Ep 4 Eat Mindfully

Here we are, step 2 of my “Get Your Shit Together” system.  This portion is all about eating mindfully.

  • Do you sit down and eat in a relaxed state?
  • Do you chew each bite thoroughly?
  • Do you enjoy and savor your food?

Mindfulness is a term that’s thrown around a lot lately, but all it really means is that you’re being attentive and intentional with whatever we’re doing. Remember, this doesn’t mean that we’re assigning “good” or “bad” morality to food.

The important thing here is that if we’re not in a parasympathetic state, our digestive system will slow down.  We need to get out of the fight-or-flight sympathetic mode in order to digest.

Now for the super obvious part: you have to chew thoroughly! Your stomach doesn’t have teeth and you only have one shot at breaking your food down mechanically, so your stomach acid and enzymes have a chance to break it down into absorbable nutrients.

Also, make sure you’re eating food you enjoy that also fills the nutrient density profile.  You want the endorphins and happy hormones that come from that first delectable bite!

If you want a research-backed gut healing diet to reverse your systems and reset your relationship with food, visit goodpoopersclub.com to get the scoop.

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Music credit: “New Way Forward” by Young Presidents

A Podcast Launch Bestie production

Welcome to Science and Shit, the podcast where I show you how a healthy gut leads to a happier life. I’m your host, Michelle Casey. I’m a functional health coach who specializes in all things digestion, from heartburn to IBS to auto immune inflammatory bowel disease. I’ve seen it all. I’ve spent the last eight years in private practice helping people with chronic illness, reverse their symptoms and live their best lives. In this podcast, you will get empowered about what you can do to impact your health naturally. I’ll help you sort through the information overwhelm to figure out what’s relevant to you. If you want a holistic scientific approach, you’ve come to the right place! 

All right, first things first, if we’re going to talk about holistic health, we need to first acknowledge that white supremacy and colonization has wiped out much indigenous wisdom all over the world. And has led to gross disparities in equity and health care access. The ʻāina (land) on which I live and work is located in the ahupuaʻa (subdivision) of Kaloko, in the moku (district) of Kona, on the mokopuni (island) of Hawai’i, in the paeʻāina (nation) of Hawai’i. I recognize that Her Majesty Queen Liliʻuokalani yielded the Hawaiian Kingdom and these territories under duress and protest to the United States to avoid the bloodshed of her people. I also want to acknowledge that the Hawai’i that we enjoy today was very much shaped in a holistic and sustainable way by many generations of indigenous Hawaiians, Polynesian people. For these people, and for this work, I express my deep reverence and gratitude. Mahalo nui loa. 


It’s important to recognize and acknowledge the history of the land that we live on. Even though you or I may not be directly responsible for the harms done to native peoples. All of us non natives who live in the United States directly benefit from this harm. If you want to learn more about the land you’re on, you can start by entering your ZIP code at the native land website at Native-land.ca. 


Now let’s jump into today’s episode. Let’s get this party started.


Hello, and welcome back. This episode is all about step two in my Get Your Shit Together system, it is all about Eating Mindfully. The three different aspects that you want to look at and kind of rate yourself in when it comes to mindful eating are number one, do you sit down and eat in a relaxed state? Number two, do you chew each bite thoroughly? And number three, do you enjoy and savor your food? I want to talk a little bit about the reasoning behind each of these steps or these sub steps in this step. And why they’re important and how they actually, along with eating a nutrient dense diet are kind of the biggest things that you can do on your own at home to help your body digest and absorb those nutrients, because you’re focusing on eating a nutrient dense diet. We talked about prioritizing nutrient density in the last episode. So you’re working on that, working on including those foods, you want to make sure that you’re actually getting those nutrients. You want to make sure that you’re absorbing them and it turns out that eating mindfully is one of the main ways that we can do this. 

