Focus on Food – Eating Mindfully for More Energy and Less Stress

The following post is written by Meal Garden user and Meal Expert Dr. Salna Smith...

It’s amazing how fast paced and busy our day-to-day lives are.  From the moment we wake our adrenaline skyrockets as we compile our heavy list of to-do’s. We all know it’s not ‘healthy’ but most of us are at a loss for how to change it. And so we push through. Running to get ready, racing to get everyone out the door on time, stressing about what we might be forgetting or how, before our day has even started, there is already too much to get done.

Does this sound at all like a morning you’ve experienced recently? When you imagine yourself in this state, does it feel good in your body?

Not for me. I tense up. My stomach gets knotted, my face heats up and I can tell my breathing is more rapid. Not the best situation for digesting and absorbing breakfast to say the least.

This state is known as ‘fight or flight’ and is the state our nervous systems are in most of the day these days (sadly). Somehow our society has shifted from a ‘play outside until it’s dark, homemade meals’ ideal to a ‘go faster, do more, grab ‘n’ go’ mentality that frankly is akin to the saying ‘death by a thousand cuts’.

It has created a slow decline in our quality of life and at the forefront of this slippery slope of dis-ease, is how we are eating.

I’m Dr. Salna Smith, Naturopathic Doctor and owner of www.kaleandcoffee.ca. I work with high achieving women who feel drained, overwhelmed and are tired of DIY’ing their own health and not getting results. I tailor health plans using lab testing and a detailed work up so these hard working souls can regain a sustainable energy, feel recharged and ready to tackle their priorities head on again! And food is one of my favourite places to start!

I’m Dr. Salna Smith, Naturopathic Doctor and owner of www.kaleandcoffee.ca. I work with high achieving women who feel drained, overwhelmed and are tired of DIY’ing their own health and not getting results. I tailor health plans using lab testing and a detailed work up so these hard working souls can regain a sustainable energy, feel recharged and ready to tackle their priorities head on again! And food is one of my favourite places to start!

Forget what we’re eating. That’s for another post. I’m talking about HOW we eat.

While on the subway, while standing up or walking, working at our computers, during meetings, and definitely not taking the time to taste or chew our food. Our society is skilled in our advanced ability to gulp food and distract ourselves from the present moment. Compound this with quick fix foods (lackluster sandwiches, canned soup, cereals, crackers and sugary snacks) and we have a recipe for disaster.

But this isn’t anything new. We know this right? But what am I supposed to do? I can barely get through my day much less add the additional stress of HOW I’m eating to my never-ending list of worries.

Enter a little background. When we are constantly rushing…and eating…and rushing, we keep our bodies on high alert. This means, in the ‘fight or flight’ state, all our blood is diverted to our extremities and brain to keep us alert and poised to ‘run’ from our attackers. This is in and of itself quite a healthy response. Need to suddenly stand up and speak in a meeting? Adrenaline helps you do that. It allows the brain to become focused and for you to deliver the information your colleagues are waiting for. You definitely aren’t focused on digesting your lunch.

What if I told you that when we focus on eating – actually chewing, tasting and swallowing our food, we enhance the body’s ability to digest our food, absorb the nutrients and in turn, have higher energy, more focus and a calmer outlook in our busy days?

In order for us to digest our food optimally though, we need to be in the ‘rest and digest’ phase whereby the parasympathetic (or calming side) of our nervous system is activated. This shifts blood flow BACK to the digestive system, optimizes digestive juices from the gallbladder, stomach and pancreas for breakdown of food and promotes healthy bacterial gut flora (read: less gas and bloating) and peristalsis in the large bowel leading to better elimination of waste. All in all, when we eat in a conscious way, we can better utilize the food we’ve just eaten to help us conquer our day! That to me is winning!

The term given to being conscious of HOW we eat is known as Mindful Eating.

Many misunderstand this term and take it to mean being acutely aware of what we are eating. This can lead to restrictive food practices (including Anorexia and Bulimia) as well as Orthorexia - a relatively new term used to describe those with a fixation on eating only ‘healthy’ foods. These limiting food practices at all intensities create a jail-type mentality.

Introduce Mindful Eating – being consciously aware of how we are eating, and eating with purpose. This awareness works to squash restrictions. This consciousness refers to bringing our awareness to our food when we eat.  What are food looks like, how it tastes/feels in our mouths and taking the time to properly chew and swallow our food versus gulping it back so we can move on to the next task.

Mindful eating can be accomplished in a number of ways and by no means is the following list exhaustive. If you were to pick 1 or 2 mindful eating practices to begin today, you’d be ahead of the game. Remember; it’s amazing what can happen when we focus on being present – in our lives, at the kitchen table etc. The lens with which we view the world widens and this, my friends, is beautiful. It puts you back in control of your health.

So, give those glands of yours that manage stress (aka your adrenals) and your mind a well-deserved break. Digest your food optimally. Have more energy and stress less with these simple techniques. You’ll be so happy you did.

1)   Rid Yourself of Distractions.

Turn off the TV, radio and put your phone on silent. Either enjoy the silence or have family time (= conversation) around the table. Make this your new norm for a week and see how you feel after meals.

2)   Appreciate Your Food

Mindful eating isn’t about developing a superhuman power of concentration but more so about developing a deep appreciation of food. Where it came from, how it is prepared and just enjoying the food you are eating. This can be practiced when eating anything from a salad to pizza. Really enjoy your food. When we do this we tend to eat slower and savor each bite, which optimizes digestion, we stress less, and our energy improves.

3)   Eat Slower

This can feel like torcher for many people. To chew 20 times before swallowing while putting the fork down between bites. Argh. My suggestion: be gentle with yourself. Remind yourself that meals are not a race. Try introducing chopsticks as your utensil to slow things down a bit and reframe ‘eat slower’ into ‘enjoy and savor– this will bring you back to the present moment so you can truly taste your food which will inevitably allow you to slow down.

4)   Don’t Forget to Breathe

I often suggest a few deep belly breaths (diaphragmatic breathing) before meals and after. Take a deep breath into your belly so your belly button rises. Try not to move your shoulders. Do this 3x’s before you begin to eat and at the end of your meal. This allows for a moment of calm and encourages blood flow to the digestive system allowing for a quiet mind and optimal digestion.

5)   Plate your Food

Seems silly to state but being a society of ‘busy’, we often eat out of bags. Putting your food on a plate, however small the portion, allows you to see what you’re eating so you can appreciate it (see tip 2), which brings awareness to your meal. This habit is one that turns eating into a pleasurable experience and helps refocus on the food itself.

Cheers to Mindful Eating - Sante!

With Laughter and Leafy Green Love,

Dr. Salna Smith, ND

Want more inspiration for eating mindfully? Check out the Holistic Health Toolkit now available in Meal Garden - details below.