We have an adult-only family vacation trip coming up – not only adults-only, but the youngest among us is not even 60. I have in my mind that this will be a very serene time on the beautiful Oregon coast, with a few leisurely trips to some especially scenic sites.
Time away from the regular busyness of life, when we can concentrate on just relaxing, is also a good time to check in with the quality of our meal eating and subsequent digestion.
Many of my meals are more rushed than I know is beneficial for healthy digestion. If you’re at all like me, then you, too have occasionally rushed through a good meal, only to have it hang heavy and brick-like in your stomach. That effect occurs because when we eat under stress, we essentially shut down our digestive system.
Marc David, MA, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating in Boulder, Colorado, and author of The Slow Down Diet, encourages eating in a state of relaxation, which will enhance your enjoyment, and your digestion and metabolism, too – your overall health. He says, “It is probably more important to relax and count our blessings than it is to count calories.” Doing this fits right in with my vacation “relaxation theme,” and I plan to concentrate on it while I’m away, and hope that some improved behaviors stick with me when I return home.
Stress, or the mismanagement of it, is not a friend of relaxation or digestion.
The flight-or-fight response, which occurs in high-stress situations, is a wonderful survival mechanism. It means that all your metabolic energy gets rerouted into survival function. Blood will reroute from your midsection and digestive organs to your arms and legs for quick fighting, or to your head for quick thinking and fleeing. Your body will naturally shut down its digestive function when it is faced with any kind of stress or perceived threat. It prioritizes instinctively, knowing that the digestion can get taken care of after the crisis.
The bad news is that the delay can cause all kind of digestive distress. Thus, it’s best to stay as relaxed and non-stressed as possible during a meal.
How about a midday siesta?
Cultures in which people generally take a nap or siesta, do so after having their mid-day meal, the largest of the day. After the heaviest meal of the day, it’s a good thing to have your fullest metabolic force available in the body. This occurs naturally between 12 and 1:30 p.m. So it works perfectly to enjoy the most substantial meal of the day at this time. The time between approximately 2 and 4:30 p.m. are the natural hours for a metabolic downturn. In America, when we hit this mid-afternoon slump in energy, we often go looking for an energy boost – coffee, chocolate, or sugary foods to keep us going. Traditional cultures, with perhaps a better history of listening to their body rhythms, take a nap. This relaxed state turns on digestion and maximizes nutrient assimilation.
Proper breathing in a relaxed state while eating is a big help good digestion.
Quickening our breathing will change our brain wave pattern. Breathing in a stressed way –quick, shallow, and infrequent will cause us to feel anxious. Conversely, if, when stressed, we adopt a breathing pattern of relaxation, which is regular, rhythmic, and deep, a signal is sent to our brain which says, “I am a relaxed person, breathing like a relaxed person. The conscious use of breath can change our brain state in as little time as a minute.
Good digestion is facilitated calm, relaxed breathing. The brain then helps us relax and turns on our full digestive and calorie-burning capacity.
Good posture facilitates relaxation and good digestion.
When people are eating fast or are stressed, they tend to hunch forward when they are eating. A better position is an upright one with relaxed shoulders and feet flat on the floor. Gravity helps the body to digest food properly. When the body is upright, you also have the best breathing capacity, because the spine is erect, so your lings will be most fully operative and also expand more fully. The greater oxygen intake in an erect posture means that you will take in more oxygen and digest food more fully. Conversely, hunching over your plate or bowl inhibits both relaxation and digestion.
There’s more. The more erect your spine, the more functional the brain’s going to be. Therefore, if you sit up straight while you eat, you’ll tend to be more aware, and more awareness with your meal will make you more attuned to what and how much you’re eating, and also more able to digest it properly.
There are many components of living a healthy lifestyle.
While I am vacationing, I am going to pay particular attention to choosing good food, and relaxing and digesting my food as well as I can, in hopes that when I come home to a busier, more stressful life, I can maintain some good new habits at mealtime.