Relax your way to better digestion
It’s easy to think that the food we eat is all that affects how we digest our food. After all, these days there is no hotter topic than talking about what to avoid (ahem- gluten) for better digestion. But if there’s anything we’ve learnt, it’s that our bodies are complicated, and generally, it’s not just one thing that will help us stay healthy, but instead, it is a whole combination.
Stress and digestion, don’t pair well together…
Our bodies are very cleverly designed, and when you understand why, you’ll think twice about eating your lunch in front of your computer. Our nervous system has two different sides to it and they are each in charge of controlling different body functions. The sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the fight or flight mode, whilst the parasympathetic is the resting and digesting mode(1). When we perceive that we are in danger, or we are stressed for some reason, our brain naturally prepares to fight or run. It directs more blood and energy to our muscles, heart and lungs so that we can make a quick escape or fight our threat. Survival is the priority in this mode, not digesting our last meal – that can be done later – if we survive. On the other hand, when we are relaxed, our parasympathetic system can kick in, to rest, digest, and do its regular body maintenance.
From fight or flight to rest and digest
In our modern busy lives, sometimes we are in constant ‘fight or flight’ mode; busy, stressful jobs, long hours, deadlines, constant noise, and intense exercise all activate the sympathetic nervous system. That’s not to say, however, that we can’t make a conscious effort, to try to shift into rest and digest mode. This will signal to our brains that there is no danger and we can direct more blood to our stomachs and gut so as to digest our food properly (2). Makes sense huh?
So what’s the solution?
You already know the answer to this, but let’s explore a few options. Stress management techniques are wide-ranging and it’s important that you find one that suits you. Meditation is right on trend these days, and there are lots of ways to get you started. I would argue that mobile apps are really the most convenient way, and you can even do meditation on the tube/train/bus, at home or take 10 minutes at the office before lunch. All it takes is a few minutes to trigger the ‘rest and digest’ mode, so best to do it before meals and during stressful periods. Gentle stretching or a slow stroll around the block are also good options if you find it difficult to meditate. Whatever it is, make sure you find a way to relax before meals to ensure you make the most of that food, and feel great after you’ve eaten it!