After the last long weekend away at my family cottage, I pondered a conundrum. While up north, I tended to eat not-so-good foods that I stayed away from while at home – pop, chips, candy, bacon. But at the cottage I was relaxed, mostly removed from technology and around a table with my family. At home, my diet swung back to its regular healthy ways, but I scarfed meals down regularly, often in front of my computer or while checking my phone. Why couldn’t I get the combination of eating well and being relaxed?
It seems I’m far from alone in this conundrum. A recent survey done by Love Your Gut, the organization behind the U.K.’s Gut Week, found fewer than one in ten people enjoy a lunch hour away from work and one in five eat lunch sitting in front of the computer answering emails. Unsurprisingly, the survey also revealed more people are grabbing food on the go and skipping eating meals at a table. The bad news? We’re paying the price when it comes to our digestive health.
“It’s worrying that almost a third of the people surveyed feel stressed and anxious most days as these feelings can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which can increase intestinal sensitivity and cause spasms, bloating and indigestion,” said Dr. Nick Read in a release that accompanied the survey.
Nutritionist Jane Clarke added, “I’ve seen an increase in people experiencing digestive complaints, which can be really painful and debilitating. The most common causes are people’s lifestyle; we’re under lots of pressure to juggle work and our personal lives, making it hard to switch off, relax and enjoy our food.”
Why is calming down before eating so important? Being in a relaxed state allows the production of adequate digestive enzymes and lets our parasympathetic nervous system – also known as the “rest and digest” system – do its thing. It’s also important to remember that the gut is super connected to emotions, so having feelings of stress and anxiety when we eat is tied to digestive malfunction.
Thankfully, awareness of our rushed eating habits is the first step. The next time you’re ready for a meal, take a few deep breaths before starting, check your posture (no hunching!) and focus on what you’re eating. Get away from your desk and put away your phone. A great tip from Gut Week: Don’t eat fatty meals if you’re in a hurry. Fat takes longer to digest than other nutrients and is more likely to induce pain and make you feel sick.
My steps toward more relaxed eating include an inbox-free breakfast, sipping a post-meal mint tea and not eating dinner in front of an episode of Breaking Bad. What about you?