Digestion in some ways is very simple — food goes in, works its way south and then the leftovers come out. Most often, we never go much deeper than this basic understanding of the digestion process.
Did you ever imagine that digestion begins not in the stomach or the mouth, but in your brain? Perfect design really. As soon as you start to think about lunch or smell it, your brain starts sending signals down to your stomach saying, “hey, food’s coming! Get ready!” And, if things are optimal, your stomach obliges by beginning to produce stomach acid (hydrochloric acid or HCl). Your mouth might even start salivating as you imagine that super, yummy leftover meal. You aren’t even at the table yet! But, the digestion process has begun.
Now, when you sit down to your meal, are you sitting quietly? Maybe laughing with friends? Or are you thinking through the 20 things you still have left to do today and maybe this lunch should actually be eaten sitting in front of the computer checking 10 more emails?
Here is where we start to go a little out of balance. We think digestion just ‘happens’. Like magic. But remember what I said before? The brain is involved. Here is the other kicker – digestion is a parasympathetic process. In layman’s terms, it only happens when you are relaxed. Calm. So, sure, digestion just happens. But, the environment has to be right.
So, say you head to lunch with a major deadline in mind, and you aren’t imagining that super, yummy meal so much. Is your mouth watering? Is your stomach growling for food? Um, no. Your mouth is probably dry and your stomach tight. Not such a favorable environment for that super, delicious, nutritious lunch you had planned.
I can hear you already, ‘you said that this was a perfect design!’ It is! The brain helps you prioritize what needs to be attended to, right now. Which means if you are focusing on that deadline, you may as well have a tiger chasing after you. What is your brain going to prioritize? Losing the tiger. Digestion can wait. However, in today’s day and age, when do we lose the tiger? When is digestion ever able to get started? When we get home? Nope, the kids are hanging on you and whining, crying or screaming. When you sleep? That is when you are supposed to be detoxing and rebuilding from the day. So if you are digesting then…when do you do those other vital tasks? Or, do you just wait until morning? Nope! There is that tiger looming again!
So, how do we turn the cycle around?
1. Take a few deep breaths before your meal. Give your body a chance to shift gears from that to-do list and focus on your meal. Even if you just have five minutes, prioritize your meal in those five minutes.
2. Laugh and talk. Step away from the desk/iPhone/iPad/to-do list. Tell jokes with friends or family — even if it is just the cheesy knock-knock jokes with your five-year-old.
3. Think about what is on your plate, and think about why it is on your plate. Is your plate pretty? Are you looking forward to this meal? Give a brief moment of thanks for having a yummy meal ahead of you.
4. Slow down. Put your fork down between bites. Try chewing each bite 30 times. Give your stomach a chance to receive food that is truly pre-digested. See what it does for you.
Sometimes, it really only takes some simple fixes to get your digestive system back on track. Think of your digestive system as a series of dominoes. One goes out and the whole run of dominoes is off. Put that one domino back…and you’re off and running again.