Being mindful and giving thanks at mealtime puts our mind in that relaxed state and can be one of the most important things we can do to improve our digestion and nutritional status.
Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and while it will look a whole lot different this year, I want to help you make a conscious effort to avoid the whole post-feasting exhaustion. All I want for Christmas is to avoid spiking and plunging our collective blood sugar on Thanksgiving. May we ignite joy, and not inflammation!
Every bite of food, whether it’s part of a Thanksgiving meal or a weekday lunch, travels on a beautiful journey through the body, setting off a dance party release of hormones, chemicals, and digestive fluids. Our system converts food into a broad range of nutrients that give us the energy and mojo we need to be our vibrant selves.
If we aren’t digesting our food properly, these nutrients aren’t absorbed and that’s where the problems begin. If we’re chronically stressed, we’re likely to suffer a suppressed immune system. This increases gut inflammation and permeability of the intestinal lining—and that can result in a Leaky Gut. Stress also releases cortisol, which activates the sympathetic nervous system and fires of a “flight or fight” response that suppresses metabolic processes that are not required for immediate survival—including digestion. So, you can see that stress and eating have a direct biological correlation with one another.
When we are in a relaxed state, the parasympathetic nervous system is active, which prepares the body for resting and digesting. Stomach acid production increases and the blood supply is drawn into the digestive organs. Our body gets ready to receive food and kick off the slow, natural process of absorption so we maximize the nutritional benefit we get from the fork and spoonful of food we eat. As you sit at the Thanksgiving table, before you take that very first bite, feel that “in your gut” sensation of gratefulness and thanks, not only for the amazing way your body works, but of the love and friendship of everyone sitting around you.
If you’re feeling stressed when you’re about to eat, take a few deep breaths. Focus on a soothing word. Put an image in your mind of your favorite place or the most tranquil spot you can imagine. Say a prayer. Do whatever you can to move to a calm, relaxing state—then take your first bite. Your body will thank you and you’ll make the most of that delicious meal in front of you.
Ways to increase your parasympathetic nervous system and not overeat
- Eat a protein/fat/fiber-rich breakfast so your blood sugar is stable
- Stay hydrated all-day
- Write down 10 reasons you are grateful for the people and occasion ahead
- Meditate in the car and take deep, relaxed breaths before you arrive and throughout the gathering
- Engage, but do not react
- Eat slowly and chew lots (remind yourself why you are grateful while you chew)
- Make every cocktail or mocktail last at least 45 minutes and have a glass of water lasting just as long between every class of wine, beer, or cocktail
If you overindulge, forgive yourself. Beating yourself up only leads to a downward spiral. If you fall off, climb back on. Be gentle with yourself in all ways, and especially during this time. Holidays can be stressful any year. Lean on your Questies, as we are here for you.
Christina C Wilson MS, CNS, LN