Life is busy. Who has time to sit and eat at the table, right? Take this food for thought … (no) pun intended! Between 60 and 70 million Americans suffer from digestive disorders. The number of adults diagnosed with ulcers in the United States has risen to 14.8 million, and emergency room visits due to digestive problems is at 8.3 million people. Americans who visit their physician due to digestive problems is at 22.4 million. The cost of health care for digestive disorders has reached $135.9 billion each year. Digestive disorders are on the rise, along with treatment costs.
What’s the fix for this growing health problem? Mindful eating has shown to be a healthy practice for those who suffer from digestive disorders. The number one cause of digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome is stress, because stress weakens the digestion process.
Now, everyone has stress at some point in their lives. Stress is our brain and body’s response to challenges and demands from family, work and school. However, our bodies are not built to stay in a state of stress for long periods of time. Living with stress can cause digestive problems and other chronic diseases.
Mindful eating can balance the stress response and improve the digestive process. Mindful eating means paying attention to our bodies and our food during eating. This is more likely to occur when we sit at the table to eat and when we free ourselves of all unnecessary stimulus—such as the computers, telephones and televisions. Eating with others whenever possible is also a good idea. Mindful eating is more likely to happen when we slow down while eating and chew our food about 30 times before swallowing. Putting our fork down between bites and enjoying the color, smell, taste and feel of our food also enhances mindful eating.
Let’s try this in super-slow motion with a raisin or small food item of your choice.
Seeing & touching
Hold the raisin in the palm of your hand or between your finger and thumb. Now, pay attention to seeing it, looking carefully as if you have never seen such an object before. Notice how it feels as you turn it between your fingers. Notice where the light catches the surface, the darker spots and colors. Let your eyes notice every part.
Smelling & hearing
Now hold the raisin to your nose. Notice any smell? Now put it to your ear. Does it make a sound? Now put it to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know where to put it. Notice your mouth watering? Gently place the raisin in your mouth without biting it; just explore the feeling of having it in your mouth, noticing the flavor.
Tasting & swallowing
When you are ready, take a bite—with interest. Notice the taste that the raisin releases. Slowly chew it, noticing the saliva in your mouth, the change in how it feels. Then, see if you can notice when you want to swallow before you actually swallow. Now, see if you can follow how it feels to swallow, feel it moving down your throat to your stomach. You are now one raisin heavier. Great job. End of exercise.
Someone can read the above exercise to you or you can record yourself reading it, then play it back as you practice. Create a setting that encourages your body and mind to relax.
Improving digestion and relieving digestive disorders are only two benefits of mindful eating. Mindful eating can also help with weight loss. According to a Harvard Medical School article, allowing hormones, which are released in the body while eating, enough time to tell our brain when we are full can help us accomplish our weight loss goals. Weight loss is a result of mindful eating, because we eat less food when we allow our brain time to receive the signal that we are full. So, give mindful eating a try for better digestion, relief of digestive disorders, and weight loss. Mindful eating can also be a great way to spend quality time with family and friends.
Harrell is a grad student at the University of North Florida with more than three years of experience as a certified health education specialist and health and wellness coach.