It’s well-known that stress affects the digestive system. That’s because when your body is in flight or fight mode due to chronic stress, immediate stress, or even worrying about your day, your body, your body’s processes are disrupted. When it comes to digestion, oxygen and blood are diverted away from the gut, and the body produces less saliva, stomach acid, and digestive enzymes. So, if you can form a habit of eating in a more relaxed state, your digestion can improve - even before making any changes to what you’re eating.
Try one or all of the suggestions below to make mealtimes a little more “zen” and your tummy happier.
It can be tough to leave problems behind at mealtime. I know that as my kids have become older and all of our lives busier, mealtimes are often when we spend the most time together. That means we often use mealtimes to discuss what went well or not so well during the day, make plans around our busy schedules, and chat about current world events. All of these have the potential to take a stressful turn.
If feisty and stressful conversations are disrupting your mealtimes and digestion, it can be helpful to create supportive rituals around meals. By treating meals as more sacred time, by yourself or with others, it sends a message to your body. Try setting the table nicely, plate your food with care, or put on background music. Creating a relaxing mealtime will positively impact your gut and the way you digest your food.
Your body has a lot to tell you, but if you arne’t paying attention, you can miss some of your body’s signals - like when you are full. Try to listen to your body and its sensations as you eat. One way to start is to pay attention to each bite of food and notice the flavor and texture. Try putting your utensils down in between bites and fully chew and swallow before going for the next. Another idea is to take a few deep breaths before you start eating to create awareness in the moment and invite relaxation and peace into your body.
Praying before meals or saying a blessing has long been part of many religious traditions, but you don’t need to be religious to experience the benefits of gratitude. Besides being thankful for the meal and who cooked it for you, you can also think about where it came from. Visit your local farmer’s market and you can actually meet the people who grew your vegetables. Even better, you can try growing some vegetables or herbs. Many gardeners find the time spent tending their plants relaxing, and it feels great to eat something you grew yourself.
Many people use screens to zone-out, like watching a TV show or playing Candy Crush on their phone. But eating meals in front of a screen can seriously impact your digestion. For one, you are distracted and don’t catch those “I’m full” signals. If you’re eating in front of your computer at work, stress could come into play. Even watching TV while eating takes you away from the task at hand.
Taking a break from your phone and other screens while eating helps you be more present and to listen to your body, while giving your eyes and brain a break. Taking time away from the screens can actually make you more productive later. Try turning your meal into an actual break from technology, and use it instead to relax, recharge, and connect with others or yourself.
A great way to help yourself relax during meals is to set the scene accordingly. Remove clutter, play ambient music, or even light a candle. If the weather is nice, why not take your meal outside or to a park near your workplace. If your meals are mostly spent alone, invite a co-worker or friend to join you once in a while. When you are in a relaxing environment, your body will naturally relax, too.
Whatever your home and work life look like, try some of the above tips to make mealtimes more relaxing. Your body will soon recognize that it can let go, enjoy the meal, and digest the way it was meant to. Soon, you may even notice you feel better after your meals, rather than heavy, sluggish, or with an upset or gassy stomach. More relaxed and a happier tummy? Sounds like a win-win to me.
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