Often, the unfortunate aftermath of an eating disorder is constant digestive issues, even after one is recovered for some time. Food can also be a really scary, stressful time for even the person that left behind their eating disorder behaviors decades ago. Certified Health Counselor Venessa Rodriguez wrote this for Body Boop on how we can express gratitude for our food, and start to see mealtimes in a different way.
As a holistic integrative nutrition coach, my entire focus of work is on food. This scares the heck out of a lot of people and makes it socially awkward when I’m at parties. Food is a very personal thing and there’s usually a lot of judgement and confusion around food (this is the reason I abstain from sharing what I do at social gatherings now!). But the way I see food through the lens of my work is more than what we typically think of as food. I view food as medicine, food as nourishment, food as fuel. This is a very different concept from what is commonly considered in dietetics or a diet plan. I don’t align myself with any one particular diet or dogma and I don’t count calories or macronutrients in a diet, or create meal plans.
I specialize in functional nutrition and bioindividuality – this is the practice of personalized nutrition to optimize the health of my clients. It’s my job to work with each client, dive into their unique physiology and constitution, and help them to discover what nourishes their unique body, mind and soul. It’s important to take the whole person into account.
In my work, food doesn’t just apply to what you put in your mouth. Food is what also feeds your mind and heart. Food, in the way that I see it, comes in many forms. It’s the love in your life, it’s the music for your ears, it’s your connection to nature and others, it’s your creativity and spirituality. While I look at the biology and physiology of each of my clients to determine what will nourish them to optimal health, I’m also looking holistically at their life. This is just as important, if not more, than what you’re actually eating, digesting and absorbing.
Here are a few ways you can start optimizing your digestion, absorption and overall health. I hope these ideas are helpful to you in your journey.
Activate Your “Rest and Digest” State
Everyone has 2 different states as it relates to your stress response or autonomic nervous system (ANS). There’s the “fight or flight” state, also known as the sympathetic nervous system, and there’s the “rest and digest,” which is the parasympathetic nervous system.
The ANS controls the activity of organs, glands, and involuntary muscle movement. When the sympathetic, or fight or flight state, is activated, your heart rate goes up, blood flows from your organs to your limbs so you can run away from that lion that’s chasing you. Your liver releases sugar into your blood to give you energy to endure or get away from whatever is causing stress and fear. This is a good thing when we need it. When you’re in this state, you are NOT primed for things like digesting food or having a baby. Who has time to eat or procreate when you have a big ass lion chasing you, right?!
Here’s the thing… our brains can’t tell the difference between a lion chasing us and a fight with your partner or bad times at the workplace. As a nation, we are in a chronic state of stress. This means we’re not activating the parasympathetic, or “rest and digest” state properly!
In the rest and digest state, our stress hormone levels normalize and our body does things like stimulating the secretion of saliva and digestive enzymes to the stomach, allows good blood flow so muscles can work to move food along the digestive system and our bodies can focus on absorption. This is the state we want to be in most of the time, and especially when we are eating.
So how the heck do we do this?
1. Slow down
So often, we don’t take time to slow down and enjoy life. We eat on the go, eat at our desk at work, fill up every single second we have with “something to do.” This keeps us in a chronic state of stress and doesn’t allow our body, mind and heart to receive the gifts life has for us, like nourishment. Take a look in your calendar and scratch out the things you absolutely don’t have to do, and schedule some “me time” to do nothing but breathe, enjoy life and NOT feel guilty about it.
2. Take deep breaths
Conscious deep breathing turns on the parasympathetic response. We’re basically tricking your central nervous system, so the brains says something like, “Hey, I thought I was a whacked out nervous wreck but I’m breathing like a relaxed person, so I must be relaxed!” The result is a shift from a state of low digestive activity to full digestive force. Take notice of how you breathe – is it shallow and fast? Try this – every time you’re about to eat a meal or you catch yourself in a stressed state, take four big, deep slow breaths and smile for the beauty that surrounds you. Which brings me to my next point…
3. Express gratitude
The ritual of saying thanks or grace before a meal actually has physiological benefit too! Expressing gratitude for the food that you have been given and for what it is going to do for your health and energy actually does more good things for your body than I can list here. Rather than focus on other things while you eat, or the amount of calories on your plate, try to shift your perception of food into one of nourishment. It’s a beautiful gift that we get to nourish our cells and replenish our energy. Say grace, thanks, meditate, or show gratitude in whatever way that resonates with you. Make it a ritual.
4. Chew really, really well.
Alright, so you’ve started to eat a meal. I want you to chew more times than you think you can. Why is chewing so critical? Saliva has important enzymes that help break down food, making it easier to digest and assimilate which means more of it gets used by the body. Saliva gets activated with the chewing mechanism. Together, the mechanical process of chewing + saliva not only preps your food for digestion, but they also stimulate your gastric juices so that you can further optimize digestion. Chewing your food more times also slows down eating and brings you into the present moment.
What nourishes you?
I think it’s really important that we ask ourselves this question, and not just in terms of food that you eat, but what actually feeds your body, mind and heart. Our bodies are perfect in design – they make no mistakes. When we tune in and actually listen to what it’s telling us, we can learn what we really need. I encourage you to think about this question and to be open to nourishment – you absolutely deserve it.
Tags: anorexia, anorexia recovery, body boop, bulimia, bulimia recovery, diet, eating disorder, eating disorder recovery, ED, ED recovery, food, health, holistic nutrition, nutrition, nutrition coach, nutrition counseling, recovery, Venessa Rodriguez