Honoring your cephalic response: The practice of mindful eating
Your cephalic response occurs when we see, smell, think or taste food. It is a primal response that stimulates the limbic system in the brain before it then stimulates the vagus nerve that goes on to stimulate the production of gastric juices.
Digestion can be negatively effected by poor stimulation of the cephalic response. Unmindful eating is common practice these days, as many of us work and eat at our desk, with very little thought for what we are putting in our mouth.
Allowing time to relax, switch off from work or any other activity you might be doing and become centered on your meal can be an important step for many. Simply starting to think about your meal you may notice increased salivation and then the smell and sight of food can stimulate it further, preparing your body for the food you are about to consume.
Commonly those that eat under stress with little consideration for cephalic response may show signs of improper secretion of enzymes and acids, potentially resulting in symptoms like:
- Bloating/Distension after eating
- Excess belching or gas
- Feeling heavy after a meal
Those that score high on my nutrition, lifestyle and symptom quiz sections titled acid insufficiency and pancreatic enzyme insufficiency, will often benefit from more mindful eating practices.
One practice I encourage my clients who I suspect rush their meals or eat without consideration for what is going in there mouth, is to ensure that they take 5mins before each meal to practice some diaphragmatic breathing and think about the food they are about to consume.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a practice that helps stimulate the branch of the Nervous system called the parasympathetic brand aka the rest and digest branch of the nervous system. Unfortunately we are more often than not over stimulated in the sympathetic branch of the nervous system, otherwise known as the fight of flight response.
When we are more sympathetic dominant, our body will preferentially make stress hormones over hormones that serve to help with digestion. Diaphragmatic breathing and meditative exercises have been shown to be useful in lowering stress response hormones at the benefit of the rest and digest hormones.
If you are looking for a simple way to improve digestion that requires no supplementation, the combination of relaxation response exercises and more thought on what you are about to eat would be good practice.