This is the first post, of many, in my Wellness Wednesday series. When starting this blog I wanted to make sure that I didn’t just write about food, because true health is about so much more than that. These Wednesday posts will discuss other aspects of our lives that we need to focus on, tweak and often times overhaul to ensure that we maintain a nourished body, mind and soul.
Digestion is defined as the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food. The purpose of this process is to breakdown our food into molecules so small that our body is able to absorb and utilize the nutrients within these foods which are needed by our cells. If I asked you where digestion begins what would your answer be? Well, your mouth right? That’s where the food goes, DUH! Well, you’re wrong! The super annoying person inside me is happy when you’re wrong, just so you know. Being right is kind of my thing! And yes, I am a total A-hole about it!
Digestion actually begins in the most important organ in our body, the brain. Our brain controls all functions that occur in our body as well as the actions of each organ housed there. It also plays an integral role in the digestive process. The simple thought of food can begin the process. The sight and smell of food triggers glands in our mouth to produce saliva. Human saliva is about 99% water, the rest is enzymes, mucous, and antibacterial compounds along with a few other things. The small percentage of enzymes within our saliva are responsible for carbohydrate breakdown. Fats and proteins gets broken down in other areas along the way.
The Autonomic Nervous System regulates the functions of our internal organs like the heart, stomach and intestines. We are not typically aware of its functions because they are involuntary and do not require our conscious efforts. The autonomic nervous system has two main divisions; sympathetic occurring in emergencies and known as “fight or flight” and the parasympathetic occurring in non-emergencies and known as “rest and digest”. Our Parasympathetic Nervous System helps us to digest food, reproduce, fight off infection and excrete waste. The ideal approach to effective digestion begins with cooking your own food. Your senses are ignited as you touch all the items that are going to be used to create your meal. You see the colorful assortment of vegetables you have chosen. You smell the aroma that beings to fill your kitchen. You hear the culinary creation cooking on the stove top. If you’re like me, you taste test just a bit before the big reveal. All of this is prepping your body for what’s to come. Our brain signals the mouth to produce the necessary saliva starting a chain of digestive reactions that include organs like our stomach, pancreas and gallbladder.
This day and age the ideal approach is not always realistic. We have jobs, kids, significant others and Netflix that gets in the way! We are running back and forth between work, school, home and extracurricular activities. We are lucky to get a meal in at some point. Most of us are not eating in the preferred parasympathetic state. Unfortunately with the busy lives that we lead today, and the stress we are being buried under many of us are eating this way at every meal which impedes our digestion and can cause multiple issues within the whole process from brain to….well you know where it ends right?
Because the digestive process as a whole is quite detailed, I will not go into each and every step in this one blog post. We will save that for another Wednesday. For now lets talk about our brain and mouth. I recommend that my clients take ten deep breaths prior to every meal. These breaths will aid in transitioning to a parasympathetic, ideal state. With each breath think about the food you are getting ready to eat. Even if you didn’t prepare it yourself, which I recommend you do. Even if you are sitting in a drive through, which I never recommend you do! Think about your meal in terms of your five senses. Think about how your food is going to taste for two deep, slow breaths. The next two think about the textures of the meal, how it will feel in your hands and in your mouth. The next two think about what you are seeing, the colors and presentation of the food (hard to do if it is found in a fast food wrapper). The next two breaths take in the varied scents of your meal. The last two breaths think about how this meal was prepared, the sounds that were created as it was cooked to perfection.
Once you are finished with those ten deep breaths, your mind and body is now prepared for its digestive journey. With each bite remember to chew at least 30 times. The recommendation for diabetics is up to 100 times! So I chew A LOT! If you are consuming a protein shake, smoothie or soup of some kind chewing is still necessary because there is not only a mechanical, food being broken down, process going on but a chemical one as well. When we drink our foods the brain and mouth portion of digestion is skipped. Breathe, think, CHEW, repeat!