss” explains that the more aware and present we are while we’re eating and sensing the entire experience with all of our senses, the more positive the impact on our digestion.

Think about Christmas dinner. Don’t those memories bring back smells and tastes and your mouth starts to water? Or you notice how visually appealing food looks and you can’t wait to tuck in? Our digestive process starts even before the first bite. Your mouth prepares saliva and digestive enzymes and sends blood to the digestive organs. So if you’re not present and aware when you’re eating, you’re actually missing your digestive power!  

Remember your mum telling you to chew your food properly? She was actually right! Chewing signals your body to start preparing for digestion which starts the secretion of hormones in the stomach and the pancreas which help with digestion. The more you can chew your food, the more exposure it gets to saliva and digestive enzymes that are important for the first phase of digestion. If you don’t chew your food properly, your food will pass through your Gastrointestinal Tract without being properly broken down, so nutrients will be wasted. Remember, you are not just what you eat, you are what you absorb!

So slow down and eat with all of your senses. Breathe in and smell the aroma, look at the food you’re about to eat, enjoy the tastes and flavours and chew slowly!  

3. Put your fork down at least 3 times during a meal. This helps to automatically slow down your eating speed. You can even make a game out of it with the family!

4. Breathe between bites. Oxygen is a key nutrient that can speed up metabolism. We are often so focused on the macronutrients of the foods we eat, but ignore this key nutrient that helps burn all the other nutrients in the body better. Just like a fire needs fuel, paper, a match and air circulation, the same applies with food. Our body needs large amounts of oxygen to help break down a meal. When there isn’t enough oxygen, nutrient absorption decreases, so slowing down, breathing between bites and making sure your body is getting plenty of oxygen will help increase absorption of nutrients and increase metabolism.

5. Eat until you are satisfied, not full. Eating is partly for pleasure but we all know that if we eat too much we can feel uncomfortable and sluggish. Ideally, we want to feel energised after a meal, not weighed down. This can be really tricky for people like me who were brought up to eat everything on your plate! By slowing down and tuning into your body, you will start to notice the signals it sends you. Pay attention to how you’re feeling when you’re eating and check in with your ‘fullness’ scale. Experiment with not finishing everything on your plate and see how this effects your energy levels and the time between feeling full and hungry.

Remember that food is about more than just nourishment for your body, it is nourishment for your soul! So slow down, breathe, relax and enjoy not just your food but the whole experience and tune into the difference this makes to your body.

Try my “Mindful Eating 7 Day Challenge” and choose one of these techniques and practice it every meal time for a week, or if you’re really adventurous try them all! The most important thing is to start somewhere! When it comes to health, my favourite saying is “Small hinges swing big doors”, meaning that the small changes you make over time can add up to big changes!

If you’re not achieving your health goals at the moment and might need some support, I’m a Health Coach and would love to chat so please get in touch!

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