Gas, bloating, fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, and unpleasant bowel movements are all signs that you may be experiencing digestive upset. As a nutritionist, 95% of my clients report signs of occasional digestive issues; luckily, however, there are simple tricks you can use to ease the digestive process from start to finish. Read on to learn about digestion and the role of mindful eating.
When I begin to address my clients’ digestive upset, one of the first questions I ask after “What are you eating” is “How much are you chewing?” On average, North Americans chew 3-5 times before swallowing a bite; when you think about it, chewing (mastication) is the very first step in digestion.
When we chew food, the salivary glands are producing saliva, which moistens the food and contains enzymes that begin to break down food so they are in a more easily absorbable form for our body. If you fall into the camp of rushing while you eat – and not chewing enough – you are interfering with the very first step of the digestive process. And as we know with all pathways and processes, if the first step is done incorrectly, the rest of the process may not be optimal.
How can we ensure that each bite is going to be chewed properly? The simplest answer is mindfulness!
Meditation is a human practice that has been in existence for over 5,000 years. The ancient Vedas of India were the first to document this practice, and others in China and Japan followed shortly after. With the help of Buddhism, meditation went on to gain popularity worldwide.
Mindfulness based meditation practices and Kundalini yoga have many applications in stress, You can learn more about the clinical effects of meditation in my article on stress management.
Mindfulness can also help in the digestion process. The practice of “mindful eating” is simple: the main goal is to chew each bite at least 30 times. This will fully break down the food to a liquid or paste-like consistency so that the rest of the GI system can perform its functions best.
Here is how you do it:
1. When you are sitting down to eat, turn off ALL electronics: computers, cell phones, TVs, etc. (or at least have them on silent and out of sight)
- Don’t worry if you love to post photos of your meals – you can still “tweet it before you eat it.” Get the good photo, post it, then put the phone away
2. Take a moment to express gratitude for the meal. This can be done silently or aloud
3. Smell your food
4. Look at the food, admire the plating (if it was served to you)
5. Then chew slowly 30 times, take a few deep inhales while you are chewing, even close your eyes for a moment to really focus on taste
6. Put down the fork between bites to savor the experience
If this all sounds a little too woo-woo for you, I get it. Just try steps 1 and 5: chew your food well and eliminate distractions. If you really want a challenge, try chewing 100-200 times per bite as recommended in some macrobiotic schools of thought.
When I do lectures, and sometimes with clients, I’ll do a mindful eating exercise. I start with having each person take a bite and chew it 3-5 times, then without swallowing hold the food in their mouth and feel how big those chunks are! I dare you to give it a try. You’ll notice just how rushed you are at each meal and how much harder you are forcing your body to work by not chewing properly.
The interesting part about mindfulness is that it must be intentional. If we all had to be mindful in our breathing (rather than it being an automatic action) many of us wouldn’t last very long!
Remember, like with any skill, mindful eating is a practice. Make the best effort that you can to eat mindfully at each meal, and if you are someone that deals with digestive upset, note whether this makes a difference for you.
Are you a mindful eater? Tell us below! Or give the experiment a try and let us know how it goes.