If you struggle with chronic digestive pain from conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or GERD, you may know how important it is to evaluate what you are eating and identify the foods that trigger your pain. But have you ever looked at how and when you eat? If not you may be missing a key piece in improving your digestion.
This is in large part due to the connection between stress and your digestive system. Ever hear of the brain in your gut? That’s your enteric nervous system at work, which is in constant communication with the brain in your head. This “brain,” which is located throughout your gastrointestinal tract, picks up on stress just as much as your mind does and can affect how you process the food that you eat. Due to the communication between your two “brains” your whole body must be in a state of relaxation in order for your digestive system to do its best work.
Take a second to think about the last meal you ate. Where were you? What emotions were you feeling? Did you chew your food? Eat while working? If you noted that you were anxiously trying to get a work project done at your desk while eating your sandwich it is time to slow down, step away from the computer and try these three simple techniques to get you relaxed. You can greatly reduce your belly pain as soon as the next meal you eat.
1. Set a relaxing ritual before you eat.
Taking a few moments to slow down before you eat any meal or snack is key to relaxing your body for proper digestion. Your ritual does not having to take long and can vary from meal to meal. Some ideas for slowing down:
- Deep breathing is one of the most effective ways to slow down right before you eat because it forces your belly to relax. Take slow, deep breaths and breathe into your belly. Imagine your belly being filled and then emptied with fresh, clean air as you take your breaths.
- Take a moment of gratitude to appreciate the food you are about to eat: look at the food and appreciate the nutrients that are about to enter and feed your whole body.
- Close your eyes and repeat an affirmation to yourself such as “My digestive system is functioning in properly. I appreciate the food it is now going to process comfortably and easily.” (I know, I know, sounds cheesy right? Just try it, no one has to know you are doing the Stuart Smalley routine in your head.)
2. Chew your food.
Don’t forget that digestion begins in your mouth! Through the process of chewing, your saliva begins breaking down the food and releasing enzymes, which are crucial for further processing. Without proper chewing you are forcing your stomach to handle larger pieces of food that haven’t gone through the predigestion process, which for you means belly aches, bloating, and gas. In order to properly chew your food, be sure to chew at least thirty-five times per bite.
3. Set aside one meal per day with no distractions.
That’s right, just you and the food. Having no distractions forces you to unplug, slow down, and savor. You may even find that when you are mindful during a meal, you need less food to feel satisfied.
Once you start using these techniques, you may be surprised at just how effective they are.
PS: Keep in mind the key word here is implementation—you can know all the strategies in the world, but unless you do them they are useless! Pick one and give it a try!