What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a term that has gotten very, very popular recently. It’s not necessarily meditation, it’s not necessarily spirituality, although it can have aspects of both. It’s about being attentive and being intentional about whatever it is that we’re doing. If we think about eating mindfully, that again, it doesn’t mean that we’re eating in a moral way. It doesn’t mean that we’re assigning good and bad values to food. It doesn’t mean that we’re super self conscious about what we’re eating. It really means that we’re just paying attention and actually present while we’re eating. And part of that is kind of a mental habit, kind of a situation. Part of that is going to rely on you actually understanding how your nervous system works and how to shift into a parasympathetic state. We’re going to talk in a future episode about practices to support our nervous system and get into that parasympathetic state. But one of the main ways that we can start this is creating a relaxed environment around our meals. If you did the workshop, episode two, and went through and rated yourself low on any of these areas, this is going to give you specific actions that you can take to get that rating up or get that green square filled out. 

The first thing that we need to do is talk about our nervous system, because the nervous system and the digestive system are connected. Now, Western medicine might have us think that all of the systems of our body operate independent of each other and don’t impact each other. But that’s not actually how human bodies work. All of our digestive organs are innervated, or connected to our brain via the nervous system. And there are two aspects to the autonomic nervous system. One of them is the parasympathetic system, and the other is the sympathetic system. And you may remember from a previous biology class that the parasympathetic side is mostly concerned with, we can call it rest and digest. And the sympathetic side has to do a lot with like, fight or flight. It’s the excitatory side of the nervous system versus the inhibitory side. Now, they both do inhibit and stimulate in different ways. But for the sake of digestive health, we really need to be able to tap into that parasympathetic side of the nervous system and support it in order for digestion to work really well. I always like to say you can eat anytime you want, but you’re not necessarily going to digest it unless you’re parasympathetic. I know it’s like a really weird catchphrase, but I’m working on it. 

Okay, so there’s a couple of interesting things about the anatomy of the nervous system, when it comes to parasympathetic versus sympathetic and the digestive system. The sympathetic nerves that innervate or connect to our internal organs, to our digestive system, are all kind of in the middle of our back. All along our spine is where they originate. The parasympathetic nerves all start from one main area in the brainstem and there are cranial nerves that come out. One of them is the vagus nerve. And the vagus nerve is our largest nerve and it actually then branches out. The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic system, and it attaches to the digestive organs, and our heart and our lungs separately.

So what does this mean? What does this mean for you? When we’re thinking about how to switch into that parasympathetic side, where we’re actually able to stimulate our gastric juices flowing, we can physically stimulate the vagus nerve at the source at our brainstem and actually kind of right underneath and a little bit behind your ears. So if you kind of just put your fingers on the sides of your neck there, you can tap, you can rub gently, kind of massage it, that’s actually going to start getting signals going into the vagus nerve. Sometimes people like to put essential oils right there, or they do some tapping or a little bit of massage before they eat, to kind of switch into that parasympathetic state and support their digestive system. I’ve seen you can go on YouTube and look for vagal nerve exercises. I’ve seen people rolling their neck with a medicine ball. I mean, there’s all kinds of wild stuff on YouTube that you can find. But basically, if we’re not in a parasympathetic state, our digestive system is going to be inhibited, it’s going to slow down. 

Let me talk a little bit more specifically about why that is and how that works. So again, the parasympathetic side is concerned with, we kind of call it rest and digest, it’s also concerned with healing. And the sympathetic side is more the fight or flight, stress response. So one of the cool things about the nervous system is that communications happen both directions. So they travel through our nerves, from our brain to our organs, and from our organs to our brain. So if you’re experiencing chronic stress, it could be internal or external stress. And what I mean by that is, external stressors could be like relationship issues, financial insecurity, job issues, stress from raising children, things like that. Those are all filtered through our brain, and that information gets transmitted to our internal organs. But then if you’re having internal stressors, like infections, latent viruses, parasites, food allergies, environmental allergies, chronic inflammation. Those things are stressful at this physiological level, inside our body, and that’s transmitting information back to our brain. Either or both of those types of stressors can compound each other and lead us to not feeling safe in our environment, not feeling safe in our bodies. And when we don’t feel safe, it’s much more difficult to activate the parasympathetic side of our nervous system. If we always feel like we need to be on guard, and on defensive, because of different types of stressors. Whether they’re external, and you don’t necessarily have control over them. It’s much more difficult to get out of that fight or flight kind of mode. So trauma also, obviously, plays a huge role here, whether that is trauma from your past or trauma that’s ongoing, it literally rewires our nervous system. 

