Are You Making This Very Common Eating Mistake?

It is very common in today’s culture to have our breakfast in the car while we’re driving, have lunch at our desks while we’re still working, and have a quick dinner standing over the kitchen counter, hardly pausing before rushing off to our next commitment.


The trouble with eating while we’re rushing, working, driving, or even feeling anxious or upset lies in our central nervous system. Within our autonomic nervous system (the part that runs on automatic and regulates such things as heartbeat, digestion, and pupil dilation), there are two branches: sympathetic and parasympathetic.


The sympathetic nervous system is also known as our “fight or flight response”.  It is the system that is engaged when we are anxiously rushing to work or dealing with a stressful activity. When this system is engaged, blood flows away from our abdomen and towards our extremities. Our pupils dilate to let in more light to see the “enemy,” our stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol begin pumping through our bloodstream, and digestion is inhibited.


In contrast, when the parasympathetic nervous system – also known as our “rest and digest” state – is engaged, blood flow goes away from our extremities toward our abdomen, pupils contract, and digestion is enhanced. This is the state we are in when we’re feeling relaxed, restful, calm, and content.


In an ideal world, we would only eat when we’re in a parasympathetic state. If we’re eating in a sympathetic state (i.e. when our “fight or flight” response is engaged), our digestion, absorption, and elimination is compromised and we will not be able to utilize our nutrients as effectively.


One quick way to get into a parasympathetic state before eating is through a simple deep breathing exercise, focusing on exhaling for longer than you’re inhaling. When you make your exhalations last longer than your inhalations, your vagus nerve (which is a far-reaching nerve that starts in your brainstem and extends down into your stomach and intestines) sends a signal to your brain to switch over to a parasympathetic state.


So the next time you’re about to eat but notice you’re feeling stressed or anxious, try intentionally slowing your breath and inhaling for a count of five, holding for a few moments, and then exhaling for a count of ten, then repeating several times until your body relaxes. Your digestion will thank you.


Bess @ Live Simple Eat Well