Food is one of the most important gifts we need for our survival, and this is why the act of giving thanks has been so widely practiced for centuries. The tradition dates back even into B.C. times before Christianity and is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means gratitude or blessing. It was mostly practiced by those who religiously believed in a supreme power that provided their food and other needs. But, apart from spirituality and religion, saying grace impacts our psychology as well as physiology, and putting the former in a positive focus can only be a good thing for the latter.
After all, our minds and bodies are intertwined, so if mental meditation has been shown to be good for your physical body, then a quick but mindful meditative practice before eating could be nothing but beneficial! Saying grace before you eat helps you be more mindful with your food, instead of scarfing it down or eating quickly on the run, and/or even to be more positive if you’re eating after coming off a negative experience or an upsetting encounter with someone. It also reminds your body to engage the parasympathetic mode of “rest and digest.”
So, we don’t want to look like this guy…
But rather, just a bit more like this guy….
Health and healthy habits all come down to mindfulness. Saying grace at the beginning of your meal, before you start eating, is in itself an act of mindfulness and will help remind you to eat mindfully and chew well. Eating slowly is best for digestion and good food absorption because your body has time to secrete digestive juices and enzymes in your gastrointestinal tract. Chewing well prevents inflammation and indigestion, and saves your gut from working harder to break down big pieces.
You also don’t eat as much when you eat slowly, and your body is able to absorb the nutrients more efficiently. When you eat mindfully, your body then has enough time to register food being digested and send signals to the brain to begin digestion and eventually feel full.
Maybe you’ve heard that the brain is closely linked to the stomach, but what does that exactly mean? The gut directly corresponds to the brain and affects hormonal reactions. In fact, the entire gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Part of our body’s nervous system is located in the gut and called the enteric nervous system, which sends and receives signals to and from the brain. This is why feeling anxious can cause stomach problems and why chronic stress can lead to GI disorders. Since it’s a two-way street of neurons and neurotransmitters going to and fro, then rushing through your meals, eating on the run, and chowing down food without chewing well enough can all lead to stomach issues that tax the brain (those with GI issues/IBD like Crohn’s disease often experience brain fog). According to Harvard Health writings, chronic digestive problems can cause heightened anxiety and mental stress.
Leptin is the hormone that decreases appetite and makes you feel satisfied. When you eat in a rushed manner, the satiation hormone leptin is not secreted as quickly as the food is being eaten, so the sensation of fullness is delayed.
Eating on the Go Is a No-No
It’s not exactly groundbreaking news or rocket science that relaxation assists good digestion. This is why the Europeans don’t eat on the go but relax after meals, and in Japan, it’s considered extremely rude to eat while walking in public. Fast food was an American invention that was soon followed by increased obesity and digestive disorders – it’s hardly a coincidence.
Rushed eating also can cause indigestion and inflammation by making your body subconsciously feel stressed, thus increasing cortisol levels. This can impair your digestion by putting your body in somewhat of a sympathetic “fight or flight” mode – which turns off digestion functions to focus on survival in the face of a threat or stressor – instead of the parasympathetic mode for digestion. It’s much better to place your senses in a relaxed, positive setting so your gut can function without strain – and intentionally pausing for a minute to give thanks is such a setting.
Attitude of Gratitude
According to Harvard Health studies on positive psychology, gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness. Your mental health is intertwined with your physical health, and your mind’s state has a great influence on your physiological functions. Those who practice positive thinking and mindsets of gratitude are actually more relaxed and less tense than those who are negative, cynical, and moody; this is better for your nerves, your muscles, and your cardiovascular function, just to name a few.
Giving thanks is literally expressing gratitude and positively embodying appreciation. Even if you aren’t religious, it still helps to spend a few moments before eating in a mindset of gratitude and reflecting on your blessings (especially in comparison to those who are hungry and living in extreme poverty). Giving thanks before eating is a good and easy way to incorporate acts of gratitude throughout your day.
Gratitude is one of the best mental-physical sensations for the gut. It puts our brains into a positive mindset, helps our nerves and muscles to relax, and literally soothes our stomach to digest better. A Forbes report found that those who kept a gratitude journal for two weeks experienced less stomach pain, among other health improvements. Essentially, gratitude is like a smile for your stomach. The spotlight on gratitude is so important that it’s even given a place on the holiday calendar – Thanksgiving, a time when we remember our blessings with loved ones and are grateful for the gifts (and food!) in our lives.
Saying grace can be a remedy against inflammation, bloating, and general indigestion by reminding you to eat slowly and leisurely. Giving thanks is a simple yet beneficial practice that can relax your muscles and nerves and improve your gastrointestinal function and food absorption, as well as your mental stress levels! As an act of gratitude, it also puts the mind in a state of appreciation because it reminds us of our good fortune, which we can so easily take for granted. Your grace doesn’t have to be fancy if you’re not used to doing it – it’s all about the intention and mindset!
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