On Conscious Eating

On conscious eating
Nutritionist Rebecca Andrist tells us how conscious eating can give us more energy, better digestion and greater enthusiasm for life.

Slowing down, relaxing, being present, enjoying the moment, we all know how important these things are.  And it’s no different when it comes to food and your digestion. These concepts can mean the difference between digesting and metabolizing a meal or not, putting on weight or losing it, and feeling energized or feeling sluggish, to name just a few. Research has shown that eating in a rush or when we are stressed can greatly diminish how many nutrients our bodies will be able to extract from our food, and less nutrients equals less energy.

When we can learn and practice how to eat consciously, we will automatically increase our digestive capacity and feel better. Always.

I grew up on a large farm in Canada in a family of four children, so taking time with meals was not a big priority. Mealtimes were often a race to see how much we kids could wolf down. Rushed eating became a habit and my digestion suffered. As I got older, I had to learn how to slow down and be present with food, which in the beginning wasn’t easy, as our childhood patterns can run very deep.  So it became a practice for me to eat slowly, chew thoroughly and enjoy the benefits of good digestion.  As well as learning to slow down, I picked up a few other important tricks along the way, which I want to share with you here:

  • Never eat when stressed or in a rush

When your body is in the middle of responding to a stressful situation – whether your stress is real or perceived – your energy will be needed to act out the ‘fight or flight’ response that’s hard-wired into our DNA, and there will be little left over for digestion. So when you sit down to a meal, make sure you are relaxed and not worrying about what just happened, or what you need to do when you finish. Simply be present, eat slowly and breathe. A helpful tool is to take a minimum of 5 deep slow breaths before you begin to eat.  Relax your belly, breathe in and out slowly and feel gratitude for the food that is in front of you. This will automatically shut off the stress response and is an incredibly powerful tool to increase your digestion and energy levels.

  • Eat to the point of energy and not to the point of fullness

The Japanese have a saying for this and it’s called ‘Hare Hachi Bume’, which means eat to 80% full and leave 20% free space in your stomach to ensure optimum digestion. If you overeat, the enzymes and acids in the stomach that aid digestion will not be able to come into contact with all of the food that you have eaten, and this will inhibit digestion, leaving you feeling bloated, lethargic, gassy, uncomfortable and even depressed. So when you eat, remember that a little less is definitely more and that after your meal you want to have the energy to do the things that you love:  play with your kids, go for a walk or make love, instead of complaining about how full and tired you are!

  • Enjoy your meals

When you are experiencing pleasure while eating, your body automatically goes into the relaxation response and your digestion is increased – so love what you eat, savour it, take pleasure in it, enjoy. Too many people, especially women, feel guilty about what they eat and don’t take pleasure in the tastes and sensations. Others eat in a rush, leaving little time to enjoy the process. Whatever you decide to eat, even if it’s something you might consider ‘bad’, decide to fully enjoy it because great pleasure equals great digestion.

  • Choose high-quality food

When you eat high quality, preferably organic, unprocessed and natural whole foods, it’s harder to overeat, because these foods are nutrient-dense and contain the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function properly.  Processed foods are usually poor quality foods that are low in nutrients, and that’s why it’s easy to eat too much of them.  Your body is always searching for the nutrition in the food and when it doesn’t find it, it will continue eating. So whatever it is you love to eat, search out the highest quality version of that food.  Think organic kale and broccoli from a local farmer’s market, raw organic goat’s cheese from a good cheese shop, grass-fed beef from your local butchers, or dark chocolate from that special chocolatier you always wanted to check out.  When you stock your kitchen with high quality food, you will automatically feel better and have more energy. You might spend a little more money in the process, but who can put a price on feeling good?

  • Think positive thoughts

The thoughts that you think while eating are extremely important, as your thoughts can directly influence how a meal is metabolized.  Negative thoughts about food directly inhibit digestion through nerve pathways, hormones and other substances, and positive thoughts about food enhance digestion. If you are feeling guilty about eating a ‘naughty’ treat, the brain will take this negative input and send signals to the autonomic nervous system that will inhibit digestion. Instead of digesting the treat, your body will store it as fat – a very good reason to love everything you eat, right?!

Learn to eat healthily on a retreat

Rebecca Andrist runs effective healthy eating holidays and juice fasts around the world with her company Jiva Healing. Take a look and drop her a line via our pages.

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