It’s Not WHAT You Eat

It’s HOW you eat.

Have you ever considered how you eat? I know we spend a lot of time thinking about what we put in our mouths but not so much about how we eat it. In fact, this could be the most important of all decisions surrounding food. We are making strides to always make better food choices for ourselves and our family members, but often, we don’t consider the how.

We stand up to eat. We eat while driving. We eat when upset and in a mad hurry. Eating when stressed, upset, or angry shuts down all of the messages from the brain to the digestive tract and interferes with optimal digestion. All of these scenarios compromise our digestion and can affect how we absorb, metabolize, and move food through our gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Chewing is the first place digestion begins, yet we often do not chew our food nearly enough or deliberately. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, it’s ideal to chew 30-50 times per mouthful, depending on what we are eating— less for plants and carbs, more for meat. Once past our mouths, digestion is in full swing.

When we see and smell food, we make hydrochloric acid. This helps digest food once it gets into our stomach. Hydrochloric acid breaks proteins down into smaller proteins called polypeptides. These are more easily absorbed as the food passes to our small intestine. From there, the pancreas steps in with its own secretions of enzymes to support the next phase of digestion. The small intestine is where all of the food gets absorbed: proteins, carbs, and micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, all cross the lumen of the small intestinal lining.

Larger pieces of food are more likely to ferment in the gut (causing belching), if they arrive in small intestine partially digested. This process can lead to SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), which can cause numerous prolonged problems in our small intestine, such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, stomach pains, and more.

Digestion is a complicated orchestra of hormone signaling and enzyme production between our brains and intestines. We are not automotrons. That is, if you are standing up to eat or eating in a hurry just to get food in your stomach, your gut is not getting preparatory messages for digestion, which include:

  • increase in hydrochloric acid secretion
  • increase in bile secretion, and
  • an increase in digestive motility.

Some of these hormones actually signal satiety. So, if the hormone messaging is not being conveyed properly, guess what? You still might be hungry, even shortly after eating a meal.

Some people will say if you do not have time to sit down and digest a meal, don’t eat. That can be complicated if you have low blood sugar, since this is the biggest signal that you need food. What you can do is start to notice when you are eating in circumstances that are not ideal: rushing, stressed, overly emotional, or standing up, and see how you feel during and after eating.

Sitting mindfully to eat can better regulate your hunger signals. It can help you absorb your nutrients and reduce the chances that you will develop gut-related ailments. Give yourself a few minutes to relax before eating, even if it is 3-4 minutes. This tells your brain and gut that you are ready for food. When you do eat, focus on chewing each mouthful. That’s the hardest part: retraining ourselves! You will likely eat less and feel more satisfied, which solves a lot of problems with overeating and portion control. Making some of these small changes will help your gut do its best job.

Bon Appetit!

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