Digestion is one of the main corner stones of health. We work SO hard to eat healthy and give our bodies the nutrients they need, but if our body can’t break food down and turn it into fuel, we may still be malnourished.
Supporting your body’s ability to absorb nutrients all starts with understanding how digestion works. Digestion is a north to south process. If something goes wrong at the beginning of the system then the stress just compounds on each succeeding digestive organ. So where does digestion begin? While most people would say the mouth, it actually begins in the brain. When your brain sees/smells/senses food, it starts sending messages to your body to start excreting all of the wonderful digestive juices and hormones that help break down food. This includes, saliva, cholecystokinin, stomach acid, and bile. This is such a crucial part of digestion, and it’s important not to overlook this step.
Here’s what happens in most people’s lives. They wake up, and hit the snooze button, like, 10 times. When they finally get up, they grab a granola bar or bagel and rush out the door. They don’t taste their food, they don’t smell it, they just gobble it down and get on with their day. When we rush through our food, we don’t get to enjoy it and that is a HUGE shame! The bigger problem is that our brain never gets the chance to tell our mouth and digestive tract to gear up for the food, and we don’t start secreting the hormones, enzymes or gastic juices that our bodies need.
We have two responses in our autonomic nervous system. The fight or flight response and the rest and digest response. Your body does NOT digest food if you are in the fight or flight mode. Whether you are angry or stressed or even playing loud music, your body is focused on giving you the energy to deal with the stressor (or to have a dance party) instead of digesting your food.
It is SO important to relax when you eat. Do whatever it takes to slow down during meals. You can sit on the floor, use essential oils, or spend time talking and laughing with your loved ones. Avoid working, standing up, or doing anything that puts you in a stressful state. Making time three times a day to sit and relax helps you digest your food and can be a great way to decompress from life’s demands. If we’re always rushing around it’s hard to really honor the vitality that food brings us. Meal preparation and eating can be a chore or it can become a cherished part of your day.
Ok, so what happens after we smell the food? We put it in our mouths, right? Inside our mouth the food mixes with spit. I HATE spit, so I can’t think too hard about this one, but it’s important to understand the process. Two things happen when food is inside our mouth – 1 ) Our teeth breaks the food down mechanically and 2) our saliva begins to break it down chemically through the enzymes present in the saliva. This might not seem like a crucial step, but if we don’t start breaking down the food in our mouths, the stomach has to work overtime. After that, it’s like dominoes and every other organ – your small intestines, your liver, gallbladder, and colon all have to work harder than they were designed to. It’s not such a big deal if this happens once in awhile. But after years of excessive stress three+ times a day, it can really take a toll your body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
Always eat mindfully and chew your food thoroughly. Take 30 seconds with each bite! Take a bite and put that fork down. Take a minute to really enjoy and experience what you’ve eaten. This should be a little easier if you’re sitting down and relaxed. This step is huge for me. I’m the type who likes to wolf food down, and then get really disappointed when it disappears so fast I don’t even remember eating it!
Additional Support for the Brain and Mouth
You can get relaxing oils like lavender from any professional line. Apply at the mastoid bone (behind the ear) before meals if you have trouble relaxing.
You cannot produce enough saliva if you are dehydrated. A general rule to drinking ½ your body weight in ounces per day. So if someone weighs 140lbs, they should be drinking 70 ounces of water minimum every day.
Electrolytes are also important for saliva production. Examples include adding coconut water or Real Salt or trace mineral drops to your drinks. I don’t love the taste of salt water, so I often add a squeeze of lemon, grapefruit or homemade cranberry concentrate.