How we eat is just as important as what we eat. The digestive process actually begins before the food even hits our mouths. There is a phase, known as ‘cephalic phase’ of digestion and it begins at the first sight and smell of food.
The term ‘Cephalic’ literally means ‘head’ in Latin. This is considered to be the very beginning of the digestive process and it starts in the head with our eyes, ears, nose and mouth. The Cephalic phase is responsible for triggering the vagus nerve to kick-starting the stomach so that it can start producing more acid and digestive enzymes to help break down the food.
This phase is so integral that it helps the stomach produce up to 30% of acid, and 20% pancreatic secretion that is released to break down our food. Skipping this process can be one of the leading factors to heartburn, reflux and bloating. So, how do we nurture the cephalic phase of digestion? We start eating mindfully.
What’s mindful eating?
Mindful eating is the practice of looking at your food, smelling it and really being present before you start eating, and even while chewing. It’s a real ‘in-the-moment’ awareness of the food and drinks that you put into your body, but in an observant way so that your body is signalled about taste, satisfaction and fullness. And this practice can be further explored while shopping and preparing.
Unfortunately for many of us, we find ourselves eating while ‘on-the-go’, whether that be in a car driving somewhere or sitting in front of a computer screen. We’re mindlessly chewing, regardless of whether we’re still hungry or not. In fact, often we eat for reasons other than hunger, rather to satisfy emotional needs or to cope with stress.
What’s wrong with mindless eating?
If we don’t practice mindfully eating our food, then we miss out on a huge opportunity of a hit, or release of serotonin in our brains. Not only that, but our stomachs are also left to do some hectic work on digesting huge clumps of food.
Chewing is our only form of mechanical digestion. After our mouth, only enzymes and acid break down our food, which isn’t enough to deal with large chunks of food.
How many times should we chew our food? The rule of thumb is that your food should resemble baby food before it is swallowed, so get to work everyone.
What are the benefits of mindful eating?
One study found that people who perform other tasks while they are eating, like watching TV or working, weigh 18% more than people who focus on eating. That’s a pretty neat life hack, right? But it’s true that those who practise mindful eating are less likely to overeat. When we slow down and practise mindfulness, we start to notice the subtler cues of satisfaction, so we stop eating at 80% full to prevent indigestion.
So how can mindful eating become a thing?
- When you take a look in the fridge, ask yourself if you’re actually hungry or just eating out of boredom.
- When food is in front of you, take a minute to look at it. Smell it and make sure you are salivating before you take your first bite
- Eating with someone else can slow you down. If you have someone to speak with, this will naturally slow down your eating process.
- Limit mindless distractions like the TV or scrolling on your phone
- Enjoy your food. Switching your thoughts to the excitement and gratitude for the food that we eat will nourish our bodies.
Mindful eating isn’t always about being perfect, but it is about focussing on all your senses whenever possible to help your body have a healthier relationship with digesting food.