Four habits for better digestion

March 11, 2019

Unless you’ve gone out to eat for the experience, a swanky restaurant with a view and ambiance, it’s all too easy to ignore the surroundings and focus on the food.  While food is obviously the main attraction when it comes to meal times, it isn’t the entire show.  Consider how you feel cozied up on the couch watching the fire in the fireplace snacking on popcorn compared to how you feel scarfing down an apple as you’re rushing to an appointment.  On the couch your parasympathetic nervous system is active, and you are relaxed and enjoying the saltiness of the buttery popcorn on your taste buds.  On the way to the appointment you’re watching the clock hoping you make it on time, and your sympathetic nervous system is active.  Chances are good that your body is going to digest the popcorn better than the apple.  Chances are also good that snacking on the popcorn was a more pleasurable experience.

When you eat in a comfortable relaxed setting, you digest food better because your body is prepared.  Your body has activated the parasympathetic nervous system which increases saliva production, releases digestive enzymes, and relaxes muscles.  All of which improve digestion, from the first bite all of the way through the digestive tract.  When you eat in a hurry or with stressful surroundings, it’s more likely that your sympathetic nervous system will be active.  This keeps your heart rate higher, reduces saliva production, halts the release of digestive enzymes, and contracts muscles; none of which is optimal for digestion.

To make every meal as easy to digest as the popcorn snack on the couch, here are four habits you can build into your meal time routine.

  1. Keep your eating space clear of clutter.
  2. Add one or two nice things to your table that bring you joy. It could be fresh flowers, candles, a classy glass, a funky dinner plate, or a seasonal place mat.
  3. Before you eat, take a few deep breaths. Ideally, do this while you’re preparing the food, so that your body can switch into digestive mode.
  4. Eat mindfully. Enjoy the food, savoring every bite.  If this is difficult, reflect on positive parts of your day or week, or share the meal with someone whose company you enjoy.

Just like all new habits, it will take some time and effort before they become routine.  Try it out though, and notice the shift in how you feel.  You’ll start to look forward to meal time not only for the delicious food, but also for the calm space you’ve created around meal time.

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