Written by Lexie McPhee | Thursday, 25 April 2019
There’s quite a bit that happens in the process of digestion, even before the first bite enters your mouth. Imagine right now that you are holding a perfect lemon, fresh from the tree.
You slice it in half and then in half again. Now you have a zesty wedge, oozing sourness. Imagine you take a bite - the tang is eye-watering! Are you salivating? The mind has more control over your digestion than you might think! Just planning, cooking and anticipating a meal can trigger the release of gastric juices and digestive enzymes that are vital for proper digestion. This is due to the role of the olfactory nerve – you smell spices, onion and garlic frying in a pan and immediately feel hungry (Connor, Zhou, & Liu, 2018).
When we rush from task to task, shovel in a quick lunch in front of the computer at work, or try to eat when still stressed from a busy day, the food can feel like it just sits in the stomach. Sometimes it can sit there so long we feel bloated, queasy or experience pain and cramps. If this is a frequent occurrence for you, the easiest thing you can try is to pay more attention to your food and the eating environment.
It doesn’t matter what you are about to eat – try eating it mindfully. Get the food out and spend a few seconds looking at it, smelling it, noticing the colours, textures and ingredients. Even better is taking an active part in the preparation of food – cooking from scratch and chopping, adding ingredients and cooking. This prepares the body for digestion – a task that demands a lot of energy and resources in order to actually absorb the nutrients you are putting in!
Stop gulping and chew your food into a paste before swallowing. This can usually take 10-20 chews. Mastication (chewing) does the bulk of the work, reducing the burden on the stomach and gut to break down food. It also stimulates the release of saliva and a subsequent cascade of enzymes required for properly breaking down carbohydrates, fats and proteins so that they don’t sit in your stomach like a rock (Pedersen, Sørensen, Proctor, & Carpenter, 2018). Chewing gives your body time to actually register the inflow of food and regulate appetite – you may find you feel fuller more quickly and don’t need to eat that second (or third) helping. Using your fork with your non-dominant hand, or putting down cutlery while you chew can also help you to slow down.
Digestion is not a priority for your body when you are stressed. The body thinks you’re in danger and will shunt blood away from the gastrointestinal tract towards the limbs in case a quick getaway is needed. Avoid stress at the dinner table – there’s a reason politics and religion are banned topics at dinner parties! Take 3 long, deep belly breaths before eating, to remind the body and mind that you are safe and can enjoy the delicious food in front of you.
If these simple changes don’t work, or if gut pain is a significant issue for you, it is recommended that you seek tailored advice from a qualified health professional like a Naturopath or Nutritionist. Digestion and gut health is a pivotal part of overall health and vitality and must be a priority for all of us!
Connor, E. E., Zhou, Y., & Liu, G. E. (2018). The essence of appetite: Does olfactory receptor variation play a role? Journal of Animal Science, 96(4), 1551–1558. https://doi.org/10.1093/jas/sky068
Pedersen, A. M. L., Sørensen, C. E., Proctor, G. B., & Carpenter, G. H. (2018). Salivary functions in mastication, taste and textural perception, swallowing and initial digestion. Oral Diseases, 24(8), 1399–1416. https://doi.org/10.1111/odi.12867
Lexie is an Endeavour College of Natural Health Alumni and online Naturopath. Her 100% online clinic and e-courses have enabled her to relocate to sunny Portugal whilst still serving her clients worldwide. She focuses on supporting women with acne and mentoring new Naturopaths in the treatment of skin conditions. Her current research obsession is metabolic nutrition and bio-energetic health.