You are What You Eat and HOW You Eat

There is so much attention given to what we eat, how much we eat and when we eat but what about how we eat??  The how we eat component is just as important as the others, maybe even more.

Does this sound familiar?  Grabbing a protein bar, banana, apple, smoothie and eating while you are driving to work?  Standing in the kitchen eating while you are cooking (Moms out there, I know you are ALL guilty of this!)  Seems harmless enough, as someone I know said, “Eating while standing up is better for you because the food goes straight down”.  Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

The truth is, you are doing your body a great disservice by eating on the run. This has to do with our autonomic nervous system, which has two components, sympathetic and parasympathetic.  The sympathetic nervous system connects the internal organs to the brain by spinal nerves. When stimulated, these nerves prepare the organism for stress by increasing the heart rate, increasing blood flow to the muscles, and decreasing blood flow to the skin. and is otherwise known as the “fight or flight” nervous system.  Standing, walking and driving all stimulate the sympathetic nervous system.  The nerve fibers of the parasympathetic nervous system are the cranial nerves, primarily the vagus nerve, and the lumbar spinal nerves. When stimulated, these nerves increase digestive secretions and reduce the heartbeat and is otherwise known as the “rest and digest” nervous system. Sitting, deep breathing and meditation all stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Eating in any other position besides sitting is going to engage your sympathetic nervous system and your digestive system will not be kicked into gear.  This will set you up for a host of dysfunction, such as indigestion, bloating, gas and lessen nutrient absorption from food because your digestive secretions are not “turned on”. We need to be in a parasympathetic state and chew food thoroughly so our body can digest and absorb the nutrients from the food we eat.  

So do yourself a favor, and whenever you can, sit down, take a few deep breaths, chew 20-30 times per bite and enjoy the healthful food I know you are all eating.  Maybe even light some candles and listen to soothing background music, even if you are alone, your body will thank you for it!

Christine Cernera