I learned how to meditate on my 26th birthday. I had felt depressed for most of my life and desperately wanted to be free and happy. I searched long and hard for answers and one night I typed “learn how to meditate” into google. That’s when mindfulness entered my life.
Later that year, I reached my lowest point. I was more depressed and chronically fatigued than ever before. In fact, it was painful to even walk up the stairs to my second floor New York City apartment. Doctors pushed antidepressants, but I knew from experience that they weren’t going to do much.
I eventually found a functional nutritionist who diagnosed me with candida overgrowth and a gluten intolerance, so I had to drastically change my diet.
I had to cut out gluten, sugar, dairy, coffee, alcohol, most fruit and most carbs, which is pretty much all I was eating at the time. While I absolutely swear by this anti-inflammatory diet, there was another piece that helped me just as much as changing my diet.
I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, but it retrospect, I would call it mindful eating. Since I had no energy to go out at night, I would sit at home and research ways to feel better. I found things like the Whole 30 diet and Donna Gates’ Body Ecology diet which opened up a whole new world to me.
I quickly learned that it wasn’t just about what I was eating, but how I was eating. At the time, that looked like lots of take out and/or processed foods, not a lot care for what I was putting in my body, often overeating, and mindlessly eating while watching netflix with feelings of hopelessness.
Through my research, I learned that all of these things were contributing to my health crisis. See, our modern way of living often means we miss out on important phases of digestion.
For example, many of us, especially in New York City, depend on take out and restaurants. We often don’t see or smell our food while it’s cooking, which is important! Anyone who has sautéed some garlic in a little bit of butter can tell you that this will make you salivate! Well guess what — this is called the cephalic phase of digestion. When we salivate, we actually send a signal to the body that begins the digestive cascade. When we miss out on that step, our body has to play catch up, which can cause symptoms of indigestion like, burping, gas, heartburn, constipation, and bloating.
In another example, many of us don’t realize it, but we’re stuck in fight-or-flight mode 24/7. During fight-or-flight, blood moves from our internal organs to our brains and extremities. This function was designed for the times we needed to be able to move and think quickly — like if we were being chased by a tiger! However, many of us get stuck in that fight or flight mode. We may be stressed out, not taking enough time to relax, or we may be eating too much sugar and drinking too much coffee, which can also keep us in that mode.
This is where mindfulness comes in.
By practicing mindfulness at mealtime, we can consciously turn on the various phases of digestion.
Here are a few tips that you can practice today:
Make sure you take the time to see and smell your food while its cooking. If you’re preparing it yourself, try and have good energy while cooking. Whatever energy is present while cooking will get picked up by the food. This is why I like to make a lot of my own food. If you’re stressed out, take some deep breathes and put on your favorite song.
Before you dig in, take a moment to connect your brain to your stomach. This is an old buddhist practice: sit with your eyes closed and imagine where your food came from. Think about it growing out in the field. Think about the sun, the rain, the soil that helped it to grow. Think about the journey it took to get to your plate. If you can’t imagine where that slice of pizza came from, then maybe you shouldn’t be eating it!
Another important part of mindful eating is staying present throughout your entire meal. I suggest setting aside time for each meal where you aren’t doing anything else. That means not answering emails, watching TV, or scrolling through instagram. It’s important to connect with your food while you eat it and not feel stressed out by your ex’s most recent insta post. You can enjoy this time with other people, as long as you aren’t engaging in stressful conversations.
As a health coach, I’ve created several ways for people to put these tips into practice and learn even more techniques that can help improve digestion, increase energy, and reduce bloating. To find out more, you can sign up for my newsletter and get my free guide 5 Surprising Eating Habits That Sabotage Your Energy by going here.
Originally published at medium.com