We’ve often been taught that digestion starts in the mouth. We are reminded and encouraged to chew a certain number of times and the enzymes secreted in the mouth begin the digestion process. And while yes, this does occur….digestion actually begins before you take that first bite.
Digestion begins in the brain. The moment you begin to think about a meal, the smell, the visuals of the meal, the taste…even the amount of pleasure and satisfaction you receive from the food play a role in how it is digested. The is called the cephalic (head) phase digestion response and contributes to 40-60% of our digestive ability!
How many times have you eaten a meal while you continued to power through your work? Or while driving? Under an intense amount of stress? Or even eaten food with fear, guilt, and shame that it may cause you to gain weight or that you “shouldn’t” be eating it? Unfortunately, these have become cultural norms.
When we aren’t present to truly receive nourishment from our meals and initiate this cephalic phase of the digestive response, our brain doesn’t register the food and will continue to tell us to eat more. If we are consuming our meals quickly, stressed, and possibly in a fear-based mindset (ie. this will make me gain weight, “expert’ said I shouldn’t eat this, this is “bad” for me, etc.) the body will activate the sympathetic nervous system, which means that we will have excess cortisol, blood sugar dysregulation, impaired digestion, immune dysregulation and appetite dysregulation among other things. Because the body believes it is under attack, less blood is supplied to the digestive system. Nutrients from the meal are unable to be absorbed properly and we even excrete more nutrients to help combat the perceived “attack”. We may experience gas, bloating, and digestive discomfort soon after due to eating too quickly and/or in a stressed state as our digestive organs aren’t a priority in a chronic stress state and our gut microbiome is also be shifted under stress.
Let’s all take a deep breath after acknowledging all the things that could be going on when we aren’t in the optimal state of digestion and start honoring some simple things we can do to improve it.
- Step away from work or any other distractions (if possible)
- Center yourself back into the present moment with 3 deep breaths while arriving with your food
- Take in the visuals and scent of the food
- Bless the food: give gratitude and honor all the work that was put into the cultivation of the crops, whoever cooked the food, and that you have food present to nourish your body
- Set an intention: I like to set an intention that my food be digested with ease and grace and all the nutrients of the highest good be absorbed
- Chew each bite with intention as you allow yourself to fully experience all the flavors and pleasure from the meal (so rather than counting how many times you’ve chewed, savor the flavors and textures of each bite as long as you can!)
- Take your time. If you struggle with eating quickly…this may be difficult. Try extending your mealtime by just 5 minutes this week. Remind yourself that there is always enough, that it is safe to be present and eat slowly, it is safe to enjoy and savor your food, it is safe to experience pleasure and satisfaction from a meal.
Fear around food and pleasure are a whole other topic soon to come. Stress can de-sensitize the ability to experience pleasure, so that means you require more of that meal or dessert in order to be satisfied if you eat it in a stressed or fearful state. **(remember those fear-based thoughts and feelings of guilt or shame significantly impact our metabolism!)
For now, I invite you to bring more presence and awareness to your meals. To slow down and fully experience your food in a new way without the old stories that carry the heaviness of fear, guilt, or shame. Bless your meals and your body each time you eat. Honor your divine and sacred temple with the nourishment you deserve.
All of these are simple things to think about and shift at your next meal. And if you find it to be difficult, that is normal. This is a practice, just like anything else in life. Each meal is a new opportunity. Each time you fail you learn something new. Bring some curiosity to your next meal.
Let me know how this goes in comments below!