At some point in the last sixty years, modern Western culture transformed. Along with the amazing shifts in technology which saved so much time, paradoxically we became even busier. As packaged food became the norm, most of us left behind the home cooked meals our parents, or at least grandparents prepared. We went from eating 2% of meals outside the home to 50% over the past 100 years.
For the most part, eating has become one of many things to “get done”. In NYC, where I lived most of my life, people eat on the subway, bus, and biking or walking the city streets. For most American drivers, the shift (pun intended) to automatic transmission, even leaves one hand free to eat. And for those times when we do sit down to eat, a glowing screen from the TV, computer or tablet is often in the background. Although reading an old fashioned book or magazine during a meal certainly distracts us, scrolling through email or Instagram tends to be a greater trigger of the stress response. And when we’re in the fight or flight mode of the sympathetic nervous system, we can’t simultaneously be in the rest and restore mode of the parasympathetic system, which is responsible for digestion. It’s critical that we be relatively relaxed while eating to optimally absorb and assimilate our food.
Personally, “just” eating is challenging for me. Although I’m usually sitting down and eating food prepared myself, I love using the prep and cleanup time listening to podcasts. Sometimes I’m so absorbed, I forget (or don't want) to turn the off the show. It’s amazing what happens to the pace of eating when our attention isn’t exclusively on the meal. The other day I left on a podcast filled with some content I found agitating, and was well into my second serving before realizing was actually full. Which leads us to: How to Eat Better Tip Two:
When you eat, EAT.
Sit down and be aware of WHAT you’re eating. Acknowledge the WHERE of your food. With gratitude, connect with its origins, and who picked, delivered and prepared it.
Digestion is more efficient when we’re focused on our food. We think we’re getting more done while multitasking, but in fact our digestion suffers. Pause and take a few breaths before you begin the meal. Enjoying the aromas of food is essential, as digestion starts in the mouth with the secretion of enzymes. Begin eating too quickly, and a key component of digestion is absent. If we don’t send the body the message we’re about to eat beforehand, we can’t possibly digest, absorb and assimilate the nutrients optimally. So schedule time for your meals, especially if you have any kind of digestive issues.
While eating, cultivate the same awareness you bring to the precision of your alignment on the yoga mat. This article cites many studies about the benefits of eating more slowly and chewing longer.
“Among the benefits of proper chewing are: breaking up the food sufficiently to allow quicker and more complete penetration of enzymes and digestive acids; chewing slower allows for more signaling to the brain so that satiation occurs earlier, making you eat less; and longer chewing sets up the correct sequence of events for proper mechanical and chemical (enzymatic) digestion to occur. Digestion progresses from the mouth through to the stomach and intestines, where digestive acids and enzymes are sequentially released from different glands and organs.” Alliance for Natural Health Europe
Eating by yourself and feeling uncomfortable or bored without the normal distractions? The first thing necessary to make a change is to notice what arises, without judging. Think about where the food came from – most of us are not harvesting food ourselves – so acknowledge all the hard work that led the food to your plate. Acknowledge, with gratitude the abundance you're experiencing.