As a nutritional coach, people often come to me complaining of bloated bellies, lagging energy, and an overall malaise that can often be attributed to mealtime choices. What and how you eat can dramatically impact how you feel. Ever devoured a plate full of nachos, only to face-plant afterwards for a must-have lights-out nap?
What you eat, how you eat, and even what you think about while you eat can all play a large role in your digestion, and how you process food. Try to incorporate these five practices at every meal, and watch your energy grow (not your waistline).
Eat good ingredients
First off, start with the best ingredients you can. Shelly Malone, R.D. and author of Inflamed, says, “Foods heavy in pesticides or made with genetically-modified ingredients can damage the gut lining, which over time can lead to digestive upsets and other chronic issues.”
Ideally, you’re eating organic food that looks like it did when it grew in nature. That means lots of fresh vegetables plucked right from the ground, and not vaguely discovered in a deep-fried chip. The more natural the ingredient, the less work your body has to do to break it down and digest it. That, in turn, means you surge past your 3 p.m. energy slump. Win-win.
Take your time
Have you ever inhaled a meal and barely remembered chewing? Yeah, don’t do that. Digesting food is no easy feat. There are a lot of complex processes going on when you eat, so make sure to take your time to allow everything to work its magic. It also takes about 20 minutes for the "hey, we’re full down here, shut it down" message to get to your brain. Slowing down mealtime can also help with your weight so you’re not overeating when you’re already full.
One way to stop rushing meals is to make sure you’re doing a whole lot of chewing. Malone says that “slowing down while eating and being sure to chew your food adequately releases the digestive enzyme amylase, which is required to break down starch.” And you want to make sure you’re breaking your food down properly so it can move through the digestive tract and be put to good use.
Unless you’re entering Coney Island’s hot dog eating competition, just say no to gulping your food.
Hold the beverage
You know all of those digestive processes we already covered? If you dump a gallon of water into the mix, you’re going to cause some serious upset. Ali Miller, R.D., says that "the digestive tract performs best when environmental conditions support its function. Conditions include optimising the pH, which aids in the release of gastric juices and the activation of digestive enzymes designed to break down food particles into smaller compounds.” When you drink too much water at mealtime, the pH gets diluted and prevents the enzymes from doing their thing. “This leads to larger food particles hitting the GI tract which can cause irritation and less micronutrient absorption. To add insult to injury, the digestive tract tries to mechanically make up for what it is enzymatically lacking and you may experience cramping, bloating,or distention as your system struggles to break down too large of food particles!” says Miller. So it’s best to keep your serious water drinking to between meals for optimal digestion.
This is where the mind gets involved with your meal. Ever had your stomach in knots from a stressful or extra busy day? Your digestion can be compromised when your head is elsewhere.
“Practicing mindful eating—slowing down to notice the taste, colour, smell, and texture of your food, eliminating distractions—allows time for your brain to register satiety, which can prevent overeating and subsequent indigestion. It also reduces stress which can shut down digestion, leading to constipation, and not absorbing nutrients properly,” says Malone.
Try and take a few deep breaths before each meal. Think about where the food came from, who grew it, and how it’s energising your system with each well-chewed, bite. The simple act of gratitude can shift your entire demeanour, allow your belly to relax, and then let the food nourish your body, from head to toe.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health