Mindful eating means taking your time and staying present. Chew your food slowly, avoid eating in front of the television, set the table, and eat from real plates, using metal flatware. Slowing down not only reduces stress on the digestive tract, it also helps reduce the likelihood that you may overeat (it takes about 20 minutes for you to feel full after a meal). Making a ritual is one way to help keep you present and focused. We’ve highlighted some tips on how to remain present while eating below:
- Wash your hands
- Turn off electronic distractions
- Sit at a table
- Use proper silverware and dishes
- Set the mood with a candle or some relaxing music
- Breathe deeply and sit upright
During the meal:
- Take a bite of food
- Completely set your utensils down
- Focus on the feeling of the food in your mouth, chewing at least 30 times per bite
- Take note of the smell, taste, and texture of the food
- Talk or think introspectively in between bites
- Sit and chat a while to allow yourself time to digest
- Go for a walk
The more consistent the ritual, the stronger the likelihood you’ll remain mindful and present while eating. Having a set system in place also reduces the risk that you’ll find yourself eating on the fly, or eating mindlessly in front of the TV.
Foods To include
There is no doubt that the quality of the food you are consuming has a direct impact on your digestive system. We’ve compiled a shortlist of foods that we feel are necessary to maintain a healthy digestive system. Be mindful of your preferences, allergies, and restrictions, as well as the seasonality of your food.
- Goji Berries
- Cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy)
- Leafy greens (chard, collards, kale, spinach)
- Squash (butternut, delicata, acorn, spaghetti)
Meat & Seafood
- Organic, grass-fed meats
- Wild-caught fatty fish
Beans & Legumes
- Black beans
- Adzuki beans
- Garbanzo beans
- Kidney beans
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans)
- Seeds (chia, pumpkin, sesame)
It is important to remember that this is not an exhaustive list and that it is about quality over quantity. Remember also that eating seasonally will improve your ability to purchase the right foods at the correct times to reap the benefits of peak nutritional value.
Foods To Avoid
We cannot stress enough the importance of reading the labels on your food. Familiarizing yourself with the nutritional information on your food is paramount to ensuring you are consuming healthy, high-quality products. Processed or pre-packaged foods often have minimal nutritional value and in turn, may wreak havoc on your digestive system. Reducing processed food (as well as sugar, alcohol, and saturated fat), while eating real, whole food helps provide the nutrients your body needs to continue to function at an optimal level.
Digestion Starts In Your Mouth
Saying that gut health starts with the food you’re eating isn’t exactly revolutionary. Did you know that your digestive process begins as soon as you put the food in your mouth? The way you chew your food, your oral hygiene, as well as the quality of the food you eat impact your overall digestive function and health. So let’s break it down:
Digestion starts in the mouth. Digestive enzymes in your saliva begin breaking down food for absorption as soon as you start chewing. Chewing your food sufficiently ensures that you get maximum benefits from the nutrients they contain. So what does chewing correctly mean? The recommendation is to chew food any between 30-50 times per mouthful, or until the food becomes liquid. Chewing sufficiently means less stress on the stomach and intestinal tract to break down the food. It also means faster absorption. Saliva also makes food more alkaline, which can help reduce bloating and gas. Alternatively, slowing down your chewing to focus on the taste and smell of the meal is relaxing and allows you to enjoy the eating experience truly. Bottom line: chew your food correctly, and find value in slowing down to eat.
We already know that the mouth is the first place that food comes into contact with the digestive system. Saliva plays a prominent role in the absorption of nutrients from food. It comes as no surprise that good oral hygiene is the first step in ensuring that your digestive tract is operating optimally. Signs of poor oral health can be indicators for poor digestive and immune function (i.e., bleeding gums, red patches on the inner cheeks, and oral candida). Inflammation in the mouth, something that can present symptoms such as bleeding gums, can mean inflammation further along in the digestive system.
Brushing your teeth is imperative to maintaining good oral hygiene. Brush at least twice a day, more if necessary, for at least 2 minutes. Follow up this process with flossing and tongue scraping to ensure you are covering all aspects of proper oral care.
You’ve likely heard for as long as you can remember that flossing is necessary. Many of us neglect the simple step to our detriment. Flossing removes bacteria and debris from between the teeth and along the gum line. It strengthens gums and reduces inflammation. Make it a point to floss at least once per day.
Lesser known, but equally as important as flossing, is tongue scraping. Tongue scraping helps to remove the residue on your tongue from food and drinks that you consume during the day – as well as the bacteria and dead skin cells that build up over time. It has many benefits to your overall health, including preventing cavities and gum disease from the excess bacteria in your mouth. It can also help to improve palate sensitivity, which allows you to appreciate a broader spectrum of tastes while eating. It also helps to reduce bad breath.
So how do you scrape your tongue effectively?
- Look in a mirror, open your mouth, and stick out your tongue.
- Set the rounded end of the tongue scraper at the back of your tongue.
- Slowly move the scraper forward, toward the tip of your tongue. It would be best if you never pushed the scraper from the tip of your tongue back. Always scrape your tongue back to front.
- Remove debris from the scraper after each pass.
- Repeat until you’ve scraped the entire surface of your tongue (one to two scrapes over the same area).
- Wash the tongue scraper with warm, soapy water, allow it to dry, and store it accordingly.
The entire process generally lasts no longer than a few minutes and offers a myriad of benefits. You can find a tongue scraper at pretty much any drug store or online – copper is the best option, but anyone will do. Just be consistent.
It’s important to remember that these suggestions are only meant to act as a guide. Make sure to consult your primary care doctor and/or dentist when implementing any drastic changes to your diet or healthcare routine.