Why HOW you eat is as important as WHAT you eat!

What we eat is of course very important. But did you know that how we eat is also very important; some would argue equally or even more so! We may have the best diet in the world but our bodies need to be in the right state to be able to digest the food we eat and absorb the nutrients. In fact, in the nutrition community we have a saying: “it’s not what you eat, it’s what you absorb”!

In today’s modern world we are constantly faced with stressors: phones ringing, constant access to emails, deadlines, work pressures, family pressures, social pressures, the list goes on. This puts our bodies into a state of stress, often called ‘flight or fight mode’. We cleverly developed this response through evolution in order to be able to respond to danger: our pupils dilate, the heart beats faster and blood sugar rises. Systems not required are switched off including digestion, reproduction and sleep. This is not a state we are designed to be in long term: its purpose is to help us deal with danger and then relax again. Unfortunately, nowadays we are often in prolonged states of stress which has a very negative impact on our bodies. It could well be argued that the rise of digestive disorders we see in today’s world is a result of this stress. We have switched off our digestion to respond to a danger that never goes away and at the same time we are expecting our bodies to deal with the food we force down. It’s not surprising our poor bodies find this hard to cope with.

This is why I always encourage all of my clients to relax as much as possible and in particular around meal times. As a society we need to get back to meal times being about eating: sharing a meal around the dinner table; not shovelling food down on the run, while working or watching TV. Try to get yourself in a relaxed state for a few minutes before eating. If you work in an office, get away from your desk at lunchtime if at all possible. Put the phone away and don’t look at emails, they will be there when you get back. If necessary take a few deep breaths before you eat. Then focus on your food. Take your time over it. Eat slowly, chew well. Savour every bite. Think about the energy you are giving your body by consuming this food, whether or not you consider it to be a ‘healthy’ meal or not. This is the art of mindful eating. As well as getting more pleasure from your food and helping you absorb the nutrients from it; studies have found that eating slowly and chewing well means you eat less aiding weight loss. A win, win!