Most people, when thinking about digestion, automatically picture their body from the stomach down. In reality, the digestive process starts even before a mouthful of food has been taken! By focusing on the appearance and smell of your meal before tucking in, digestive juices start flowing in your mouth. This triggers the release of stomach acid and digestive enzymes further down the system. These are all critical to good digestion, and yet can be bypassed by mindlessly eating a meal at your desk or in front of the TV.
It’s also really important to be in a parasympathetic state when sitting down to a meal. This means activating the calm, ‘rest and digest’ part of your nervous system, which gives you the best chance of digesting your food as well as possible.
How can you do this?
- Avoid eating when you’re stressed, distracted (for example by tasks or screens) or on the go.
- Eat when you feel relaxed, at a table and sitting in an upright position.
- Take 3 slow belly breaths before each meal to tap into your ‘rest and digest’ mode.
- Take in the smells and colours of your meals before eating. This activates your brain which sends signals to your stomach that food is coming and starts the release of the enzymes needed to break down your food.
- Chew thoroughly (even soups and smoothies) to mechanically break down your food but also to allow your saliva to mix well with your meal so its enzymes can break down your food further. You’re aiming for a consistency similar to baby food before swallowing!
Create a habit
Starting to build these steps into your mealtimes can have an incredibly positive effect on your digestive health. Try to work through them each time you sit down to eat and see if they make a difference to how you feel. And if you forget at the beginning of the meal? Then take a moment’s pause when you remember to take three deep breaths and focus on the food in front of you – better late than never!