Fix Your Digestion, Part 1

The most often missed question on my midterm exam is “Where does digestion begin?” Almost everyone checks “in the mouth.” This is a pretty good answer. In fact in the next post we’re going to talk about the importance of chewing. But the correct answer is that digestion begins in the brain. So it makes sense that this is where we should start fixing things. What I mean by this is, how you eat and your attitude towards eating is crucial to your digestion.

Here’s what should happen: you begin to feel hungry; you start to think about what would satisfy your appetite; soup? salad? stew? a burger? or maybe Ben & Jerry’s chocolate cherry ice cream. Then you go about preparing whatever it is you’ve decided on. When it’s all ready, you sit down, relax, pause a moment to reflect on how wonderful it is to have this delicious food in front of you, then you dig in with relish.

During this entire preparatory scenario, your brain has been telling your digestive system to start secreting the juices and enzymes necessary to process this feast. So by the time it all arrives in your stomach, your digestion is in full gear. That’s what should happen.

Now rewind to what actually happens most of the time: you suddenly notice you’re ravenous and have a headache (probably caused by low blood sugar;) you’re late for your next appointment and fighting traffic; you detour through a fast food place and grab something which you practically inhale in the car, not even tasting it; or perhaps, having planned ahead, you reach into your glove box for that protein bar you stashed there for just such an occasion; down the hatch it goes while you talk on your cell phone, explaining to your client that traffic is bad so you’ll be a little late.

Sadly, the above scenario is the more likely one for many of us, even with the best intentions. Unfortunately, we’ve bypassed the first critical stage of the digestive process–engaging the brain in the activity so it switches gears and cues the digestive system to begin its work.

So here’s the first step in fixing your digestive system: stop and sit down to eat. Breathe, relax, and put your attention on your food. Don’t multi-task, read, or watch tv. And for heaven’s sake stop eating in your car! You might even say a little grace or express your appreciation for the food. Take your time. This one step can improve your digestion considerably. Stay tuned for the next step–all about chewing and why it’s so important.

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