Mindfulness itself is being fully attuned to the present moment, and aware of all the different sensations you are experiencing in that moment without being mentally or emotionally attached to them. This same tenant can be applied to eating food, to create what we call mindful eating.
It begins with the preparation of your food; the washing, chopping, and cooking of vegetables. Allowing yourself to be fully present in this process brings your digestive system to life and prepares it for the joy of eating the meal you have so carefully prepared. Plating up your food, paying attention to the visual aspects, the delicious aroma’s and warmth give you space to pause and appreciate this food before you even taste it. When it is time to eat your meal, pay attention to the different textures and tastes in your mouth. Chew slowly and carefully, really noticing different vegetables, herbs, and spices as they roll on your tongue. This is mindful eating.
As you become fully attentive to your food, your body and soul are naturally nourished more as a by-product. Your microbiome in particular is positively affected by mindfulness practices. The microbiome itself is the collection of bacteria, fungi and virus that live in the human digestive tract. As a collective this living colony plays an integral role in our health. They not only play a critical role in the digestive process, but they also create everything from vitamins and enzymes to neurotransmitters; and play key roles in things like body weight, immune function, mental health, mood and more. They are also intimately linked to something called our gut brain axis.
This gut brain axis is the bidirectional link between our brain and digestive system. When we live and eat in a state of stress, the gut brain axis and the microbiome are heavily impacted. Bad bacteria that are passive in a healthy microbiome flourish, inflammation greatly increases, and negative health consequences occur. We also release specific hormones when in a state of heightened stress, which further disturb the microbiome, damage the gut barrier, and throw off equilibrium in the gut brain axis. This all sounds rather negative, but there is some good news.
Recent studies have shown that adding in mindfulness and practices such as meditation help to regulate an overactive stress response. In turn they also promote a healthy gut barrier and microbiome functioning. When we incorporate daily deep breathing practices, short periods of meditation, and mindful eating into our lives, we allow our gut brain axis to rebalance and our microbiome to have the best possible environment to flourish.
Of course, a flourishing microbiome does not only rely on mindfulness. Food is a potent source of information for our gut bacteria and overall health. Stay tuned for our next article, where we discuss this topic in more detail. You will also find a useful list of foods that support vibrant microbiome health, alongside those that don’t. Until then, stay well.