How we eat matters as well as what we eat. Have you heard of eating hygiene?
What we eat is super important, but what about how we eat? The way we eat does matter and yes - eating hygiene is a thing.
Many people experience those annoying digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, distention, feeling too full after the meals, belching, reflux. These are no fun and can really mess up your outing with friends or a date!
In some cases of major GI problems, it does require a trip to the doctor, but in most cases following eating hygiene principals can provide a significant relief of frustrating symptoms. These helpful tips might seem too simple, but they can give you very powerful results!
Slow Down. Yes, I know - easier said than done at times. But digestion takes time. And digestive secretions such as stomach acid, bile, and pancreatic enzymes need time to be fully secreted.
It takes about 20 minutes for your gut to signal to your brain that you’re full and reduce your sense of hunger (thanks to a hormone called CCK or cholecystokinin). If you inhale your lunch in 10 min, you’re much more likely to overeat and end up feeling bloating 20 minutes later. (As a side note: looking to lose weight? CCK is released much more quickly in response to a high-fat meal. Yes! Just make sure it’s a healthy fat such as avocado, salmon, coconut, almond butter, organic olive oil, and grass-fed butter.)
How to start? Get in the habit of putting down your knife and fork and sitting back in your chair in between each bite of food. Maybe enjoy a conversation without food in your mouth. Take at least one full, cleansing breath before you pick up your fork and savor another bite.
Chew. On average we chew a bite of food 6-8 times before we swallow (gulp!). Chewing is the only part of the digestive process that is voluntary – we have the control!
The less we chew our food, the harder our GI tract has to work. This creates post-meal fatigue. Ideally we chew our food until it’s almost liquid before swallowing. This can reduce gas and increase post-meal energy.
When we swallow chunks of food, it’s harder for digestive enzymes in the intestines to do their job. When carbohydrate foods hang around too long, the bacteria in our guts feast on it and create gas build-up as a metabolic byproduct which results in distention, bloating, flatulence. If you chew thoroughly, it’s also much easier to slow down.
How to start? Count your chews. Chew every bite at least 30 times, except salad you can aim for 15. If you feel a strong impetus to swallow beforehand, just move the food to the side of your mouth, swallow saliva, and keep chewing (think of what you automatically do with gum).
Prioritize Eating. Many people feel that sitting and eating is somehow a waste of time unless they multitask. We eat “on the go” - in the car rushing to a meeting, while walking to another building, or standing up in the kitchen while preparing your kids’ food. All of these are recipes for Indigestion. A powerful way to live healthy is to treat a meal as a special event. In fact, eating is creating our future body!
Sit down. When we eat in a stressed state we literally put out less digestive fluids. It’s part of the body’s survival mechanism. We either tell the body to focus, rush and perform (get into “fight or flight”), or we tell it to relax, build strength and energy for the future via eating (“rest and digest”). The body cannot do both at once. Many people get nausea or diarrhea in a stressful situation!
Breathe. Calm your body and support digestion by taking a few, slow, calming breaths before you start eating.
Relax and Savor. Try to learn to just be in the moment with your food. Notice the colors, textures, smell, flavors… Most of us are mentally “elsewhere” while we eat. The result? We are much more likely to overeat. Postpone stressful discussions, replying to tense emails, or paying bills until later.
How to start? Plan your meals. For some people, it helps to put them in your daily calendar. This becomes time of self-care trough mindful eating.
Don’t Drink too much during meals. Yes, we need to stay hydrated via plain, clean water intake. However, the best time to hydrate is in between meals. When you consume large amounts of water during a meal, you dilute the acidity of your stomach acid and slow digestion. Depending on your sensitivity, this can cause an early sense of fullness and belching and long-term can cause malnutrition (especially low Vitamin B12, magnesium or iron). If you feel very thirsty and it’s time to eat, then drink a large glass of water right away and wait 20 min. before eating. This allows the water to clear your stomach before its digestive duty begins. Ideally, get in the habit of carrying a water glass or bottle around with you throughout the day and sip on it regularly.
These are indeed simple solutions! Given our stress-crazed, achievement-obsessed, on-the-go society, it can be hard to implement these principles consistently. But you can do it if you make it a priority. Repetition and persistence can create Big Change and long-term relief.