Healing Hashimoto's by eating mindfully
We know that what you eat plays a big part in healing Hashimoto’s (and other chronic diseases), but what about how you eat? Does how you eat make a difference to your health?
The answer is YES, ABSOLUTELY.
Eating mindfully was transformational for me. It took me a while to realise how important the way in which we eat actually is. I would even say it is JUST as important, if not MORE important than the actual food we are putting into our bodies.
Most of us have heard the phrase 'eating mindfully' but what does it actually mean?
When I talk about eating mindfully, I am referring to:
How you feel before, during and after eating - what state is your body in? Are you tense, stressed-out or calm and centred?
The environment of which you are eating and your posture - are you eating your dinner hunched over your laptop whilst doing work or are you sat at a table with your spine straight and up-right away from electronic devices?
Being present with your food - are you even aware of the food you are putting into your mouth? Are you rushing your food and barely chewing it or are you chewing slowly and appreciating each mouthful?
These are all questions that we need to ask ourselves about our meal times. Meal times have become something that we in the Western culture ‘don’t have time for’. We try and eat whilst doing work or we eat whilst watching stressful imagery on the News or we even eat with people who make us feel uncomfortable.
Why is eating mindfully so important, especially for those with Hashimoto's?
When we are feeling stressed or anxious, the sympathetic nervous system is activated and we go into a ‘fight-or-flight’ response. This creates an ‘emergency-like’ state which blocks the neurological signals responsible for healing and regenerating our body. Instead, it only puts energy into areas such as the muscles and heart rate. This response can be useful in moments of short term stress - however, in cases of repeated acute stress, this response is activated daily and can lead to a major imbalance of the immune system and therefore cause disorders such as autoimmune diseases. This episodic acute stress is frequent in modern western culture partly due to a fast-paced lifestyle where digital technology has enabled us to be constantly available, with the added pressure of continuous notifications and alerts. This constant stimulation from technology can leave people feeling like they can’t switch off, and in some individuals, can set off the ‘flight-or-flight’ response.
The opposite of this state is called the ‘relaxation response’ - this is when our parasympathetic nervous system is activated . This is where the body feels safe and can therefore put focus and energy on healing and regenerating the body. This state is also known as ‘rest and digest mode’. It is an excellent state for digestion as digestion takes up a HUGE amount of the body’s energy. This is why it is so important for us to be in a relaxed and calm state before we eat, whilst we eat, and just after we eat.
So, unless our bodies are in a relaxed and calm state, WE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO DIGEST OUR FOOD. Not being able to digest our food leads to all sorts of complications but it will especially affect our immune health. It has been found that around 70% of our immune system is in our gut. Hippocrates famously said that ‘all disease begins in the gut’. Many (if not all) chronic illnesses are associated with gut problems.
Hashimoto’s patients tend to already have an impaired ability to digest and tend to have low stomach acid and nutrient absorption problems. This is why we need to be even MORE AWARE of how we are eating. We need to give our bodies the best chance of being able to digest our food and to extract the vital nutrients it needs in order for us to be well and heal. We need to focus putting the body into rest and digest mode before, during and just after we eat.
You could be eating the CLEANEST diet in the world - BUT if you are always anxious and stressed whilst eating, your body will not be able to extract the nutrients and energy from that food. Your body needs that nutrients and energy from food in order to heal. Without it, it can simply not heal.
So how do you eat mindfully? See my top 12 tips below.
My top 12 tips on how to eat mindfully:
Time - Give yourself plenty of time for all your meals. Think like the French or Italians and how good they are at carving out time for food and actually enjoying it.
Location - Eat at a table if you can or someplace where you can sit upright with your back straight.
No working allowed (I mean it!) - Eat your meal AWAY from any work - even if you enjoy your work. Eating should be a separate activity something to savour and enjoy. This is how are bodies were made to enjoy food - not hunched over a laptop ‘stressing out’ over emails.
Presentation - Make your meals look appetising by presenting it beautifully on your plate - make it look more enticing and something that you can look at and appreciate. Cooking each meal with a rainbow of colours helps.
Gratitude for your meal - even just a few seconds before you eat, look at your meal and recognise how many people were involved in getting the food to your table - the farmers, the drivers, the supermarket assistants etc. Then think about how grateful you are for the person who made the meal for you. If it was yourself, then be grateful for the ability to be able to make such a lovely meal.
1-minute body scan - before you eat, do a quick body scan and check to see if you are tense or clenching anywhere. If you come across any tense areas, take a deep breath and relax them one-by-one. (Pay special attention to your stomach area as many people hold tension here).
20 MINUTE YOGA VIDEO BEFORE DINNER - If you are feeling very stressed out, and you don’t think a quick body scan will ‘cut it’ - then do a quick 20 minute yoga video before you start dinner. It doesn't have to be an hour-long one. Just make sure that when you do it, you fully commit your mind to it. Focus completely on this time for you to relax. My favourite youtube yoga channel is this one and she does loads of 20 minute videos: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFKE7WVJfvaHW5q283SxchA
Put your phone over the other side of the room - In order to be mindful when eating, it won’t help scrolling through social media feeds or checking emails. Give your mind a break whilst you eat - you can look at it later.
Only positive TV programs - If you do want to watch TV whilst eating, then ensure that the content of what you are watching isn’t anything negative, stressful or frightening - like the News for example. The same goes for just before dinner and just after dinner.
Only positive people or conversations - I realised that there was a correlation between me eating in a tense environment/around people who made me feel uncomfortable and crippling stomach aches. Please, please, PLEASE surround yourself with positive people when eating (and that sort of goes for most of the time really!). The same goes for difficult conversations - it is best to have them at another time if possible.
Chew food thoroughly and slowly - Take your time eating and chewing each mouthful. Even if you are eating soup, still hold it in your mouth instead of just swallowing it like a drink. Put your knife and fork down every now and then throughout your meal to remind you to slow down.
Enjoy each mouthful - focus on the look of your meal before you put it in your mouth. Then when in your mouth, focus on the flavours and the textures. Make it into a full sensory experience and really appreciate and send love to your food.
Just to reiterate these are just guidelines with the purpose of encouraging your digestive system to function as best it can. By following these in your own way, you are giving your body the best chance to function optimally and promote an environment for healing.
If you are not able to do these tips 100% of the time, then don’t judge yourself. You are human and it would be impossible to be able to do all of the above for every single meal. For example, if you had to eat your lunch on-the-run as a one-off, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just make a promise that the next day you will carve out plenty of time for lunch and be kind to yourself. It is just about being aware and then making daily promises to yourself.