- Janelle Hunt
Further insights into the cephalic phase of digestion
As I discussed in a previous blog, the first part of proper digestion starts with the cephalic phase of eating which means we need to focus on how we’re eating before we focus on what we’re eating. Keep in mind the digestion process starts or is inhibited even before food goes in the mouth. By smelling, tasting, seeing or thinking about food, we will start salivating and producing gastric juices to prepare our body to digest whatever food is about to be consumed. This happens due to the appetite centers in the brain sending signals to your mouth and stomach via the vagus nerve to help to prepare your body to digest food.
This process is often inhibited by not focusing on eating, such as when we’re eating on the go. What I often see with my clients struggling with disordered eating is that they lack any enjoyment with eating often due to having anxiety about eating, or they’re consistently overexercising, both of these factors can inhibit gastric secretions and lead to feeling miserable when they’re eating and afterwards.
What To Focus On Before Food Even Goes In The Mouth
Check in with your hunger fullness cues. On a hunger/fullness scale we should start eating at about a 3-4 and stop eating about 7-8.
Be mindful of where you are eating and who you are eating with. In other words, are you creating a relaxing and enjoyable eating environment? Create a soothing environment with candles, music, fun plates, or good conversations.
Have you meditated, done box breathing, hummed, or gargled prior to eating to calm down your sympathetic nervous system? If we are focusing on other tasks or anxious about anything, our body is in fight or flight mode and will not secrete gastric juice as digestion is not a priority when it thinks we’re running from a bear. We must rest to digest. Humming and gargling prior to eating stimulates the vagus nerve which allows our body to calm down. Box breathing is where you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breath out for 4 seconds and hold again for 4 seconds. This also stimulates the vagus nerve to help us to relax.
Work on being mindful of what is happening prior to eating so you can have better digestion and a more satisfying feeling in your gut once you’ve eating.