Belly brain: Why you should be eating mindfully

I recently reblogged a post by life coach Marie, having to do with eating mindfully. It is a concept that many of us have heard of before. What she had to say was important, most certainly, but I recently read something that goes so much deeper. It really hit home for me while reading a fabulous book about our digestive tract called “The Inside Tract” by Mullin and Swift. Mullin is a doctor who specializes in gastro-intestinal health. He had some problems of his own, so when he writes, he writes from both sides of the coin. Mullin talks about mindful eating from a biological basis and why we really need to take it into consideration. Let me break it down for you.

The autonomic nervous system (the one that we don’t consciously control) is broken up into three different subsystems: the sympathetic, the parasympathetic and the enteric.

Your parasympathetic nervous system is where your digestion comes into play, along with other ‘relaxed’ processes. Your sympathetic nervous system is what is activated when you encounter stress, basically it is your ‘fight or flight’ response. The unfortunate thing is, the sympathetic nervous system is on overdrive for many people in North American society. In a time where we’re eating from the drive thru, chewing and chugging while we drive to work, school or other events, the sympathetic nervous system is turned on for most of our day. When this happens, your digestive system is told to shut down. Why? You are in a time of stress, your body is making sure that your blood is ready to pump if you need to fight or flee. So if you are in a rush, or not eating mindfully, your body will not activate your digestive tract properly. That is why it is so crucial that when you sit down for a meal, you take the time to breathe in the smells. Turn off that tv, take a few moments to relax and don’t talk about anything “heavy” at the table. Do you ever feel sick when you are nervous? This is part of the reason why! Your body is diverting its energies to help you deal with the crisis at hand. If you are always in crisis, your digestive system can really take the toll. Stress is linked to many gastrointestinal issues from heart burn to irritable bowel.

The enteric nervous system is where the ‘belly brain’ portion of my post title comes from. Half of all the nerve cells in your body are actually contained within your gut. Most people think of the brain as the master and commander of the human body, but although they are in constant contact, your gut can actually function separately from your brain. It can perceive when you are in times of stress, depression or a state of happiness. I know personally, if I’m really nervous about something, my digestion can be thrown for days afterwards. Just as many neurotransmitters live in your gut as there are in your brain, and the variety is the same as well. Astounding! The next time someone tells you to go with your gut, you know that may be the best thing to do with all those neurons and no ego to get in the way! German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer called it, “the intelligence of the unconscious”. I couldn’t agree more.

Now that you have all this information in your head brain, let’s help out your belly brain!

Try a few of these things to make your digestive tract’s job a little easier.

Happy Tummies at Stack 'Em High

(Photo credit: ljfullofgrace)

1. Don’t eat anywhere but a table.

Eating on the run, in your car or on your couch is not conducive to helping your digestive system work at optimum levels.

2. Stop and smell your food.

Take a few seconds to sniff your food, a few deep breaths in, begin your meal in a relaxed state of mind. Many studies show that digestion begins before you even place any food in your mouth. Your brain(s) are getting ready for the food that is about to be eaten.

3. Choose to Chew!

I know I’ve mentioned this a few times, but chewing is so very important! It helps you to start your digestion off right.

4. No negativity at the table.

Try not to have any stressful conversations before, during or after your meals. It slows or halts your digestive process. Also, don’t have any negative thoughts towards your food. What do I mean by that? I mean if you’ve decided to eat that piece of cheese cake, don’t hate yourself for doing it. If you can’t eat something without feeling guilty about it, then don’t eat it. If you think, I shouldn’t have something but decide to any way, at least ENJOY IT and don’t guilt yourself for hours afterwards. Your gut can sense that and do you really think it will digest that piece of cake in a healthy, optimal way? I don’t think so!

I have started to do these things whenever I can and I have noticed a difference in my digestive health. Foods that I usually have a problem with don’t seem to bother me as much. My digestion seems to be smoother as well. I am combining these things with more fiber and a probiotic, but since I’ve read this information, I have noticed an even greater improvement.

Anyone else have some tips for ways to eat mindfully? Please share them, I’d love to hear what other people do.


About msjenniferwalker

I'm a Jenn of all trades, as long as they are creative and fulfilling. I'm an actress, writer, photographer and all around social person. I love to learn, travel, meet new people and have new experiences.

Posted on August 27, 2012, in Experiences, Information, Inspiration and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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