Of all the things I work with clients on, the process of learning to relax more, particularly focusing on improving breathing, can have the biggest impact with the least amount of relative effort. And people that use the breathing exercise recommended below tend to really love it and feel the difference right away.
When we’re in a more relaxed state, the eating process serves us better because:
- We don’t excrete as many vitamins & minerals through urinary loss
- LDL cholesterol is less likely to go up
- Cortisol levels stay at an appropriate level, and we are less at risk of gaining weight, particularly abdominal fat, and we’re actually more able to lose weight and build muscle. We also avoid a lot of premature aging this way.
- We are better able to retain our healthy gut flora or bacteria, which means our immune system stays strong, skin is healthier, and we avoid diseases related to nutrient deficiency as well as digestive distress.
- We get enough oxygen, a key to all aspects of metabolic functioning
- Our cells retain the ability to respond to insulin, allowing us to handle sugars in our diets and avoid diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, and premature aging.
- Our risk of osteoporosis goes down and our bones stay stronger.
- We have less internal inflammation and therefore less risk of significant ailments, including brain and heart disease.
Practice making a little more time for eating so that you are not rushed, eating only when you’re sitting down, and choosing not to answer any phone or get on the computer while you eat.
Try this exercise anytime you are about to eat in order to ensure that you are in an optimal state for digestion, assimilation and calorie burning:
Ask yourself, “Am I about to eat under stress? Is my mind racing right now? Do I feel tension in my muscles and related symptoms? If the answer is yes, pause and take ten long, slow, deep breaths. Ideally, your breathing would follow this sequence:
Sit in a comfortable position with spine straight, feet flat on the floor. Eyes can be open or closed. If you like, you can put your hand on your belly, or even both hands one atop the other on your abdomen. Deeply inhale, filling your lungs to approximately two-thirds capacity. Hold your breath for several seconds. Exhale fully. Repeat this cycle ten times.
This simple practice can shut down the stress response in as little as one minute, depending on the intensity of what you’re experiencing. If you are in a social situation, focus on your breathing while you continue to look at others and monitor the conversation — everyone else will think you’re attentively listening to them!
What exactly is happening on a physical level when you do this activity
By holding in the breath for a few seconds, tiny clumps of nerve tissue containing specialized chemical receptors, located along the carotid arteries, are fooled into thinking that blood pressure is rising, which signals a message for blood vessels to dilate, thereby causing an overall drop in blood pressure and hence the stress response is diminished.
By breathing in only 2/3 of your lung capacity, you ensure your blood pressure won’t go up from the sheer exertion of forcing your lungs to expand. By breathing out more fully than you breathe in, you move stale air out from your lungs. This kind of breathing will also increase endorphins in your body, producing a sense of relaxation and well-being.
By focusing on your breathing and increasing your capacity to take in oxygen, you are maximizing your metabolism and increasing the amount of calories you will be burning as you eat and for a while afterwards. Certain parts of the stomach lining consume more oxygen than any other tissue in the body. The more we eat, the more the body wants us to breathe. Breathing more if you eat a lot can be viewed in the same way as exercising more as you eat a lot.
Every day, you can be sure you’re going to eat, and you’re going to breathe. Might as well enjoy both and get the maximum benefit possible!
Some of the above is based on/adapted from The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, and Weight Loss by Marc David