The lost art of eating

As a naturopath talking to people about their digestive health and diet, many people admit that they barely chew their food, eat in a rush or on the run and often eat to relieve emotional stress. We may be focusing on eating healthy food but barely getting any of the nutrition it can provide if we don’t eat it correctly. The process of digestion requires a number of factors to make sure we break down the food and ensure it is available to be absorbed into the body.

The nervous system needs to be switched onto the parasympathetic which regulates eating and sleeping processes. This branch of the nervous system activates the digestive organs, stimulating stomach acid, enzymes and other digestive secretions, as well as increasing the circulation to the digestive system. The parasympathetic system can only work when the sympathetic side is switched off. This branch of the nervous system prepares us to run or fight and in the modern lifestyle is activated by driving in traffic, working to deadlines, conflict, and other daily stresses. So the truth is our digestive system spends a lot of time switched off. This then leads on to digestive complaints such as indigestions, bloating, heartburn, food intolerances, constipation, diarrhea, dysbiosis (imbalance of gut flora) and many other common complaints.

Chewing is the bodies way of breaking down food into the smallest pieces possible so that the digestive juices can extract all the good nutrition from it. Chewing also mixes the food with saliva which begins some of the digestion in the mouth and also lubricates the food so that it passes through the digestive tract smoothly, reducing the chance of constipation. When we fail to chew thoroughly the food is swallowed in large chunks which resist total digestion in the stomach and small intestine and leaves partially digested food to move on to the large bowel and feed pathogenic organisms such as candida, often causing gas and bloating.

When we overeat we are less likely to digest effectively as the stomach works a bit like a washing machine, agitating the food with the digestive juices to facilitate digestion. When the stomach is overfull this churning motion of the stomach is inhibited and again food may pass undigested and lead to problems further down or may distend the sphincter at the top of the stomach which normally stops the acid content of the stomach escaping into the oesophagus. When this happens we get heat burn.

Try following these guidelines when eating

  • Enjoy and appreciate the food you eat regardless of whether it is chocolate cake or fruit salad
  • Chew thoroughly, the food should be a paste before swallowing
  • Taste the food, truly experience the textures, aromas and flavours
  • Eat slowly, put you knife and fork down in between each mouthful of food
  • Drink small sips of fluids, swish around in your mouth to ensalivate before swallowing.
  • Ensure fluids are neither very cold nor very hot and are not in large quantities for 30 minutes before and 90 minutes after a meal
  • Eat until approximately 75% full
  • Eat regularly
  • Eat with an attitude of gratitude for the production of the food (from farm to plate) and compliment the cook.

Meal Meditation

Food prayer/attitude of gratitude - the story of the meal
Hold your hands over the food or look at the food
Imagine where it came from –
the seed planted by the farmer and tended to,
mother nature and the seasons watering, warming and growing the plant,
the harvest,
the transport,
the distributors who brought the food to us.
The preparation of the food with love and your appreciation of the food - |
its aroma, colour, presentation, it vitality, health giving properties, its flavour and the satisfaction you will experience.

Samantha Warner Naturopath

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