How many of your meals this week involved grabbing something in between activities? How many did you actually sit for? How many times did you make time to linger with your food and company? If you're like most Americans, I bet many of your meals were hurried, stressed, quick and unmemorable. We live fast paced lives and our meals reflect that. We spend less time on eating and meal prep than many of our European counterparts yet we weigh a lot more.
There are many studies showing that we eat less calories when we eat slower. But even more than that, we don't process food or regulate our bodies well when we are eating fast. When we are hurried and stressed our bodies are running on our Sympathetic Nervous System - the software of the body that regulates 'fight or flight'. When we're in this mode, our body releases cortisol, holds on to water, holds on to fat and refuses to lose weight. We also don't bother digesting food well or absorbing most of our nutrients - our body is ready for a fight! Who has time to worry about nutrients when we're running on fight mode!?!
The Parasympathetic Nervous System, on the other hand, is known as the rest and digest mode. Our blood pressure lowers, our cortisol drops, we can breath deeply and digest our food. We can take in all the nutrients our food provides and make our necessary hormones, endorphins, and enzymes. In this state, we can enjoy our meal and know peace. And use the calories we ingest more efficiently. Doesn't that sound like a better way to spend a meal??
Here are some suggestions on HOW to slow it down, activate your digestion, and encourage your body to be efficient:
1. Take 3 long, slow breaths before eating anything at every meal. Check in with your body. How do you feel? What tension can you let go of to be present for this meal? Can you talk about the day or make important decisions much later?
2. Say a short blessing before you eat. Our body responds to this regardless of our spiritual or religious beliefs. You can thank the creator, your family, the farmers involved in yielding this food, the cook, or the sun itself for its part. The details don't matter as much as the conscious awareness that the food going into your body is blessed. That you feel gratitude for the time and energy you're eating. That your body can then work on digestion.
3. Take as many chews as possible to get through your meal. Can you make the meal last at least 20 minutes? That's how long it takes your mind to register feeling full. And how long it takes your body to produce the necessary digestive enzymes to break down your food into the nutrients your body needs. Try putting your fork down between bites. Take long sips of water. Do another set of deep breaths. Make sure you're seated.
4. Check in with your body halfway through the meal. Do you feel any different than at the beginning? Has your energy increased?What are the tastes on your tongue? The thoughts in your head? The feelings in your heart?
Try tapping into your Parasympathetic zen before you eat, during your meal, and for a bit afterward and see how much better you feel in your body.