Updated: Jun 2
We often think about WHAT foods to eat for gut health but HOW we eat also makes a big difference! If we don't chew properly, it can cause fermentation, bloating, and inflammation in the gut.
Next time you eat, consider these 4 eating habits. They will keep you mindful and present while eating and allow your digestive system to secrete the necessary acid, digestive enzymes, bile, etc.. to not only digest but absorb the nutrients that your body needs.
Habit 1: Get into a Relaxed State
When you are stressed, your body gets into a "fight or flight" mode and the sympathetic nervous system is on. This switches your digestive system off and the blood flows into your extremities so that you can run or combat the source of stress. Your digestion works best when you are in a relaxed mood (parasympathetic nervous system is turned on for 'rest and digest'). So next time you sit at the table, take some time to switch into a relaxed state. When you're conditioned to be stressed out, eating on the go, or rushing through your meal, it might take some practice to get your body into the mood for digesting food. Think of it as foreplay before having sex... you need to spend time to set the mood, stimulate the appetite, light the digestive fire and let the juices flow! It's worth making the extra effort... No? ;-D
Here are a few tips to do that.
1 - say a prayer of gratitude: it has tremendous effects on relaxing the mind and body to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode!)
2 - take 3 deep breaths at the table (make sure you're seated when eating to fully relax and allow the blood to circulate into the core).. while you take these breaths, notice that you're also looking at the food, taking the time to smell and salivate.. this is your body preparing the right enzymes for digestion
3 - put relaxing music on: soothing dinner music can really help take your mind off the daily stressors, the gut and brain are intimately connected so adding calming music will calm the gut and optimize digestion
Habit #2: Chew Very Thoroughly
Chewing your food well allows the saliva to surround the surface area of the food. Why is that important? It's because saliva has enzymes and these enzymes will start digesting the food in your mouth, and NOT ONLY do they help at the beginning of the journey, they accompany the food and travel downstream into the small intestines to continue to support digestion! These added enzymes offload your pancreas and liver. When you don't chew well, these large particles require much more enzymes to digest and pancreatic enzymes become depleted over time. The body will then use its own white blood cells to create enzymes and that weakens your immune system (see reference below). Same principle applies for overeating. Large particles of undigested food can also ferment and cause gas and inflammation in the gut. Over time, inflammation can create increased permeability in the gut lining leading to a 'leaky gut' syndrome. When the gut is permeable, it is a like a fish net with larger holes, allowing unwanted proteins and larger molecules to pass through. The immune system will then be on high alert and issues such as allergies, food sensitivities, can occur.
Chewing Tip: Next time you eat an apple, take a bite and chew it until it's so smooth that you can't even tell the difference between the skin and the flesh of the apple! You can observe the number of chews and how that feels. Your jaw might get tired because just like any muscle that you don't use much, it isn't used to the extra chewing, but with practice, it will get stronger. If you really have trouble chewing due to medical issues, soften your food by using a hand masher or use methods such as blending, juicing and steaming.
Habit #3: Abstain From Drinking Liquids During Meals
Don't dilute the digestive juices by gulping down water.. refrain from drinking too much during meals to preserve your digestive juices. If you need to sip on water to help you chew and swallow, that's ok, but make sure it's lukewarm in temperature so it doesn't constrict your stomach, liver and pancreatic ducts! Cold temperature constricts and warm temperature relaxes.. the cold liquids can also solidify fats and make it harder to digest... don't make your body work harder during meal time to raise your body temperature. Sipping on a little warm lemon or apple cider vinegar water will help with digestion.
Habit #4: Eat Until Just Satisfied (85% full)
When you practice eating mindfully, your gut-brain communication will have time to signal when you are full and when to stop eating. Overeating will overload your digestive organs and it can cause fermentation, bloating, excessive gas, indigestion, heartburn, and lead to inflammation.
Digestion requires a lot of energy from your body. When you eat lighter meals, you will feel satisfied but still have
energy to do some house cleaning (dishes, sweeping the kitchen floor, wiping the counters).. which is exactly what your body needs too! It needs to have enough energy after digestion to detoxify, heal, and regenerate! So next time you eat, listen to your body and stop when you're feeling just satisfied.
Summary of Habits: