15 Nov The Simple and Ancient Secret to a Healthy Waistline and Optimal Health
Imagine a world where: we are naturally fit and lean; heart disease, diabetes, autoimmunity, and other modern diseases are rare or don't even exist; we sleep deep and peacefully; and we age gracefully without degenerative diseases, such as osteoporosis and Alzheimer's.
While this might sound like a pure fantasy today, evidence suggests that this is how humans lived for the majority of evolutionary history.
One significant influence in this change is our modern lifestyle, which consists of rushing from place to place, lack of mindfulness, toxins, and for some people, emotional triggers around food and eating. These stressors can cause a decrease in gut health, nutritional absorption, and satisfaction. Stress can also lead to inflammation and hormone imbalances.
By adding conscious eating to your life, you can naturally support your body to working more efficiently and intelligently.
What Is Conscious Eating?
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) are the two main subsystems of the nervous system. The SNS is responsible for the fight-or-flight response when you are stressed, active, or multitasking. This is healthy for working, sports, or being busy with tasks during the day. The PNS is known as the rest and digest system, which helps produce a state of equilibrium within the body.
The SNS draws blood away from the digestive organs and into the extremities, such as the arms, legs, and brain, to boost the ability to move and think quickly. When you are in a constant “go mode”, the PNS is decreased, which decreases your digestive power(1) by lessening the secretion of digestive enzymes.
Therefore, if you eat while you're stressed or multitasking, you set yourself up for indigestion and poor absorption of nutrients.
This is where conscious eating comes in. It’s a way of practicing mindfulness while eating. Similar to meditation(2), conscious eating is a practice where you focus your mind on a particular thought or activity to achieve mental clarity.
When you engage in conscious eating you decrease the SNS — this allows you to eat in a calm state of mind. Consciously eating supports the digestive organs to work efficiently, which naturally enhances nutrient intake and absorption.
Why Is Conscious Eating Important?
Conscious eating is important for optimal digestion and wellness. Just like meditation, it decreases SNS activity and increases PNS. As a result, your body is more efficient eliminating normal waste, chemical residues, and heavy metals.
Conscious eating can also help reduce emotional triggers and stress around food and eating(3). The association of stress with mealtime is often derived from childhood mealtimes that were surrounded by conflicts and arguments.
When food is consumed under stress for years, it makes sense that food can become a trigger for emotional challenges. Sometimes the desire to eat is due not only to the lack of nutrients but also to a lack of fulfillment and intimacy in relationships.
In this way, conscious eating is a powerful tool for emotional eating. It can help you develop the sensitivity to distinguish between emotional hunger and actual hunger and to find real satisfaction.
How to Practice Conscious Eating
Take Three Deep Breaths Before Eating
Research on meditation practices shows that conscious breathing(4) can shift your nervous system from the go mode to relax mode. This energetic shift is a simple foundation to support the other steps. Continue the awareness of the full breaths throughout the meal.
Eat Sitting Down
Standing while eating tells your nervous system that you are not entirely safe or are too busy to eat. The urgency of standing tells the SNS to stay active. Calmly sitting activates the PNS, which will give rise to healthy digestion.
Give Thanks or Grace
Gratitude is universal. Whether you're thanking God, family and friends, nature, or the food, the expression of gratitude supports a sense of presence and calmness.
Be Grounded and Present
Keep your feet grounded on the floor while you eat. Align your spine and relax your shoulders. This practice will allow the body to function at its highest capacity. A healthy posture(7) promotes a full, deep breath, good blood circulation, and alerts the nervous system that all is well.
Focus on Just Eating
This type of mindfulness is challenging for many. Focus on seeing, tasting, chewing, and swallowing your food. Be sure to pause between bites. Let it be a meditation instead of a time to check your messages on your phone. When we do, work, overthink, and worry while eating, it takes a great deal of blood and energy away from digestion and brings it up to the head.
Chew Your Food Fully
The first step in the digestive process is chewing. Chewing your food mixes it with salivary digestive enzymes and breaks it into smaller particles. Chewing one bite sixteen to thirty-two times will slow down the eating process, and it will also place your awareness on your mindful eating habits. Chewing in this way will help you achieve balance in your nervous system and power in your digestive system.
In My Practice…
In my practice, as we guide and support our patients towards their healthy weight for life, a large part of the nutritional program is learning to navigate the buffet of food options available today. Educating my patients on choosing the right foods is much more effective when we share the philosophy of conscious eating. Food is gift and eating is a pleasure. When we recognize this, we are able to not only appreciate every meal but also choose the foods that are most healthy for us.