Lewis looked deeply into her eyes as he slowly chewed the carrot. It took a few minutes, and then he opened his mouth for the next one, clearly enjoying the attention and the food. It is like we are communicating with each other, thought Dani. “I’ve got many more mouths to feed this morning, my friend.” She patted his nose and moved on to Blue Bird, one of the other 15 horses on her farm. Once finished, she walked back to the house and into the kitchen. It was busy even at 6:00 a.m. Two of her children were cooking breakfast while the third emptied the dishwasher from the night before. “Mom, the food is just about ready.”
“Ok, Joey, get your Dad and let’s sit down.”
Lee, the oldest, put a bowl of mixed blueberries, strawberries, and mangos on the table and next to it scrambled eggs and a rasher of sourdough rye toast. The glasses were filled, Charlie’s black coffee was next to his plate, like Dani’s green tea next to hers. The family sat down and individually acknowledged the new day with one word of gratitude; this was their daily morning ritual. Once, Alexi, the youngest said, “earth,” they passed the food around, each holding the bowl for the other.
“You seem to be hungry this morning, Alexi,” smiled Dani. I am happy to see that your appetite is picking up. Do you know why it is important to chew food slowly?”
“Is it because it gives your stomach a chance to decide which food to keep for your body and which to get rid of?” she asked.
Charlie smiled at his youngest daughter, “that’s right, when we sit down together and express gratitude before a meal, it makes our body and mind relax. This helps our digestive system work efficiently to extract the valuable vitamins and minerals in food.”
Lee looked at her, Dad, “I just studied this in my nutrition class. Our nervous system is comprised of the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. Within the peripheral side is the autonomic system which is divided between the parasympathetic, which relaxes our body and turns on the digestive system, and the sympathetic, that turns your digestive system off when you are upset or stressed. I know after I win a wrestling match, I am hungry. If I lose, I am so turned off by the idea of food.”
“I am glad you’re telling us what happens to you, Lee,” said Dani, “Trying to eat when you’re stressed just leads to an upset stomach, your body doesn’t get full nutritional value, and you wind up storing unwanted fat. When you are relaxed, you make good food choices, chew slower, which helps with digestion, and nutrient absorption — calorie-burning is maximized, and oxytocin, an appetite suppressant, is activated.
Joey, the thoughtful one, looked at his Mom, “So which is more important, the food we eat or how we eat it?”
“Well, what you eat is certainly important. We are healthy because we live on a farm and grow our own, but no amount of organic food is nutritious if you are always eating in a state of stress, because your body just won’t digest it optimally. So, it is equally as important to relax, savor food, chew it slowly, and make it the priority when you are eating.”
“I know some other ways to help your stomach,” said Alexi. “First, check-in with yourself to make sure you are calm. Then, take at least twenty minutes to eat your food.”
“That’s good, Alexi,” said Charlie. “What you are describing is called Emotional Brain Training; you check in with yourself before eating, to relax and connect to positive thoughts.”
Dani slowly chewed and swallowed, “So, the key to a healthy relationship with food includes a twenty-minute meal, putting the fork down periodically, breathing between bites, and stopping at 75% of feeling full to prevent over-eating. When you eat slowly, you tend to eat less, and a healthy digestive system means a happy brain.”
Annie, LJ, and relatives are a fictional family introduced to the readers of the Healthy Healing Eats blog in January 2020. Their storyline promotes healthy eating and earth-friendly practices.
Andrea Breaux is the Founder of Healthy Healing Eats. She writes about food-as-medicine and earth-friendly lifestyle practices. Find her weekly blog, recipes, and products at healthyhealingeats.com.