THINK BEFORE YOU EAT... THE CEPHALIC PHASE OF DIGESTION
Updated: May 2, 2020
Now when I say “think before you eat”, I’m not talking about entering a decision making process of over contemplating what you should and shouldn’t consume in a particular moment. I’m instead referring to the active process of thinking about the food you are about to eat, prior to actually eating it.
So then I’m sure you’re wondering what I’m talking about, because how on earth could simply thinking about food administer any possible benefits for our health.
Well, it’s called the cephalic phase of digestion and happens right from the sight, touch, scent, and thought of food, causing the secretion of gastric acids so food can be properly metabolised and digested.
So here’s my question for you; what do you think happens when we aren’t thinking about the food we eat at all?
Well for a large proportion of the population, this is happening every single day.
Remember that morning you were running late for school or work so you just had to quickly splash your face with water and chuck on some clothes, while you ran around the house looking for your laptop. Then right as you were walking out the door you grabbed some so called ‘breakfast bar’ and took mindless bites of it as you fumbled for the keys to your car. Yep, we all do it. Eating can so often become a burden shoved aside for our subconscious to deal with as we (out of habit) grab something while on the go.
Eating without thinking is engrained into our modern day lives and we may not even notice the damage it is causing.
By skipping the cephalic phase of digestion, the body is unprepared for the food coming in. The implications of this may or may not be immediate, but either way, they should not be ignored. Digestive discomfort can arise when plentiful amounts of food are flooding your digestive system and there simply isn’t enough enzymes and gastric acids to break it all down fast enough. Often this can lead to bloating, gas, and stomach pain which is no fun for anyone! Proper engagement of the cephalic phase of digestion has even been shown to help those with irritable bowel syndrome, or even reduce the need for antacids by those suffering from indigestion.
Ensuring that you properly activate the cephalic phase of digestion isn’t always easy, so here’s some tips to help you do the best that you can:
1. Prepare your food the night before –
This is particularly useful for those of you struggling to get in a decent breakfast, preparing a nutritious grab-and-go breakfast takes the stress of having to make anything in the morning away. This way you can either wake up just 5 minutes earlier to sit and eat the meal, or take it on the train and mindfully enjoy it there! (see our article on some pre-made nutritious breakfasts here)
2. Don’t eat in your work space! –
Whether it’s a school desk or work desk, meals in those areas should be a no go. Try to take your meal to any other area that isn’t a desk of some sort, ideally a work lounge or outdoor table. Then sit with no distraction while you enjoy your food! If eating at your desk is a must, then aiming to dim your computer screen and face away from the majority of your work while you eat so that you can focus on your food!
3. Eat with company –
Traditional eating habits have always revolved around meal times being a social activity that is often sacred to certain cultures and religions. Preceding meal times, showing gratitude for the food presented has been shown in varying forms like prayer and song. When eating with others, food is consumed slower allowing for digestion to properly occur and nutrient absorption to be optimised.
4. Drink or eat something acidic –
If you are still struggling to set aside time to eat mindfully, drinking warm water with lemon or apple cider vinegar, or eating some grapefruit or other citrus fruit can help actively induce the secretion of gastric acids. Even if you’re still not properly engaging the cephalic phase of digestion, this is a great little hack to put into practice about half an hour before your food.
5. Try fasting instead –
Now this may be a controversial one and it’s not to be taken out of context, however, there is a mountain of research starting to compile regarding the benefits of fasting for prolonged times between dinner and breakfast. The concept itself is a whole other topic for another day but essentially it may improve brain function, energy levels, weight management, blood sugar levels, and more. So regarding the cephalic phase of digestion, I am referring to fasting until a more appropriate time to eat may arise. For example, instead of eating that breakfast bar as you run out the door that will do nothing but spike your blood sugar and leave you hungry in the following 20 minutes, just try packing a healthier breakfast to take to work, UNI or school, and eat it when you are finally seated and have 5 minutes to spare.
Just remember that eating is a blessing, not a curse, and we need to enjoy our meals to get the most out of them! An inadequate cephalic phase of digestion will only cause you digestive discomfort, as well as minimise the amount of nutrient uptake from the food you just consumed. Appreciate your meals, eat with friends, take a 5-minute break to enjoy food, because after all- eating is an everyday part of life and it really should be appreciated! Remember that.