Let us say grace. This age-old tradition is often associated with religion, but in its essence, it’s a valuable practice — one that allows us to pause and reflect on the food we are about to eat. When we eat in a calm, grateful and connected manner, the impact is tenfold. We tend to consume less, reducing pressure on the environment and on our digestive systems.
The power and magic of gratitude
Almost all cultures and religions respect the practice of offering thanks for each meal. From Christianity, Judaism and Catholicism to ancient cultures around the world, there is a ritual of pausing to reflect and offer thanks before diving into the food. In this busy world, it’s easy to forget.
Just as filling our fridge with an abundance of beautiful, market-fresh produce leaves little room for food that does not nourish, viewing the world from the perspective of what we have fills our hearts, shifting focus away from where we feel we are lacking. This is the power of gratitude; and it has the ability to transform our lives.
Practicing gratitude also has the ability to trigger an increase of dopamine and serotonin levels in the body, leaving us feeling good, strong and focused. And the good news is that the more we practice gratitude, the easier it is to access those feelings of gratitude.
Stress affects the ability to digest
If we are seriously looking to create wellbeing, it is important to understand that how we feel when we are eating is as important as what we put in our mouths. It has long been recognised that stress has a detrimental effect on our physical and emotional well-being. More recently, scientific research has shown the cyclical impact of stress on the gut, which in turn affects the way we feel and how we eat.
According to natural health expert Dr Joseph Mercola, there are numerous ways stress might impact digestion:
– Stress can decrease the gut’s ability to absorb nutrients
– When the breath shortens during stressful moments, the amount of oxygen in the gut is reduced
– Stress can reduce the flow of blood to the digestive system by up to four times, impacting metabolism
– Reduced enzyme action in the gut can be quite significant and result in a number of digestive issues
Slow food is soul food
The ancient texts place considerable emphasis on settling the mind and thus the body. Slowing the breathing, calming the mind and bringing the body into a peaceful state makes our bodies more efficient, brings us into a state of health and wellbeing and perfectly prepares us for digesting our food.
When we slow down, appreciate the food before us, and bring presence to the moment we can expect to experience:
– The slowing and regulating of the breath
– The calming of the mind
– The resting down of organs and muscles, contributing to a more elegant and efficient digestion process
– A slower pace of chewing and consuming each meal
– An awareness of satisfaction
– A reduction in the amount of food required to feel satisfied
– The awareness of a connection with our world
– A respect for the whole process of food production
– A desire to waste less food.
Four steps to restful digestion
What are the conversations in your head when you sit down to eat? Many of us spend a lot of time with our awareness solely in the thinking brain, focusing on the to-do list, what didn’t get done, how it will get done, what might happen. These are usually past and future-based thoughts; and they don’t allow for being fully present in the moment where complete peace and harmony are possible. I’m not suggesting that using our thinking brain is a bad thing; in fact, it helps us analyse situations, create strategy, navigate challenges and build marvellous things in the world. The problem arises when we spend so much time ‘upstairs’ in our brains that we become disconnected from tensions or discomfort in the body; these are often warning signs that, if ignored, might become more acute. If we are eating when we are over thinking, we are most probably not in a state of peace, harmony and awareness of our bodies.
Creating stillness is a journey. We need to take our mind firmly and lovingly by the hand and guide it to a place where the possibility of stillness resides. Sometimes it feels like the hardest thing to do is be still, be quiet; just be. It can feel like the very opposite of what should be done. Yet the more present we are, the more easily we read the signs that something might not be working for us or, conversely, to recognise what really does work.
3. Connect to the food
When sitting down to your meal, do you consider where the food has come from?
How did the lettuce come to land on your plate? It was once a seed, planted by someone. Rain watered it, sun infused it with energy and life, other plants and trees sheltered it. When the lettuce was ready for eating, it was picked by someone who carefully placed it in a box which was then transported to a shop where it was purchased and prepared for your meal today.
Kids and adults alike can find more respect, presence and awareness for the food in front of them when there is an understanding of where it has come from and the journey it has been on. This is a great exercise to bring to the dinner table, for the benefit of the whole family.
Allow yourself to truly feel grateful for the food in front of you. For many people, gratitude is a practice, rather than a constant way of being. Take it on as a practice and fake it till you make it, then watch and enjoy the feelings of gratitude grow over time.
About the author:
Angie Cowen is a yogi, passionate wholefood chef, cookbook author and cooking class expert specialising in gluten free and dairy free food. Her new cookbook, Making Peace Before You Eat, is due for release March 2018. www.lovelifeandglutenfree.com