I’ve talked about how important it is to be in a parasympathetic state in order for food to properly digest before, but there have been some questions so I wanted to give a more detailed explanation about the parasympathetic state and proper digestion. You can get even more detailed information from my September 30, 2013 radio show Eat Well to Live Well with Kellie Hill on Voice America called “Whose Nutrition Advice to Follow?”.
Let’s start by understanding proper digestion. Digestion is the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food. The goal of digestion is to reduce food to molecules so small that the nutrients from our nutrient dense food can be absorbed and used by the cells. Digestion truly begins in the brain. The sight and smell of food triggers the salivary glands to begin producing saliva.
We all have some food we can think of that gets our saliva flowing whether it’s the smell of pizza or grandma’s cookies. Sometimes there’s even food that just seeing it makes you want to eat it / pasteries in a bakery case or fresh cheese being sampled at a creamery. We can’t even smell these foods yet our mouth is watering. That’s our brain ready to start the digestive process.
The mouth is the physical gateway to the digestive system. This mechanical and chemical breakdown of food begins right in your mouth. The enzyme amalayze is secreted in your saliva to start the chemical breakdown and your teeth start the mechanical breakdown when you chew the food.
This first step in digestion goes haywire for most people because we are usually sympathetically stressed. This is more of an amped up feeling / think fight or flight versus relaxed. To properly digest food we need to be in a parasympathetic state. We need to relax while we eat. The more we can get ouselves into the parasympathetic state the easier it is for us to focus on our food and nutrients while so our body can focus on absorbing those nutrients.
Parasympathetic State – How Do We Get There?
To get food properly digested we need to ensure we are in a parasympathetic state. This system stimulates the production of digestive enzymes and stimulates the process of digestion and elimination. Being in a parasympathetic state reduces blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates. While in a parasympathetic state you conserve energy through relaxation and rest.
To help bring about a parasympathetic state prepare your meals and sit down to eat. Start by taking 2-3 deep breaths with your eyes closed. Note the aroma. Open your eyes and take another 2-3 deep breaths while you really notice the visual appeal of your meal. Note the colors and textures. This will help relax and prepare your body to receive nourishment. Take your first bite.
Now, note the taste, temperature, and texture. If you need help slowing down, put your utensils down between bites or eat with your non-dominant hand. Continue with each bite, really focusing on the food. Take a few deep breaths occasionally during the meal to help maintain the parasympathetic state. Think of each meal as an experience to savor, not to be rushed or hurried. If you can make the time / take 15 minutes after each meal to relax, letting your meal digest some before gearing back up, leaving the parasympathetic state and moving into an active sympathetic state.
Obviously I suggest not eating while working at your computer or watching television. For optimal health we have to focus on the foods we are consuming.
This simple trick is also an easy way to lose weight. No major dietary changes just being in a parasympathetic state. You can do this/ this step is easy and convenient. Just by getting yourself into a parasympathetic state your body will use your nutrient dense whole foods more efficiently, you will slow down enough to notice when it’s time to quit eating, and you’ll feel satisfied.