A note about digestion.
Last year, I decided it was time for me to do something I have always wanted to do; study to be a nutritionist. I searched long and hard for the right program and was fortunate enough to find NTA. Through the NTP program, I was able to learn so many avenues in which to make the body healthy and well. Looking back on what I learned, for me, the most important information was that of digestion. I never thought about digestion before starting this program and boy was it an eye-opener! Digestion is so, so important in maintaining good health. Without it, the food you eat essentially is doing you no good and can actually lead to multiple forms of digestive dysfunction such as heartburn, acid reflux, gas and bloating, indigestion, nausea, inflammation, leaky gut, maldigested and malabsorbed food, (which can literally lead to malnutrition), diarrhea, constipation; the list goes on and on.
What’s the big deal?
If you’re not digesting your food properly, you can’t breakdown and absorb the nutrients from the food you eat. Although this statement seems simple enough, the digestive system is an intricate process of organs working together to get the nutrients your body needs to all the right places so it can function properly. Uh-oh, this is starting to sound complicated, right? It really doesn’t have to be. The easiest way I have learned to ensure my family and I are digesting properly is to have a set mealtime practice.
Are there rules?
Well, there are some key rules to follow but don’t worry, you can implement them any way you want. Just do whatever works for your family. You don’t even have to call them rules; you can totally be a rebel here. I’ll give you the “guidelines” my family uses at mealtime to get you started.
Have a seat
Never stand up to eat if you can help it. You cannot digest food unless you are sitting down to eat. By the way, eating in the car doesn’t count as sitting. You want to eliminate distractions and actions that will make it hard for you to relax since being in a relaxed state is a key component of good digestion. So, have a seat at an actual table with nothing to take your attention away from your meal. We don’t bring our electronics, books, or games with us to the table. We use each others’ company for entertainment. This is a great time to connect with family and/or friends.
That’s right. Inhale and exhale at least 3 times. Pay special attention to the exhale. Consider the exhale of the breath as parasympathetic priming. Para what? I promise, it’s an important measure in digestion and it’s not as difficult to understand as it may seem. There is plenty of information about the parasympathetic state. You can do a Google search and geek out on the autonomic nervous system until your hearts content. You need to be in a parasympathetic state in order to rest and digest. So keep thinking relaxation, enjoy yourself, and you pretty much got this. When we first started doing our breathing exercise before we ate, we felt a little silly but we got over it. It’s totally worth trying. So now it’s getting good, right? Let’s move on.
You’re sitting down and did some breathing; now you’re feeling pretty amazing. So let’s get the anticipation factor going. Digestion starts in the brain. Your body is pretty darn smart and it knows what it wants and needs before the food even hits your mouth. As soon as you feast your eyes on the food before you, your brain turns on and starts sending messages to your digestive system to gear up and get ready for some action. Take a look at what’s on your plate. Have you ever stopped to think what the food you eat does for your body? It has a pretty important job to do, like help keep you alive and kicking. Take a moment and ponder what’s about to happen; imagine the nutrients in the food giving your body energy, health, and vitality. This will get the gastric juices in your stomach to activate so you can properly digest your meal. Now, stick your nose down by your plate and take a big whiff. When you smell food your brain gets to work again. It signals for the saliva to start flowing in preparation for the food it will help breakdown before it reaches your stomach. This makes it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients it needs down the line, so really take the time to experience the different aromas and really get you mouth watering. Be sure to keep your napkin handy. Now’s the time to give thanks in whatever way makes you most comfortable. Saying a prayer or blessing, or simply thanking the cook who prepared your beautiful meal grounds you and shows gratitude. Besides, it’s just plain nice to show you care.
Stating the obvious, right. Not entirely. As I mentioned, we don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about our food and even less time eating it. There’s almost no enjoyment involved in eating most of the time. We are always on the go and hurrying from one appointment to the next. The kids have school and activities and we have errands to run, on top of all the things we need to finish at home. We spend so much time thinking about what we have to do next, we don’t pay attention to eating and before you know it, the dish is empty and about a half hour later, you are stuck with indigestion, heartburn, and/or gas and bloating. Blah. Strive to chew each bite for 30 seconds. This will make the food the right consistency for swallowing, (it should be soup-like), and start the process of breaking down the food. It may seem like a long time to chew but the better broken down the food is, the easier it will be for your body to digest and absorb the nutrients you need and the better you will feel in the long run.
This is the last and my personal favorite part of the meal. Well, right after the tasting part, that is. When you have finished eating your meal there’s no need to rush off to clean up or to hurry off to your next task. Try to find time to sit and enjoy the end of the meal and the company who have joined you at the table. Even if it’s only 15 minutes, it’s well worth the time to end the meal on a high note and just let yourself be in the moment.
What’s the benefit?
If you follow these guidelines, you can greatly reduce the symptoms mentioned at the beginning of the article. Any kind of digestive dysfunction is a pretty miserable affair so use this resource to help keep you on track and in good digestive health.