Sometimes when we get too busy and too stressed, we start to neglect selfcare – beginning with how we eat. Here are a few tips to respect out digestive system’s original factory settings:
1) Not too little. I see a lot of restrictive diets in our practice. I’m not a big fan of calorie counting but you need to get enough to power the basic functions of your body every day. Add in exercise (i.e. calories burned) and many can be at a deficit. You can go to a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) calculator and see what your minimum calories you need every day; divide by 3 and this is the amount you need at each meal. Eating too little also shrinks beneficial colonies of microflora in our digestive tract that help digest our food; if these flora aren’t there or aren’t there in the proper amounts, digestive distress can occur.
2) Not too much. Eat proper sized portions at each meal. Overeating (especially when we dine out) causes a number of issues: gas and bloating and blood sugar dysregulation. The body can handle it once in awhile, but on a daily basis, we will not only gain fat, but also court metabolic diseases.
3) Eat the rainbow. We need be eating as wide a variety of foods as possible. This promotes healthy diversity of nutrients and the beneficial microflora that digest our food. Eat different colored fruits and vegetables daily: red, purple, yellow, orange, green, blue, white. Each color contains different phytonutrients your body needs.
4) Meal prep at home. With our busy lives, we’re losing the ability to cook. We want to enjoy ourselves and eat out but it’s a nutrition loser. Fred the Food Prepper in the back of the kitchen doesn’t care about your health goals and food sensitivities. For optimal health, prepare the majority of your meals at home.
5) Relax and enjoy. Eating is a parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) activity. Many times we eat in stressful sympathetic (“fight or flight”) environments. When this occurs the body braces for stress and shuts down the digestive system (after all, you don’t need to digest anything if you’re running from a lion). We need to eat mindfully. Eat in a quiet and relaxed environment. Ditch the phone or TV at mealtimes. Eat around happy, peaceful people who make you laugh. Similarly, relax after your eat – don’t just jump back to work or into the next activity. Take some time to let your food digest.
6) Not too fast. We wolf down food. But we’re not wolves. It’s important to slow down and let the chain of digestive events happen. Smell your food before you eat it – this signals the mouth and digestive juices. (We also get a dopamine hit from the brain – a chemical reward for our good choices). We have enzymes in our mouth that help to pre-digest food. Chew your food slowly and let them work. Do an experiment sometime: chew your food 30 times. That slimy feeling of the bolus is what the body is expecting with every bite.