We’re living in an age of instant gratification where it feels like everything is playing on fast-forward. How can I multitask more efficiently? How can I get things done bigger, better, faster, smarter…? Everyone is so worried about stuffing their schedules to the brim that we often forget to breathe! Even our idioms are focused on efficiency; “Two birds, one stone.” “Let’s walk and talk.” “I’m taking a working lunch.”
Having a mindful routine is great. In fact, I recommend it! But let’s take a moment to *pause* and consider how autopilot affects us, especially in regard to our eating habits.
Eating on-the-go may stop you in your tracks
Meal prep helps you stay on track throughout your day, and it’s certainly a better alternative to fast-food when you’re on-the-go. Fueling your body with whole nutrients (clean eating) is always the top priority, but even the healthiest options shouldn’t be scarfed down while you’re behind the wheel or running to a meeting, no matter how convenient your hand-held snack may be.
Why? Short answer: proper digestion. The long answer begins by understanding your body’s parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the part of your nervous system that’s responsible for digestion, absorption, reproduction, heart rate, and other essential, yet passive, functions.
The parasympathetic nervous system
In contrast to your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which responds to active threats, such as danger or stress, related to your body’s fight-or-flight (sometimes referred to as fight, flight, freeze, or fawn) response, your PNS is responsible for subconscious responses during times of rest. It controls your blood pressure, sweating, and-drumroll-digestion!
In a parasympathetic state, your body releases a symphony of secretions that help aid in successful digestion and nutrient absorption. Here are the three most important digestive enzymes:
Produced in both the salivary glands and pancreas, amylase helps break down carbohydrates.
Lipase is secreted from the mouth, pancreas, and stomach. It helps process fats, so they can be absorbed through the intestines.
Sometimes referred to as proteolytic enzymes, protease comes from the pancreas and is responsible for breaking down protein.
Digestion is a methodical process, and chewing signifies the start. As soon as you take your first bite, amylase is produced by your salivary glands. This sends a signal to the rest of your body that digestion has begun. The longer your body has to receive these signals, the better and more complete your digestion will be. This is where the intuitive meal-time practice of eating hygiene comes into play.
What is eating hygiene?
Most people would typically associate hygiene with cleanliness, which isn’t far off here. But, when discussing eating hygiene, we’re more specifically referring to the act of how you eat, rather than what. The main idea behind eating hygiene is being mindful, intentional, and undisturbed while you eat to give your body ample time to respond.
Set the tone
Get your body primed and ready to take advantage of parasympathetic mode. Find somewhere comfortable to sit for the entirety of mealtime. Take a few deep breaths to get you into a mindful state and feed your body the oxygen it needs to properly digest. And don’t even think about multitasking! Remember, eating hygiene is about being intentional, so unplug. No calls, meetings, and NO doom-scrolling!
It may sound silly, but the most important step of eating hygiene is chewing your food! It’s the only part of the entire digestive process that we’re consciously in control of, and it’s the part that is most frequently overlooked! Go figure! Chewing your food to the point of liquefaction (or close to it) makes the next leg of the process easier, so don’t rush it. While you’re trying to make this a new habit, counting your chews may help. Aim to chew each bite 20–30 times.
Observe and relax
As you're eating, make it a point to pay attention to your meal. To truly experience it. Are there any new textures on your plate? Comforting aromas? Intriguing colors? It’s natural to associate mealtime with socializing or entertainment, so noticing elements like these helps you stay in the moment and consume more consciously. Once you’ve finished eating, give your body some time to respond. 20 minutes to be exact; the amount of time it takes for cholecystokinin (CCK), the hormone that tells your body it’s full, to be released.
Eating hygiene and functional medicine go hand in hand
Eating hygiene is only one essential part of functional medicine as a whole. Living a healthy lifestyle isn’t about diets and restrictions. It’s about balance, commitment and making better daily choices. The more you do it, the less difficult it becomes… a case when autopilot is a good thing! But sometimes the hard part is getting started. If you need a little push, I’m here to help. We can start slowly with a free discovery session which allows us to get acquainted and set you off in the right direction.