I can hardly believe that it is Thanksgiving again, that time of year that everyone gets all stressed out getting everything ready for dinners and get-togethers, and then to finally sit down and relax over a meal with loved ones.
It is a common tradition on Thanksgiving to go around the table and say what you are thankful for. After everyone has said their piece, someone says grace, and then the feast of overeating begins!
This practice of stopping to be thankful is, of course, a great tradition that makes us stop and think about what we are really grateful for, and to think about the food we are about to eat and the time that went into preparing it. It benefits our mind and soul, but what most don’t think about or know is the effect it has on our body and digestion.
Our body is designed to be in one of two states, sympathetic or parasympatheic. Think of the sympathetic state as fight or flight mode. This is caused by any form of stress, whether it is emotional stress, driving through rush hour, or simply just rushing through the demands of the day-to-day. In this state, all of the attention and blood flow is sent to the extremities, in case you need to run away or fight, in the most primal sense. Our bodies react the same way if we are stressed about an upcoming promotion as it is if we are being chased by a bear in the woods. Digestion is the body’s last concern in this mode.
Parasympathetic, in contrast, happens when are are relaxed. As all of the systems are able to calm down and return to normal function. This allows the focus and blood flow to return to other priorities, like digesting our food.
Since stressors are common throughout every part of every day, it is so easy to eat in a hurry, cram in a breakfast in the car on the way to work, eat in our short lunch break, and then maybe have a quick dinner with the family before running off to soccer practice without ever stopping to relax and enjoy a meal. If you think of this in terms of how our bodies work concerning digestion, you can see what kind of havoc this would wreak on how well we are digesting the food we eat.
Undigested food then sits in the stomach, not getting broken down properly. This leads to fermented carbohydrates, rancid fats, and putrefied proteins. As this nasty mix of undigested food passes through, the body is absorbing very few of the nutrients, and what is being absorbed is damaged goods. Since these nutrients are what the very cells that make us up run on, every system suffers in some way. The most common side effect most people experience from all of this is bloating and gas, but there are many things that can come from this issue.
We can eliminate so many of these problems simply by stopping before we eat, taking a deep breath, and taking a second to be thankful for the food we are about have. Just a few seconds is all it takes to realign our system back into that parasympathetic state for optimal digestion. And of course, this does so much more than that, including giving our mind a much-needed break, and taking some of the stress off of our adrenals and stress hormones that have to work so hard to keep up with our busy lives.
So stop and enjoy your food. Your body and belly will thank you.