What are you doing at this moment? What did you do during your last meal? Were you scrolling through social media? Multitasking at work or school? Driving from one place to the next?
We live during a time when efficiency and multitasking are expected in order to be the most productive. And as a result, we put meal-times and self-care to the wayside!
Systematically, humans are designed with two modes, sympathetic and parasympathetic, however, it’s more likely that you’ve heard them referred to as “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” respectively. The sympathetic and parasympathetic are two sides of the autonomic nervous system which controls blood flow, hormone production, and basically everything else in physical function. We and most other living things on this planet developed this two-sided nervous system as a way to monitor energy use so we can handle danger when needed.
The sympathetic state, or “fight or flight,” prepares the body for danger by diverting blood from the digestive system out to the muscles where it may be necessary for speed or endurance, increasing the heart rate, and stimulating the production of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. The parasympathetic state, or “rest and digest,” pulls blood into the digestive system, relaxes the muscles and heart rate, and stimulates the immune system, digestion hormone/enzyme production, as well as reproductive hormone production.
Most of us are living in a constant state of fight or flight, whether we realize it or not! And as you can imagine, this has a negative impact on our ability to digest food and feel well. One way we can support our bodies is by eating meals without distractions. Set your phone down, turn off your computer or TV, and close your book during meal times. Instead, try taking a few deep, belly breaths before consciously using all of your senses. What does it look like? Can you smell each of the ingredients? Did you hear it cooking? Or does it make a sound when you cut or bite into it? Is it hot? Cold? How does it taste? By taking deep breaths, you immediately bring a sense of calm and safety to your body which opens the door to “rest and digest.” Consciously being present and feeling each of your senses while you eat furthers your movement into that parasympathetic mode. As you relax, digestion becomes easier and your mind even becomes primed for the next part of your day.