Optimize Digestion with Mindful Eating

From joyful holiday traditions to stressful news headlines, different types of events can sometimes trigger “stress eating” or cause you to lose awareness of the food that you are consuming. It’s so easy to eat mindlessly—grabbing a handful of candy left out on the counter, mowing through an entire bag of chips while watching TV, eating food just because it is there and not necessarily because it is healthy and nourishing for us at that time. The key is to shift from consuming foods “just because” to choosing foods that make you feel vital, energetic, and joyful. This takes attention and intention. Here are some simple tips to maximize your eating enjoyment.

Give Thanks

Before you eat, first sit down, allowing the blood to circulate to your digestive tract. Take a good look at your food. Consider where the food came from, beginning with the seed and the soil, the energy that it harnessed from the sun, the growth of the plant, and, if it’s an animal product, also consider the conditions that it was raised in, its food sources, and its environment. Consider who looked after this food while it was being formed and who harvested it. How did it travel to you and what, if any, processing was involved? And finally, who prepared the meal and was it prepared and served out of love? Give gratitude for the food that you are about to consume that will ultimately be incorporated into your body.

Notice your mental and emotional state

If you are distracted, upset, or stressed, your food will be metabolized differently, going down a pathway that leads to inflammation and potentially creating toxicity. Distracted or emotional eating can also lead you to consume more food than you normally would. Are you able to enjoy the sensory experience of your food, or are you multi-tasking— watching TV, reading, working, texting? And finally, consider who you are eating with. Are you alone or with someone whose company you enjoy or perhaps don’t enjoy? All of these factors play a role in how much you eat as well as how you will digest and metabolize your food.

Slow Down and Observe Your Hunger Level

It is important to eat only when you are hungry and to stop before you are too full. Think of your appetite as a scale of zero to ten: zero being completely empty and ravenous and ten being post-Thanksgiving feast where you feel the need to unbutton your pants. Eat when you feel truly hungry – at about a level two—the last meal has been digested and your stomach is ready to accept new fuel.

Prevent yourself from getting to a zero where your blood sugar has dipped so low that you can barely function. Waiting this long makes it more likely that you will eat whatever is easily available to you, which may not be the healthiest choice. When famished we also tend to eat quickly, leading to overeating.

Eat at a moderate pace, making sure to chew your foods well, since digestion begins in the mouth with chewing and the release of salivary enzymes. It takes twenty minutes for your brain to register that food is in your stomach, so make sure you are taking enough time to eat and digest your meal.

Oftentimes we mistake thirst for hunger, so also make sure you are well-hydrated between meals.

Keep Your Portion Size Reasonable

Many Americans have become accustomed to huge plates that are filled to the rim, while the size of our stomach is about the size of our fist. The stomach does expand to accommodate the volume of food consumed, but the ability to digest is reduced when we overeat. We’re also more likely to accumulate toxic buildup (known as ama in Ayurveda) and experience discomfort, bloating, and heartburn if we overeat.

If you’re accustomed to having an overflowing plate, reduce your portion size gradually and you’ll soon realize how great you can feel from not overindulging. One helpful trick is to use smaller plates or only use the interior part of the plate instead of filling it to the outer edges. Our plate sizes have drastically increased over the last eighty or so years; a contractor friend of mine who rehabs older homes from the 1920s to 1950s often has to replace kitchen cabinets because our modern-day plates are just too big! As you consume your food, focus on its taste, aroma, and texture: studies have found that simply paying mindful attention to one’s food in this way leads to less intake.

Mindful Eating Tips:
• Sit down to eat.
• Mindfully consider the tastes and origins of your food, and practice gratitude.
• Avoid eating when distracted, upset, or acutely stressed.
• Eat only when hungry and stop before you are too full.
• Adjust your portion size to the amount appropriate for your body size and metabolism.

This blog post includes tips and information from my book Resilient Health: How to Thrive in Our Toxic World.


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