How you eat matters as much as what you eat.
There is constant bombardment on what to eat, why to eat it and when to eat it - and let's be honest there is so much conflicting information out there, what you find will depend on what you search for.
Eat only meat, eat no meat, eat paleo, eat ancestral, eat keto, eat bananas only, eat nothing drink it all...seriously whatever you are looking for you will find.
But that is not the point of this post (I can harp on about what to eat another day), I really just want to focus on something everyone forgets - the all important HOW to eat.
Let me break it down for you.
Our bodies are designed to eat in a parasympathetic state not a sympathetic state. A what state over a what state??? Don't worry, that's what I said when I first heard those words! I'll explain...
The parasympathetic nervous system is one of three divisions of the autonomic nervous system. Sometimes called the rest and digest system, this system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.
The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for intense physical activity and is often referred to as the fight-or-flight response.
The parasympathetic nervous system has almost the exact opposite effect and relaxes the body and inhibits or slows many high energy functions. Therefore, we need to be in a parasympathetic state to eat, not a sympathetic.
Lost me? Let's make it simple.
Before you eat ask yourself this question: What physical and mental state am I in right now?
Then take just a few seconds to evaluate the your body and mind's current position. The answer is not a complex one - for you already know what it is to feel stressed, anxious, rushed versus what it is to feel calm and relaxed.
I know what your thinking - you barely have time to eat let alone the time to worry about what state your body is in when said food is consumed. I get it, I do - its just one more thing to add to ALL the things you have to fit into a day that is not long enough.
The thing is, how you eat really is that important and it really is worth making that little bit of time because it might make all the difference to not only how you feel for the rest of the day but how successful you are at getting all that important stuff done - that's gotten your attention hasn't it?
OK, follow me...
Once you do what I am going to call a 'self check in', a quick hey to yourself to see how your body feels, where your head is at and just an overall - this is how I am right now. Then depending on which of the following your answer looks like, this is what I want you to do -
A: Body feels great, Mind is Grounded - I am feeling my best
B: Body is a bit tired/sore, Mind is hectic - I am feeling busy, stressed and like I do not have time for a 'self check in'
C: Some combination of both A & B - Not really sure what is what today
Now if you are an A right now then wonderful, you're likely to be in or near parasympathetic and favouring an optimal state to rest and digest while you eat.
For those of you that answered B, your body will be sympathetic dominant and tending to be in fight or flight more, therefore less optimal for digestion.
And for those than don't have a Clue right now - I would hazard a guess its like to be the latter.
So what now?
For our lovely rest and digest people, this exercise is less crucial but in my experience I still recommend it as it can only help to relax you further, whilst for everyone else - this exercise is a must.
Get a pen you'll want to write this down. Ready? Right...
Stop what you are doing, and take five deep breaths.
Inhale for 3, and exhale for 5.
Just five breaths.
So simple, you might not even need to write it down.
Honestly it is less than a couple of minutes, you can do it silently, heck you can do it in less time than it takes to brush your teeth. Trust me, you have the time.
When you adopt the breathing pattern of a particular brain state, in this case the rest & digest state, your body will move towards that brain state entirely. So even in a stress response (which most of us are daily), if you adopt a relaxation breathing pattern, deep rhythmic and regular, for less than the time it takes to brush your teeth you can send your body into a relaxation response.
The result being the body creates relaxation chemistry and you literally will change your digestive capacity in minutes. And by inducing a relaxation response you are closer to an optimum state of digestion, which I think is neatly explained by this...
gratitude = parasympathetic state = proper digestion
Breathing exercises might seem trivial or like a waste of time, but this is something that is completely free and really takes no time at all to prepare, to organise or to even actually do.
And what if it really does work? Worth trying i think.
I'd love to hear if you tried it, and how you find the technique...