We often think that being healthy with our feed is all about WHAT to eat. As a coach I get “just tell me what to eat that’s all I want to know”. But WHAT to eat is only half the story. We don’t realise that HOW to eat is actually more important and in this blog I’ll give you seven steps on HOW to eat for maximum nutrient absorption. If your body is not primed for maximum nutrient absorption then it doesn’t matter what you eat, you won’t be getting the most out of your food.
What do you mean HOW to eat? Just put it in your mouth, chew and swallow, right? But there’s a lot more to it eating than you can imagine and once you understand these seven steps it will change the way you eat for ever! How to eat covers your mental and emotional state before a meal, your level of stress while eating and the level of attention you give to the food that you’re eating.
Before we get into that we need to understand what the Autonomic Nervous System or ANS is. The ANS is part of our Central Nervous System (CNS) and governs our gastrointestinal function. Put it another way the ANS is responsible for stimulating the digestive process. There are two branches to the ANS, the parasympathetic which relaxes the body and turns on digestion and then there’s the sympathetic which turns off digestion when you’re in a flight or fight or freeze stress response or when there’s no food in your belly.
So, you can think of these branches as on/off switches. The part of the brain that turns on stress turns off digestion. Conversely, the part of the brain that turns on the relaxation response turns on full healthy digestive power. So being in the ideal state to assimilate and digest the food we eat is crucial to our overall wellbeing.
So, there are seven steps of how to eat our food and when I learned these steps and started just doing one or two of them it was a real game changer for me, so I hope it will be for you too.
1. 20-minute meal – make each meal last 20 minutes
This one was a big one for me. I used to be a fast eater and I prided myself on it. Friends and family always commented on how quickly I would eat and I wasn’t aware that it was causing me to overeat and place more pressure on my digestive system. It takes around 20 minutes for the brain to cotton on that you are full and so taking your time with a meal and spreading it over 20 minutes means you won’t overeat as you will naturally feel full and satisfied.
When I think back to WHY I was eating so fast I think it was a combination of things growing up. I grew up with two hungry brothers and at dinner time if you didn’t eat quickly then you would likely miss out on what was going around! And then there is what our parents said to us as kids, “no dessert until you finish all your meal” which subconsciously programs us to potentially overeat and leaving something on the plate was a no no.
So, when I first tried eating a meal over 20 minutes, I was amazed for the first time in my life I actually couldn’t finish the meal and I had to throw some of it away. A meal that if I ate the way I used to do I would have eaten the whole plate no problems at all.
Just doing this first step alone will change the way you eat, but add the other six steps and it will really change your life!
2. Digest your emotions before eating
As discussed previously, in order to trigger the parasympathetic relaxation response to maximise nutrient absorption from our food we have to get our head in the game so to speak before eating. We need to first digest our emotions because while we are in a triggered state we are in a stress response and eating in this state wont assist in digestion. When we are stressed and eat our food sits like a lump in the stomach.
So, we use a system called emotional brain training or EBT which gives you the opportunity to check in with yourself and assess your feelings before eating and asking yourself what is my stress level? Am I feeling great? Am I feeling good? Am I a little stressed or am I definitely stressed? By going through this EBT process we trigger the parasympathetic relaxation response and prepare ourselves to eat.
3. Down tools – fork down 3 times in a meal
Fork down 3 times in a meal really helps to slow down the eating process. By consciously downing tools so to speak we are taking stock of where we are at and enjoying the meal as opposed to rushing through it. It’s a really good habit to get in to and has helped me really slow down and get to that 20-minute meal.
4. Breath – breath between bites
This one sounds like a no brainer, of course we are breathing during a meal. But it’s really about consciously getting oxygen into our blood which aids in nutrient absorption and increases our metabolism. Oxygen is a key nutrient that is often forgotten about but think of it like a fire. The more oxygen present the better the combustion of the fuel, so by maximising oxygen in our blood stream during eating we are giving our bodies the best chance of extracting maximum nutrients.
5. Chew food but eat with your senses – practice chewing 30 times
6. Eat until satisfied not until full – eat until 75% full
7. BAD – its ok to be naughty and have fun
Break away from your routine
Do some fun, crazy thing