Eating is such a MASSIVE part of our lives and yet a lot of us don’t spend very much time thinking about the way we eat and how our food makes us feel. Our primary source of energy comes from our food and if you find yourself chronically tired and fantasizing about a bakery or sweet shop, then it would be wise to take a look at what you’re eating, why you’re eating it and how you’re eating it.
When you break down a few simple truths about how our body responds to the food we eat and what we can do to help the digestive process, you might feel a bit annoyed at how crazy simple it all is and that years of struggling with weight issues, bloating, feeling totally wrecked after eating and symptoms of IBS could have been avoided if someone had just told you sooner!
The Truth about Digestion
Our digestion is controlled by a function of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), called the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). The PNS is responsible for what is know as our body’s “Rest + Digest” response. It’s opposite state is the reaction of the sympathetic nervous system which is the “Fight or Flight” response. Rest + Digest is the state you want to be in (obviously!) when you need some down time, when you’re eating and digesting your food and when you’re ready for sleep. Fight or Flight is an excellent state to be in when your running away from a tiger that is about to eat you or running from a burning building. It is not, however, the state that you want to be in when you are doing the important work of digesting and assimilating nutrients from your food!
“When the brain senses a major problem (such as pressure or anger), it naturally wants to solve it. To do so, it needs energy which it borrows mainly from the gut. The gut is informed of the emergency situation via the sympathetic nerve fibers, and is instructed to obey the brain in this exceptional period. It is kind enough to save energy on digestion…this system is not designed for long – term use”. (1)
In the course of our busy days, filled with deadlines, places to be, an overwhelming to do list, expectations from others and expectations we put on ourselves, our sympathetic nervous system is firing way too frequently. We are stressed out! Even when we should be relaxing and engaging in some downtime a lot of our downtime activities involve scrolling – consuming information about how amazing your neighbor’s holiday looks (provoking feelings of jealousy while you’re supposed to be relaxing) or watching that new action flick on Netflix (loads of guns, loud noises and stressed out superheroes trying save the world from doom) or going for drinks with the gang (we won’t even talk about the effects of alcohol on your digestive system!!).
Ok, so what can we do? It’s alarmingly simple!!
How to Activate the PNS
- Connect with your food. Cook wholefoods, lovingly, from scratch. If you don’t love cooking, make it really simple (you don’t want to stress out about dinner!).
- Put away all of the devices, get away from your desk, focus on your meal and connect with family and friends around the table.
- Commit to a little “transition” ritual. Take a few moments before you eat to focus on some deep breathing and gratitude.
- Turn down the lights at dinner time.
- Eat slowly, mindfully, taste your food, chew it well. Take breaks in between mouthfuls. Try and give yourself as much time to eat your food as you possibly can.
- As above, try and give yourself as much time as possible after you eat your food to just sit and digest quietly before moving on to your next task.
Our bodies are absolutely amazing! Think about everything your body does without you even knowing about it. I think it’s important to give our body the respect it rightly deserves. The daily actions that we can bring into our lives that are in harmony with the optimal function of our bodies’ are so simple it’s silly not to start doing them today! I promise you, you will start to gain more energy, your skin will glow, you’ll feel happier and less stressed out! Who doesn’t want that?!
Love + Light xx
- Enders, Giulia. Gut. British Columbia: Greystone Books Ltd., 2015