Step 1: Cook real food
Diet is the foundation of health! You have probably heard time and time again that “you are what you eat”. I’ll add to that by stating that not only are you what you eat, but you are what you absorb and what you don’t excrete. Many NDs feel that the root of all illness starts in the gut – heal the gut and you can heal anything.
Everything that passes through your mouth informs your body. In our modern society, we are often missing the first step in the digestive process. Digestion starts with the sense of smell when we are cooking our food and then that sends a signal to the brain that food is coming. The brain then sends a message to the stomach along the vagus nerve to get ready – food is coming. This first step is missing for most of us as we no longer spend 20-60 minutes preparing our food. Instead, most of us unwrap something and down the hatch it goes – and many of us have digestive complaints such as: gas, bloating, heart burn, diarrhea or loose stool, constipation, nausea, etc.
Ideally, cook at least one meal per day. Digestion is a parasympathetic process – which means that we need to be in a calm, relaxed state when we eat in order to get the maximum benefit from the food we are eating. Many health experts focus on the food – which is important – but the mental emotional state you are in when you eat that food is equally important. If you are stressed out, it is unlikely you will get the full benefit from the food you are eating.
Step 2: Support digestion through the Breath
Therefore, step 2 is to take a few deep breaths before you eat to shift you into a parasympathetic state. This is especially important if you haven’t cooked your food. Spend a few extra few minutes thinking about where the food came from, who grew it, made it or prepared it for you, and all the steps involved before the food arrived on your plate. Visualize your stomach being ready to receive the food before you even take one bite. Saying “Grace” or giving thanks before eating is a great way of pausing before consuming.
Step 3: Chew and then chew some more
When you do eat, there are a few key steps involved:
- put your fork down between bites
- thoroughly chew your food – as they say for solids: “make your food liquid” and for liquids: “chew your liquids”. I encourage everyone to chew as many times as it takes to make your food liquid – 20, 40, 60, 80, 100 times.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full – because you are busy chewing and being present with your food
- If you are full, you don’t need to finish all that is on your plate
Step 4: Relax
The key to relaxing during mealtimes is to sit down when you eat and not do anything else ie don’t multi-task while eating. So when you eat, just eat. Don’t talk on the phone, watch TV, read or work.
I know I sound like your mother 🙂 . The reason for these steps is many are eating unconsciously and the idea behind these four simple steps is it allows you to be present and to eat mindfully. When you do that, you are less likely to over consume and you are more likely to get the nutritional benefit from your food when you are in a parasympathetic state.
You can have a pleasant conversation with someone while eating as long as you continue to stay calm during the digestive process. The other important reason for these steps is the more aware you are and the more time you take to eat, this increases the likelihood that you will recognize the “full” signal when it is activated in you.
There are many myths around eating – some of which might be guiding your beliefs around food, such as:
- I need to eat everything I put on my plate
- I must eat because the clock tells me to
- I have to avoid certain foods because they are bad for me
- It is hard to lose weight
- Cooking for one person is boring and not fun
Take some time to write in your Beyond the Label journal about any beliefs that may be guiding your eating.
You will notice that I haven’t talked about the actual food you are eating. Instead, I’ve talked about the “state” I’d like you to be in when you eat and the preparation process around eating. Give these steps a whirl and let me know how it goes! ~ Here’s to your health! Dr. Chris