Daydream with me for a second. You are in Santorini, Greece and you are staying at a beautiful resort. You are with friends, family, your partner, your spouse. You are watching the sunset as you close the day with dinner over the water. You order your favorite meal. The weather is perfect, the conversation is kind, you feel so connected to the people around you and the food you are about to eat. There is no stress, you are eating slowly and with intentionality, recognizing when you are satiated. This is mindful eating.
Mindful eating is about what you eat and how you eat, and allows you to connect with yourself more, which can lead to a fulfilling and healthy relationship with yourself. Eating mindfully is so helpful as you tune into yourself in this way for more reasons than just eating.
Mindful eating takes an intentional effort to be present. It is about being aware and paying attention to your body, your hunger cues, and your surroundings. What if every meal could be as connected and mindful as the dinner you have over the ocean on vacation? What are ways that you can choose to make it so when life is more stressful? As you lean into this conscious practice, let me share why slowing down is good for you when it comes to digestion and elimination.
Why Slowing Down Is Good For Your Digestion
When you eat in a rush, or a state of stress, your nervous system is kicked into overdrive and you are accessing your sympathetic nervous system. This is your fight or flight response state. In this state you are ready to protect yourself from danger or prepare for action.
Because of the adrenaline released to allow this to happen, the quality of your food absorption decreases. While this is a powerful and instinctually helpful state to access, it isn’t meant to be a state to eat, refuel, and absorb nutrients. Adversely, accessing your parasympathetic nervous system or your state of rest is also called your “rest and digest response state”. This is the most ideal state to slow down and eat in and a good reason to be mindful of how and when we eat.
We can get the most out of each meal and allow our bodies to naturally move forward with digestion and elimination. While food has so many other life giving qualities, we especially want to ensure that our bodies are absorbing nutrients and getting the nourishment that we need. Here are some easy and conscious choices that you can make to facilitate a mindful meal.
The Practice Of A Mindful Meal
Don’t Wait Too Long Too Eat
When we wait too long to eat, our bodies not only begin to go into a state of stress, but we also lose the ability to slowly and consciously make healthful choices. Consider packing your meal and planning it out beforehand if you are at work. Be mindful of eating often, even if it is a smaller snack. The more mindful you are about this, the easier it will be to listen to your hunger and full cues.
Speaking of which, take a deep breath before you eat. Avoid eating on the go, or eating when you are stressed. Being mindful of the meal you are about to eat requires your intentionality and thoughtful choices. If you tend to eat emotionally, it is important to recognize the connection between stress and food habits. Ironically, taking a deep breath and stepping away from the stress to nourish and refuel can reduce your stress.
Avoid Highly Processed Foods + Screens + Distractions
Avoid highly processed foods. Eat real, live, whole, fresh food. Avoid boxes and packages that are full of hidden sugar and preservatives. Consider visiting a local farm to become more acquainted with the food you eat. Avoid screens which take away your body’s energy from chewing and digesting well. Studies suggest that watching TV or playing video games while eating may disrupt the ability to regulate energy intake. Connect more mindfully with your meal by avoiding distractions.
Gather and Enjoy
This is the best part. Food is really all about nourishing, refueling, and connecting. It is a time to slow down, relax, and enjoy what you’re eating as you give your body what it needs. Sit outside with your friends, family, or coworkers. Gather around a fire pit, have a picnic on the summer grass, or take a lunch break at work and eat outside. Wherever you eat, you can be intentional about how you eat and engage with food.
Connecting with your food as you connect with yourself with intentionality allows you to be conscious of the food you eat. Next time you sit down for a meal, keep these tricks in mind, and envision your ideal and restful way of eating. Do what you can to implement that and your mental, physical, and emotional health will thank you.