Today we see an unprecedented amount of attention being directed towards certain foods that are proclaimed to be healthy. From Kale to grass-fed beef, coconut oil to hemp hearts or eggs to sauerkraut there seems to be a ever increasing list of super foods and top 5 foods for brain health or fat burning or sleep enhancement. Whatever your issue, there’s a list of 5-10 foods that can help it and even more that are causing it.
This is all well and good and I believe more people need to consciously choose what kinds of foods they are going to ingest and cultivate an awareness about what these foods do to them and for them in terms of reaching their goals and supporting a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.
But there’s another, less talked about aspect when it comes to nutrition which I believe has tremendous untapped potential and which is often ignored by many health conscious individuals.
This is the how we eat factor. The what and why and when have been explored extensively but the how is something I see many of us ignoring.
When I say how we eat I am referring to the mental and emotional state that we are in when we eat and want to share a few things about why this is so important.
You see in order for our bodies to release the necessary enzymes and hormones associated with digestion we must be in parasympathetic dominance which basically means we should be relaxed and in a positive mood state.
To do this there are a few key factors which we can address and by developing these into rituals we can remind ourselves before each meal to slow down, relax and encourage our bodies to optimally digest the meal we are about to enjoy. If you’re eating the most nutrient packed meal ever created but you don’t break it down and absorb it then those nutrients then it offers little benefit. This ritual has become a form a prayer that when I remember to do it always gets me into the right state for eating. The steps that I use to do this are as follows:
1. Breathe: I close my eyes, hold my plate or bowl in my hands and take 3 deep diaphragmatic breaths. Slowly expanding the belly then letting the chest rise and then reversing the process, gently squeezing the air back out.
2. Give thanks: At this point I simply say “thank you”, sometimes out loud, sometimes in my mind if I’m worried people will think I’m weird but often I will repeat these words softly 3-4 times and notice the smile that it creates on my face as I picture other people looking at me wondering “why is he doing that?”. I get a real kick out of doing “weird” stuff like this in public and planting seeds of thought into peoples minds. If I’m really feeling it I will thank all the people and work that went into allowing me to enjoy this nourishing food, everything from the sun, the water, the soil, the farmers, the transporters, the retailers etc. trying not to leave anyone out. I find this puts me into a state of gratitude and floods me with positive emotions which are all very conducive to allowing digestion to occur.
3. Chew: “Drink your food, eat your drinks.” An ancient saying for the wise in order to encourage health. I adopted this practice after my first bowel obstruction and have stuck to it ever since. It was very difficult at first to stop myself from swallowing while there were still large pieces of food in my mouth as this was the way i habitually had eaten for many years but after about 3-4 days of conscious effort I was able to re-program myself to keep food in my mouth and continue chewing until it became like a paste or liquid. It makes eating steak a lengthy process sometimes but it is worth it.
4. Breathe: After you’ve taken the time to chew and chew and chew some more and really experience your meal you can end with another few deep breathes as you now allow the stomach to go to work on breaking down proteins and ionizing minerals which will later be absorbed by the small intestine.
And there you have it, my ritual for relaxing and ensuring optimal digestion through a few simple steps. This is just one of the other ways in which relaxation and gratitude can help contribute to your health and wellness and one which our culture desperately needs. So from now on, whenever possible, don’t be one of those people just mindlessly eating while running around being “busy”, instead try to carve out the time to really nourish yourself on a physical and emotional level by experiencing the miracle that it is to have access to such a abundance of delicious, nutritious foods. It will make you happier, more appreciative and healthier in the process.