Nutrition and gut health are crucial to your vitality. You may have heard the saying, 'you are what you eat.' This is only partially correct. You are not just what you eat but what you (and your gut microbiome) actually digest, absorb and utilize. The standard American diet (SAD), environment and lifestyle can lead to:
Weight gain or unwanted weight loss
IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
Dysbiosis, which is imbalances in gut bacteria, including SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)
Intestinal permeability (a.k.a. leaky gut)
IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) such as Crohn's and Colitis.
Autoimmunity (such as Celiac, Hashimoto's, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis...)
Toxic burden (from heavy metals, chemicals, endotoxins...)
Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia
If you suffer from any of the above inflammatory conditions, there is a way to get to the root cause and feel better naturally. With Functional Medicine Nutrition, we use food and nutrients to heal the gut, restore balance and maintain overall health. With a nutrition consult, we will decide together whether some functional medicine tests will help guide your unique protocol for healing. But most often, we start with some tried and true basics that get you on your path for improved digestion and increased energy without spending on unnecessary tests or products.
Before discussing WHAT to eat with my patients/clients, we always look at HOW they are eating first and that’s what this article is about. Paying attention to how we eat is often referred to as, ‘Eating with Awareness’ and ‘Mindful Eating’ by many nutritionists and it is a HUGE factor for proper digestion and gut health. Being Mindful
We want to start by turning off and tuning out of all distractions; including TV, computer and all electronic devices. No driving while eating either. There are the understandable movie nights with dinner in front of the TV or road trips but I am talking about the usual; what your habits are day in, day out.Next, get in a relaxed state by taking a few deep breaths before you even start eating. Mealtime is not the time for stressful conversations about bills, work or annoying friends or family members, etc. Throughout history, people have had traditions such as prayer that accomplishes this purpose of getting into a relaxed grateful state of mind. This is important because our body essentially functions in two nervous system pathways. The sympathetic pathway is your ‘fight or flight,’ GO GO GO mode and the parasympathetic pathway is your ‘rest and digest’ mode. A very appropriate saying is, ‘You cannot run from the tiger and digest the tiger at the same time,’ at least not very well anyway. Letting the body know that you are in digestion/relaxation mode will prevent acid reflux, indigestion and promotes overall satisfaction with meals.
Eating slow is the next focus. Putting the fork down between bites and not using this utensil like a shovel will help put the brakes on. We want to chew about 25 times instead of the usual 4-5 chomps that many people give their food. When you chew your food well, you increase the saliva production and coat the food with amylase enzymes which promotes better signaling and digestion throughout the digestive tract. By eating slow the brain also gets a chance to receive the signal that you have eaten. This signaling from the gut to the brain can take 15-20 minutes, so if you finish your plate of food in 5-10 minutes you may think you are still hungry and continue eating or go back for seconds before you realized that you have had enough. So many people have eaten too much, too fast, for so long that they no longer recognize the satiety cues that the body gives.
The Body’s Response The inability to recognize satiety cues, is referred to as ‘Leptin Resistance.’ Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating but when we ignore that signal for years, we no longer hear the signal or get the message. This can be compared to those who have listened to loud music or worked with loud machinery without protecting their ears. Eventually they can longer hear the music or signals at a normal volume.
Our goal is to stop eating at 80% full or the point of satisfaction. This is the point where you could still eat another taco if I offered you one but you don’t need another one. Not hungry, not full, just satisfied. In Okinawa there is a centenarian population that live healthy and happy into their 100’s and many have looked at WHAT they eat for some clues to their longevity. They do eat a lot of fish, green vegetables and sweet potatoes but perhaps just as important or possibly even more important is HOW they eat. They have a saying, “Hara Hachi Bu,” that literally means, to eat until 80% full. They also approach life and mealtimes with a gracious and happy outlook which puts them in that parasympathetic, digestion and relaxation nervous system when they eat.
Tips for Eating with Awareness Have you ever looked down at your plate and thought, 'Where did my cookie go?' Or, 'Who ate my brownie?' You were looking forward to that cookie or brownie but you forgot to enjoy it! You feel cheated and you go back for another. Eating with awareness intensifies how satisfying the food is, whether it's a salad, soup or that treat you have been waiting for. Here are some ways to start eating with awareness:
o Be aware of the COLORS on your plate. If you have too much white/brown bland colors, you are most likely missing key vitamins and nutrients. Try adding more Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue/Purple.
o Be aware of the different TEXTURES of your food. Most people enjoy a variety of textures but ‘crunch’ seems to be soothing for stressed out eaters. Incorporate crunchy veggies and fruit instead of junk foods.
o Be aware of FLAVOR. Try closing your eyes after you have some food in your mouth and letting your senses really tune into the flavor profile. Notice bitter, salty, sweet, and spicy. If your food is bland, try adding more herbs and spices which are loaded with nutrients!
Summary—How to eat How to practice Mindful Eating:
o Turn off the distractions
o Take 5 deep breaths before you even start eating
o Get in a grateful state of mind or pray if that works for you
o Put your fork down between bites
o Chew your food well (25 x’s)
o Stop eating at 80% full, the point of satisfaction.
Eating mindfully will allow you to digest and absorb all your nutrients without indigestion or discomfort. You are not what you eat but instead, you are what you absorb. In fact research has shown that blood sugar improves with mindful eating, without even changing what is on the plate. And eating with awareness (tips noted above) will bring greater satisfaction without having to eat more.
So what are you waiting for?! Pick a meal, any meal and start practicing HOW you eat. You can even make a game out of it as you sit with the family. Examples: See who can eat the slowest or put a coin in a jar for every time you get caught not putting that fork down between bites, etc. Slow and steady wins the race. The more you practice the better you will get.