Everyone’s got an opinion on what we should and shouldn’t eat; paleo, macrobiotic, gluten-free, veggie, high-protein, raw, 80:20, low-fat, juices and smoothies, vegan … the list goes on.

Health websites are filled with articles telling us, “why-you-should-eat-this-hard-to-pronounce-new-superfood”, and whilst I love a bit of quinoa (keen-wah), I’m fed up with being told what to eat. How about you?

Being lectured at sucks.

A client (let’s call her Alison) came to see me recently, as she has been trying to conceive for two years. Her biggest hope is that she and her husband conceive naturally, but she’s concerned that it hasn’t happened yet, so they’re exploring IVF as well. The thing is, her doctor won’t put her on the local trusts list till she reduces her BMI. So part of the treatment plan we developed together is to help her reduce her weight.

Alison has been to see other practitioners; she’s been given numerous lists of what to include and exclude from her diet, and as we started discussing her meals and energy levels, I sensed she was dreading that I would come down hard on her for – heaven forbid – eating an occasional burger, with bacon (clearly she hadn’t seen my instagram feed). She was therefore a bit shocked when I started asking her about how she eats.

Does your lunch break look like this?

Alison explained that due to her high-pressured work environment, she doesn’t actually take a lunch break. It’s rare for her to leave the office, and most of the time she eats her food whilst keeping an eye on her emails or reading documents. As she explained this to me, it became evident that this really frustrates her, but because it’s what’s seemingly expected amongst her colleagues, she doesn’t feel she can do anything about it. Instead, she eats her lunch whilst she’s stressed, and this is what I asked her to change.

Let’s shift the focus from what we eat, to how we eat.

Intestines; one of the more stressful meals I've shared.
Intestines; one of the more stressful meals I’ve shared.

When Alison eats whilst she’s working, she feels a pressure on her chest, a knot in her stomach and tension throughout her back and shoulders. If an urgent email comes through she gets palpitations too. Yikes, this isn’t exactly conducive to digestion!

When our bodies respond to stress, our blood gets diverted to our major organs such as the heart and lungs, because as far as our bodies are concerned, we’re preparing to fight an enemy or run away from a scary beast. Blood gets diverted from our gut because digestion isn’t a priority when we’re in flight or flight mode.

This means that when Alison receives an email from her boss (who in our evolutionary tale of stress shall portray the scary beast) asking if she’s done something she hasn’t managed to yet, her digestive tract shuts up shop.

So here’s what you can do to aid digestion:

  • Get away from your desk and emails. Give yourself permission to take a lunch break. Chances are everyone else in your office wants to do the same, be the leader! My guess is that your boss would prefer you to take a proper break as studies show that they increase productivity.
  • Eat at a table. If you sit in a slump, say in front of the tv / computer, for example, your digestive tract gets squished. Sitting upright at a table ensures your gut has room to work.
  • Slow down before you eat. Before you delve into what’s on your plate – no matter how amazing your food looks and smells, or how hungry you are – take some nice big easy breaths. Doing this helps you to come out of the stress response by sending a signal to your brain to move your blood back to your gut. It also helps your diaphragm (the muscle we use to breathe) to relax, which in turn creates space for food to travel down the oesophagus and into the stomach.
  • Eat slowly. Sometimes I catch myself doing this and it doesn’t feel good, so I ask myself, “what’s the hurry?” am I really gaining anything (time, pleasure, nourishment) by rushing my mealtimes? The answer has always been a resounding “no”, so I take a moment, centre myself by breathing and coming into my body, doing my best to package away any stress whilst I’m eating. Much better.

So many of my clients come to me with digestive issues, and there are lots of ways I help them (acupuncture, Arvigo therapy and reflexology), but a lot of the time it’s the work they do on their own that makes the work we do together more effective and long-lasting. Developing good eating habits around the way we eat can go a long way to improving your digestion and overall health, and it costs nothing but a tiny bit of time!

Shameless plug: 

If you would like support with digestive / fertility issues, why not arrange a free 15 min phone call with me to see how I can be of service to you? I’m big on being upfront about if I feel I can help you or not, and it may be that one Arvigo session is all you need to get cracking with some nourishing self-care massage. If not, then I have a few different treatment packages, and between us, we can suss out what’s right for you.

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