Food digestion consist of three phases: the cephalic phase, gastric phase, and intestinal phase.
The cephalic phase is the anticipation of food such as the smell, sight, thoughts, taste, and touch of the food (the feel of the food in the mouth). The gastric phase occurs when food enters the stomach and is further broken down by stomach acid and pepsin. The intestinal phase occurs when food enters the intestines where most of the absorption of food occurs.
Although vital in the optimal digestion of food, the importance of the cephalic digestive phase is often overlooked. We are so focused on what to eat and what not to eat that we forget the tremendous impact improving this phase can have on our overall being. The smell, the sight of food, the thoughts related to food plus the taste and touch of the food and how many times you chew sends a signal to brain, via the vagus nerve, to stimulate the release of stomach chemicals such as pepsin and hydrochloric acid. Both hydrochloric acid and pepsin play a vital role in the optimal digestion of the food. Research indicates that up to 40% of our digestion’s effectiveness is based on the cephalic digestive response.
Now imagine: you work hard, invest time and money to figure out the optimal meal plan for yourself, and you eat it fast as possible, not chewing very well. The chances are that you would be only digesting and absorbing it at 60-70% at best, even though what you are eating is the most optimal meal for you.
Most people don’t even eat the most optimal food to begin with. They buy processed food and eat it on the go and don’t chew well enough. How well do you think they would be digesting and absorbing their food?
So become more mindful when you are eating. Eat slow, take time to stimulate all the senses; look at your food, smell it, think good thoughts about it, and most importantly, chew it really well.
Here is a 4-step approach that you can implement right away to improve how you eat:
- Set aside 15-60 minutes of distraction-free time for your meal. (No Tv, phone or Computer) If you don’t have much time, try for at least 15 minutes.
- Take 4-6 deep breaths before each meal to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. What works best is to inhale through your nose to a count of 4 seconds, hold your breath for 2 seconds, and then exhale through your month to a count of 8 seconds.
- Get all your senses involved; become like a curious scientist asking how far this food has travelled to be in front of you, smell the food, look at the vibrant colors, and think positive and grateful thoughts.
- Chew the food between 20-40 times depending on what you are eating.
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