Eating on the go, whether in your car, on the way to a meeting, or even while at your desk working on a big project, seems like you’re killing two birds with one stone, but it’s actually not helping you.
Your body is constantly in one of two states: sympathetic or parasympathetic. If you’re working out, walking around, trying to solve a complex problem, or are stressed out, your body is in a sympathetic state. If you’re sleeping, or relaxed, your body is in a parasympathetic state. Digestion functions best in the parasympathetic state. So, if you’ve been eating in the sympathetic state, it’s very possible you’re not digesting your food well and not getting enough of the nutrients your body needs to run well.
To get the nutrients you need and prevent or cut down on some digestive issues, break free of eating distracted or on the go. There are lots of things you can do before you eat and while you eat to relax, get in a parasympathetic state, and digest more of your food.
Before You Eat
Adjusting a habit or creating a new one takes some planning. At the beginning of your day or week, consider these things to help make space in your schedule to eat a meal or snacks not on the go.
Look at the Big Picture: Look at or write out your schedule for the week or the day. See where you can create time in your schedule, or maybe rearrange things to make space to stop your work, travel, or whatever else makes you eat on the go. If you’ve got a tightly packed schedule, look at the essential priorities of your day and then see what could be moved, delegated, or taken off to make some time.
Meal Plan: A lot of time can be eaten up looking for food, especially if you’re out and about. Choose a day to meal plan your meals and snacks so you can shift your searching time to eating time.
Make Boundaries: If a busy schedule has been preventing you from focusing on eating, establish some boundaries to create that space. These can look like a lot of things, from not eating at your desk, not scheduling calls or appointments while you’re eating, to making yourself unavailable to be interrupted by questions and requests. If you’re on the road a lot, look up a park to stop at to eat your meal. These actions can dial down the stress of your usual patterns and set you up for digestive success.
During a Meal
Now that you’ve made space, got some food, and are away from stress and distractions, it’s time to eat! Here are things to be aware of as you’re eating.
Change Your Environment: Eat somewhere that’s soothing to you. If you can, eat outside. Head to a nearby park, patio, or bench to enjoy something different. If you can’t eat outside, try being somewhere relaxing and by natural light. Find a quiet place where you feel relaxed.
Take a Deep Breath: To help transition from the busyness of your day to your meal, take a deep breath before digging in. Breathing deeply sends more oxygen to your cells and helps you relax. Taking a deep breath can be a reminder to slow you down if you’re usually a fast eater.
Put the Phone Down: Eating while distracted takes you out of eating your food, and can lead to eating more or getting hungrier later. By not paying as much attention to your food, your brain isn’t registering that you ate, meaning you’ll get hungrier later. Put down the phone or turn off the tv and focus on the food. How does it taste? How does it make your feel? How does taking a break from your busy day feel?
Chew Your Food: It sounds like a no brainer, but with the speed of society today, it’s becoming more common that people aren’t chewing their food enough. Chewing helps breaks down your food and makes it easier to break down in your stomach to eventually get all the nutrients from it. If you inhale your food, your brain doesn’t have enough time to trigger saliva production, which helps break down your food even more so nutrients can be properly absorbed. If you’re know you’re a fast eater, slow down. Concentrate on chewing your food and breaking it down before swallowing. Put your fork (or food, if you’ve got something handheld) down while chewing to give yourself time to chew.
Listen to Your Hunger: With less distractions during your meal, it will be much easier to pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness. If, as you’re eating, you start to feel full, stop eating for about 5 to 10 minutes and see if the fullness sticks around. If hunger is still there, start eating again. By listening to your body, you can curb overeating or make sure you’re eating enough.
In addition to making space in your schedule to slow down and focus on your food, also make healthy food choices. What you eat is just as important as how you eat it. Go with high-quality, organic and locally grown foods as much as you can, and load up on vegetables. Make sure your meal has enough healthy fat and protein to keep you full and give you the sustained energy you need. Drinking water throughout the day will also help your saliva, which is around 99% water.
Start with one meal a week to ease into this new habit. As you get more confident with one focused meal a week, start to expand to a few other meals and see how that goes. Consider this an experiment and approach it with a fun curiosity. Is it hard to make time? What does that space feel like? Are you finding yourself eating more or less? Or you more or less full? Have you been packing yourself enough or too much food to eat? What new things have you noticed with this change? Enjoy finding out new things while eating great food.
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Main Photo Credit: Daxiao Productions/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Caroline Eibl/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: AnastasiiaS/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Syda Productions/shutterstock.com