Tips to eat mindfully so that you can digest your food more fully.

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The other day I was going down the escalator in a shopping centre when I noticed a man going up the opposite escalator eating a doughnut covered with pink icing. Ok, so the doughnut is not the topic of today’s blog (although perhaps it should be), but it occurred to me that he probably wasn’t even tasting the doughnut. I’m sure that by the time he got to the top of the escalator the doughnut would have been almost finished and he wouldn’t even have been aware of what he’d eaten. What a waste! If you are going to eat a treat then the least you can do is focus on it and savour the taste.

Have you ever eaten a bag of chips or biscuits and when you got to the bottom of the bag you were surprised that you had eaten the whole bag? 

Have you ever had the experience of going on a diet and not losing any weight or losing weight the first week but levelling off despite continuing your diet?

It’s important to teach yourself HOW to eat and to not only focus on WHAT you eat.

How eating in a stressed state slows down the way your body digests food 

When you are in a stressed state your body produces a hormone called Cortisol. This is your body’s natural stress response called the “fight or flight” response. It is designed by nature so that you can save yourself from for example, a bear. The problem is that your body doesn’t know the difference between actual physical danger and having an argument with your partner, the kids fighting with each other or running around doing chores all day, so a lot of us are living with high cortisol levels.

When you are stressed the systems in your body shut down so that you can conserve energy to run away from that bear. In a full-blown stress response, your digestive system completely shuts down as when you are fending off a bear you don’t need to waste energy digesting your food.

If you have ever eaten in an anxious state (most of us do, regularly), then you will be familiar with the feeling you had afterwards that the food was just sitting in your stomach. That is exactly what it’s doing. It’s waiting for several minutes to several hours for your body to kick back into its normal digestive functioning.

So, you can eat the healthiest, nutrient dense meal, but if you eat it in an anxious state your body will not digest those nutrients properly.

The mental state you are in when you eat is very important and in this case your stress level has affected your food.

Two ways to help you eat in a more relaxed state so that you can digest your food more efficiently:

  1. Breathe in more oxygen

One of the best kept secrets in the nutrition business is that there is only one true miracle nutrient and it has profound metablic power. The miracle nutrient is Vitamin O – Oxygen. And we need lots of it. With food, quality is what’s important. With Oxygen, quantity is what counts. You can survive four weeks without food, four days without water but only four minutes without oxygen. Talk about a highly essential nutrient. Over 95% of all energy generated in the body comes from the simple combination of oxygen plus food. Without oxygen your food is literally useless.  When you breathe more, you burn more.

Have you ever had the experience of going on a diet and not losing any weight or losing weight the first week but levelling off despite continuing your diet? Many people are perplexed by this phenomenon, but the reason is that your metabolism changed. Your metabolism is how you take in nutrients and oxygen and use them to fuel everything you do.

Your body learned to tolerate the meagre portions of food you served it by lowering oxygen uptake- decreased oxygen means decreased metabolism. In many cases weight loss diets actually teach the body to need less oxygen. So, by going on a diet you are actually working against yourself.

Challenge: Breathe more while you eat

Aim this week to pause during meals. Breathe deeply three times at each pause. By slowing down to breathe you will increase your metabolic speed and will digest your food more efficiently.

  2. Eat with awareness – be mindful

What’s amazing is that researchers have estimated that 30-40 percent of the total digestive response to any meal is due to our full awareness of what we’re eating. That means that if we fail to register any sense of taste, smell, satisfaction or visual interest in what we are eating (think of the man on the escalator), then we are metabolising our meal at only 60-70 percent efficiency.

I’m sure you can think of a time when you saw your favourite food and your mouth started watering or your stomach began churning. Digestion quite literally begins in your head. When you eat mindfully and with awareness you cause your whole digestive system to prepare for incoming food. Lack of awareness can make you more susceptible to digestive upset, bowel disorders, lowered immunity and fatigue.

Are you beginning to see why “sleepwalking” through a meal is an ill-informed nutritional choice?

Challenge: Try to be more present (more mindful) when you eat

The more present you are when you eat the more you savour the experience, the sooner you will satisfy your digestive response and the less you’ll need to eat.  If you habitually watch TV while you eat or scroll through Facebook, try going on a media-free diet for a week and notice the difference in your body. If you constantly eat on the move, sit down and settle in with your food. I’m sure you’ll find that being aware is not some nuisance diet strategy, nor is it a form of constraint but it feels good, it’s personally satisfying and the fact is, it’s metabolically inspiring.

At each meal and each snack choose to be present. Notice your food. See it, touch it and taste it with awareness. That’s what eating mindfully is all about.


  • Eating in a stressed state (the fight or flight response), causes your digestive system to shut down so your body will not metabolise the nutrients from your food properly.
  • By reminding yourself to breathe more deeply during meals, you will naturally slow down, become more present and metabolise your food more efficiently – Breathe more while you eat.
  • If you fail to register any sense of taste, smell, satisfaction or visual interest in what you are eating, then you are metabolising your meal at only 60-70 percent efficiency – try to be more present when you eat.

Reference: The Slow Down Diet , Marc David, 2014