How many of us used to eat on the run? Walking along the street between meetings? Standing up in the kitchen? Gulping food down quickly without really chewing it? Or munching on something whilst focusing all our attention on something else, be it work, a computer screen or a TV?
Digestion is a complicated process and requires a great deal of energy. It involves complex hormonal reactions and a large volume of our blood supply. When our endocrine system is engaged in other purposes and our blood is needed elsewhere, digestion suffers. It is little wonder that it can become so inefficient considering today’s eating practises. With such a high prevalence of poor gut health with ME/CFS I think that many of us could benefit from re-educating our eating habits. By paying attention to how we eat we can give our digestion a much better chance of getting the most out of what we eat. There is a lot of wisdom in the old fashion values surrounding mealtime etiquette. Those of us with a few years under our belts may find that some of the following tips remind us of childhood scoldings at the dinner table (included in italics).
- Aim to eat in a relaxed, peaceful environment, that isn’t too noisy or stressful. Don’t eat whilst upset or whilst having an argument. (No raised voices at the dinner table)
- Aim to eat at regular times. Regularity and routine can help regulate our endocrine system.
- Sit down at a table to eat, and focus on the food and the eating experience. Try not to eat in front of the TV or whilst doing something else. When eating in company keep conversation relaxed an uncontroversial so that you can still pay attention to the act of eating. (Never discuss religion or politics at the dinner table)
- Eat at a gentle pace. Chew and taste your food. Be aware of eating in the present moment. Only talk between mouthfuls. (Each mouthful should be chewed 26 (or was it 30?) times and never talk with your mouthful)
- Try not to eat more than that which makes you ¾ full. If you can feel your stomach pressing against your belly or your food sits heavily in your belly, you have probably eaten too much for your digestion to cope well with. Another often stated guide would be not to eat more than you could fit into your two hands cupped together, although this seems to be a particularly small amount to my healthy appetite! (gluttony is a sin – to your digestion)
- Fluids can dilute digestive juices making digestion less effective so don’t drink much whilst eating. Try to drink most of your fluids between meals i.e. 2 hours after eating and up to ½ an hour before. (Drinks at mealtimes were always to be sipped slowly and never to be gulped)
- Hot food is more easily digested. Cold food is best eaten at lunch time, when digestion is strongest. If eating cold foods such as salad, or yogurt etc., take it out of the fridge at least 10 minutes before you eat it to take the chill out of it. Very cold drinks should be avoided at all times but especially at meal times.
- Stay peacefully seated for a few minutes after you’ve finished eating to allow all your energy to be focused on your digestion. (Permission was never granted to leave the table the moment we put our spoon down, we always had to wait a little)
- Allow each meal to be fully digested before you eat again (Never eat between meals). It takes between 2 and 4 hours for a meal to be digested depending on its size and makeup. A mid-morning snack should be just that, at least 2 hours after breakfast and 2 hours before lunch! Etc.
PS. I would like to hear from more of you about whether you believe you will recover from ME/CFS. Please see my quick poll top right. (No longer applies)