Transformational Eating Habits:
Here’s Some Food for Thought
By Tina Paymaster PHASE IV Health Coach and Nutrition SpecialistOne thing we can all agree on is that diet, exercise and stress reduction are all important for achieving and maintaining optimal health. However, there is one important factor to this equation that also needs to be considered - digestion.
The purpose of digestion is to break down food into fuel your cells can use, assimilate those nutrients and eliminate harmful toxins. If there are complications at any stage of this process, you can experience symptoms ranging from gas and bloating to fatigue, allergies and breakouts. If poor digestion becomes chronic, more serious illnesses can occur such as weight gain, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, depression and even cancer. Scientists and doctors now agree that most if not all medical conditions stem from issues in the gut.
Supporting good digestion is key in living a healthy and happy life and I will be sharing a lot more information on how to do this in the weeks to come.
Today, I want to look less at what you’re eating and more at howyou’re eating it, because healthy digestion is not just dependent on the foods we eat, but also on what we’re doing and how we’re feeling emotionally while eating.Even though many of us pride ourselves on being great multi-taskers, when it comes to eating, our bodies want to focus on one thing – digesting.
Here are 10 tips to digest your food better, so you can feel more energized, focused and reach your health goals faster.
Eat away from distractions
Imagine your best friend is telling you about an issue they’re having, but you’re too busy checking your email on your phone. You may take in and process only a little bit of the information. The rest of the details go in one ear and out the other, or you may hear the details in a completely different way than they were told to you. You can apply this analogy to what happens when you’re eating and doing something else like walking, working on the computer or watching TV. When the body is focused on other things besides digesting the food you’re eating, it won’t be able to process and assimilate the food and nutrients properly. In addition, when you’re distracted while eating, your body won’t be as aware of its hungry and satiety signals, potentially leading to overeating.
Another interesting point to consider is that your taste buds are incredibly sensitive and have chemical sensors that decrease as you keep eating. What this means is that the first few bites at the beginning of your meal are going to taste the most satisfying – the more satisfied you feel, the less you need. By the end of your meal, your taste buds may not even be registering the taste of your food anymore. There are even some studies that suggest that obese people have less sensitive taste buds, which may drive them to overeat. So in a nutshell, support digestion and satisfaction by staying focused on your meal instead of your email.
Eating slowly, chewing your food thoroughly, not only helps to prevent gastric discomfort such as bloating and gas, but it also gives you the time to check in with your body and see how it’s feeling. Are you still hungry? Are you satisfied?
Studies show that there is a strong connection between our taste receptors and our satisfaction levels, this is why many Eastern cultures put so much emphasis on having all six tastes – sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent – present in meals and why many emotional eating therapists recommend mindful eating practices to support their clients in overcoming binge eating tendencies. When you slow down and focus on tasting your food, you feel more satisfied and eat less, which can prevent overeating and digestive upset. You may even realize that you don’t really like some foods that you were eating all the time!
Another tip is to take a moment before you eat to engage your senses – look at the colors of your food, smell the aromas, feel the different textures, etc. Stimulating the senses in this way sends signals to the brain that it’s time to produce the necessary enzymes for digestion.
Eat until 75% full
What does satisfaction feel like? The basic rule of thumb here is to eat until you’re 75-80% full. The Japanese actually have a term for this – Hara Hachi Bu. It literally translates as “stomach 80%.” It takes 15-20 minutes for the stomach to send the signals to the brain that it’s full and satisfied. When we eat fast, our brain gets that signal after we’ve eaten way too much, overloading our digestive tract. So it’s best to eat until 75% full and then wait for 15 minutes to see if you still need more food.
Make lunch your largest meal of the day
Digestive strength throughout the day varies and portioning your meals according to those times will support the digestive system’s job. Typically, mid-day (10am-2pm) is the time when your digestion is at its peak, so this is when you should eat your largest meal and more difficult to digest foods such as meat, cheeses and grains. Dinner should be the smallest meal of the day since after 6pm your body is more interested in resting than digesting. Breakfast should be a medium size meal. However, if you’re not hungry upon waking or you have a hard workout in the morning, your requirements may be less or more.
Eat when you’re hungry, don’t eat when you’re not
This principle focuses more on intuitive eating, rather than eating because it’s 12pm. Learning to listen to your body’s hunger signals will allow you to know when it’s time to give it more food. If you tend to have slow digestion, chronic constipation or bloating, this one practice may provide incredible benefits. You may find that after a large lunch, you’re not really hungry for dinner. This is ok. You can either eat a light soup or skip dinner altogether. There are some exceptions to this rule. If you’re someone who is hungry all the time, rarely hungry or working out a lot, it may be best to work with a nutritionist or health coach to balance your appetite and make sure you’re getting the adequate nutrition your body needs.
Drink room temperature or warm water
What happens when you get cold? You get tense and rigid. That’s exactly what happens when you pour cold water into your digestive tract. In order for your digestive system to do its job, the muscles have to be fluid and flexible. Drinking room temperature or warm water is more supportive of this process. Warm or hot water also helps to flush out toxins from the body. The only exception to this principle is after you work out, when cold water can help to cool your body down.
Favor warm, cooked foods
Just like drinking warm water is better for digestion than cold water, the same principle applies to warm foods. There’s a belief in the health world that green smoothies and salads are the ideal health foods. However, this may not be the case for everyone. For someone with really strong digestion, more raw food in the diet may be okay and even beneficial. However, most people don’t have strong digestion. Cooking vegetables (and even fruits) and opting for warmer, cooked meals instead of smoothies, salads or acai bowls will require less digestive effort from your body and also help to move food through the digestive system more efficiently. This means better nutrient absorption and better elimination and detoxification.
Don’t drink too much water when eating
Drinking too much water when eating will dilute digestive enzymes that help to break down the carbohydrates, proteins and fats in food. It’s fine to sip room temperature or warm water during the meal, but best to drink a glass of water about 30 minutes before you eat. This will help to produce the acid in the stomach that will help to break down your food. If you’re eating out, always ask for water with no ice or just a glass of hot water.
Don’t eat when angry or stressed out
When the body is in a state of stress, it goes into “fight or flight mode.” In this state, the body will literally pause the digestive process because it knows it needs to put all of its energy to go towards survival. In many instances, people experience an increase in bowel movements or diarrhea during stressful times because the body is eliminating any extra weight that may prevent it from “running away from the danger.” Now, for most of us, we’re not usually in actual danger as often as we experience stress. However, the demands of everyday life often keep us in a chronic state of stress that can cause hormonal imbalances, digestive issues, inflammation and many other serious health conditions. If you’re feeling sad, angry or anxious, it’s best to address why you feel that way and take action to reduce the negative emotions before reaching for food.
Move every morning
The number one way to stimulate digestion and metabolism is exercise. The best time to exercise is in the morning, as this will help your body finish digesting and eliminating food from the day before and jumpstart metabolism and digestion for the day ahead. Even just 15 minutes of moderate intensity exercise can provide benefits.