How to eat mindfully

By Juliana Kassianos, Transformational Coach, Yoga Teacher and Founder of The School of Fertility

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WHY MUNCH MINDFULLY?

  • Improve your digestion

  • Absorb more nutrients from the food you eat

  • Create a nourishing environment for a baby to grow

  • Improve your egg or sperm quality

  • Prevent comfort eating

  • Prevent overeating

  • Build healthy habits around food

My mum’s gooey hot walnut brownies are to die for. Their sweet chocolaty aroma fills the kitchen as they bake in the oven. Even just thinking about it, I can feel my mouth water and my stomach start to churn. This reaction is my body preparing to digest them, so that by the time I get to take my first bite, my digestive system is ready.

It’s called the Cephalic Phase Digestive Response (CPDR). This is just a fancy term used to describe the aroma, visual stimulation and environment of a meal. Cephalic means ‘of the head’, so you could think of it as ‘the head phase’ of digestion.

Research has shown that 30-40% of our digestive response to a meal is due to the CPDR. This means if you’re not fully present and aware in your eating experience, you could be missing out on a whopping 30-40% of your digestive power.

By being more mindful when you munch, you can increase your digestive response enabling you to absorb more nutrients from the food you eat. This is especially important if you’re trying for a baby as it helps to create a nourishing environment for eggs or sperm to mature, conception to take place and a baby to grow. Follow these four simple steps to munch more mindfully.

STEP 1: DESTRESS TO DIGEST

Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain, which not only affects your thoughts, feelings and emotions, but also processes in the body. It turns on our flight or fight mode, so we can save ourselves from life threatening situations, however, many stresses we deal with today don’t involve life threatening situations.

The body can’t distinguish between real and imagined stress. Let’s say you’re eating a snack, whilst rushing out the door as you’re running late. Your body doesn’t know that it’s not a life threatening situation and so initiates the stress response, as though you were running from a bear. This results in your digestive system shutting down, as blood is diverted away from your digestive system to your arms and legs.

Make sure your body is relaxed before you start eating. If you’re feeling stressed, take a few minutes to practice the 4-7-8 breathing technique, it will help to induce your parasympathetic nervous system and turn off stress.

  • Breathe in through your nose for a count of four

  • Hold your breathe for a count of seven

  • Breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight

  • Repeat

STEP 2: BE FULLY PRESENT

We tend to wolf our food down, whilst scrolling through social media, checking our emails or flicking through a magazine. Feeling the pangs of indigestion, we tend to blame them on what we’ve eaten, not how we’ve eaten. Although it’s tempting to multitask, it’s worth taking 20 minutes away from distractions to eat your meal in a peaceful environment.

When you’re eating, be fully present and use all five senses to take in your food:

  • Listen to any sounds made; popping, sizzling and crackling

  • Look at the colour of your food, the shapes, what does it look like?

  • Take in the aroma, is it sweet or savoury?

  • Notice the texture of your food at first using your cutlery and then when you savour your first bite

  • How does your food taste? What different flavours can you notice?

STEP 3: CHEW YOUR FOOD

Most of us chew and swallow our food without consciously thinking about it. We tend to switch on auto-pilot mode. What we need to remember though is that digestion starts in the mouth. The act of chewing activates signalling messages that prepares the body for digestion. Chewing breaks down our food into smaller pieces. This means the food has an increased surface area for the digestive juices to work their magic on. As we chew, saliva is secreted into the mouth. This contains digestive enzymes that start the chemical breakdown of food and when it’s time to swallow, assists the passage of food down the tube that carries the food into the stomach. At the lower end of the stomach there’s a muscle that has to relax to allow food to leave the stomach and enter the small intestine. Chewing helps to relax this muscle, which allows the food to pass through easily.

If we don’t chew our food enough, then it will pass through our digestive system without being properly broken down, which means that fewer nutrients will be absorbed. Plus, we’re more likely to get atulence and other not so nice indigestion symptoms, as large food pieces become food for bacteria in our colon.

Although we all know we should chew our food, a lot of us don’t chew enough. To get into the habit of chewing, cut your food into small bite size pieces and try to chew each bite 20 times before swallowing. It may seem a lot at first, but you’ll soon make it habit.

STEP 4: BREATHE BETWEEN BITES

Do you scoff your food down as fast as you can, taking hardly any breaths between bites? I know it’s not something we really pay attention to, but becoming more mindful of our breath whilst we eat is really important. Increased oxygen in our blood increases the absorption of nutrients we get from our food and speeds up our metabolism.

In the small intestine we have intestinal villi. These are finger-like projections that increase the absorption of nutrients from food passing through. They also extract large amounts of oxygen to help break down our food. If our blood has reduced amounts of oxygen for the intestinal villi to extract, then nutrient absorption decreases and our metabolism slows down.

Think of metabolism like fire, it needs both fuel, which in this case is food and air circulation i.e. oxygen, in order to burn. So, if we breathe more whilst eating, we increase the amount of oxygen in our blood, which increases nutrient absorption and speeds up our metabolism.

Here are some tips to help remind you to breathe between bites and slow down the pace you eat at:

  • Before you eat take some deep long breaths. This will not only increase the amount of oxygen you take in, but will help relax your system, preparing your body for digestion

  • Think of the mantra ‘eat, breathe, pause’. Put your folk or spoon down between bites and take a breath

  • Play the game ‘who can eat the slowest’ with yourself. Sit back, breathe and observe those around you. Try to eat slower than they are

  • Have a go at eating with your less dominant hand e.g. if you’re right handed, try eating with your left hand


Juliana Kassianos