How all of this relates to food and our digestive tract is that the parasympathetic nerves do things like stimulate our stomach activity. They stimulate the activity of our intestines, so they stimulate peristalsis. Which is the automatic flexing and movement through our intestinal tract, so that moves food through. The sympathetic nerves in the fight or flight system, actually inhibit the activity of our stomach and inhibit peristalsis. Among lots of other functions, but those are two of the main ways that they impact digestion. So obviously, if you’re dealing with trauma, whether that’s chronic or post traumatic stress disorder you definitely want to work on that with a mental health professional, that’s outside of my scope. I do refer people out to therapy a lot, because it really does impact our ability to digest our food and actually get those nutrients. But there’s a lot of things that we can do to support our nervous system. Therapy is one of them. Creating our mealtime rituals is one of my favorite things to coach people on. Actually stopping and slowing down before we eat. Creating environments where we feel safe, whether that’s while we’re eating and/or other times, that actually helps us to get our digestive system on track so that we can break down and absorb those nutrients from our food. So super, super important to create some kind of ritual habit or practice around your mealtime where you can sit down, feel safe, and eat in a relaxed state, that’s what that means. 

Science and Shit with Michelle Casey is brought to you by the Good Poopers Club. If you want to find out how you can use a research backed gut healing diet to reverse your symptoms and reset your relationship with food, head on over to goodpoopersclub.com to get the scoop.

Now, the second piece of the puzzle involves chewing. And while it seems really obvious, I’m just going to let you know one of the things that one of my mentors always says, which I think is hilarious, is your stomach doesn’t have teeth. You actually only get one shot at breaking your food down mechanically. If your digestive system is turned on and everything’s working, then you actually will have digestive enzymes and stomach acid and all of these other things that assist the process. But if you don’t break down the food into small enough bits in your mouth, your body is going to have a much more difficult time breaking it down into the parts that you can digest. And if we’re chewing thoroughly, that actually helps to switch on that parasympathetic nervous system, and gives our body ample warning that food is coming. It lets our digestive organs know that food is coming, get ready. 

I always tell people start with 30 chews per bite. It’s not a magic number and you may need more like 50 if you’re eating something like a steak. But you definitely want to start with counting and making sure that you’re getting at least 30 chews. It will take you longer to eat. I’m gonna let you know this right now, you will have to block out a longer lunch break or whatever meal you’re trying this at because it will take you longer if you have not been doing this. But it’s 100% worth it. Even if you’re having a smoothie. I don’t generally recommend smoothies as a meal replacement. But even if you’re having a smoothie, make that chewing motion in your mouth, because again, it’s going to let your body know that food is coming. 

Then the last, kind of, piece of this puzzle that I want to talk about is enjoying and savoring our food. I retired it in 2020 but I used to have a program called Relish. It was like all about this. All about having a joyful relationship with food because it’s so so important. Coming from someone who ate a very strict bodybuilding diet for a long time, I’ve done multiple elimination diets, I have run the whole gamut of eating foods that I hated, because I knew they were good for me. And like choking down a massive amount of egg whites and oatmeal every morning because I was trying to get swole or wherever. Take it from me, it is stressful to eat foods you don’t like. Now, I’m not saying don’t be adventurous, don’t try things. Our taste buds change so frequently that if there’s a food that you know might be good for you that you’re trying to eat because you feel like it might be healthy, it’s worth trying a few different times and preparing it a few different ways. But you want to eat foods that fit that profile of being nutrient dense and anti inflammatory, that you also enjoy. Pleasure is the life hack, people. This is, if nothing else, this is the thing I want you to get out of this episode. 

Eating foods that you enjoy. When you’re at a really great restaurant or your friend makes you their signature go to, favorite dish that they’re just the best at making and you just have to sit back in your chair for a second when you take that first bite because it’s so good. You have all of the happy brain chemicals, all the endorphins, all the dopamine flowing through your system at that moment. That’s so good for your digestive system. That is so good for your whole body. Especially nowadays when depending on where you live and your risk tolerance, you may be more isolated than normal. You may not be going to restaurants as much. You may not be out there doing, kind of, engaging in the dopamine generating activities that you were before the pandemic. We need all the dopamine we can get. And food is one of the main ways that we get that. So that doesn’t necessarily mean just eat chips and cookies, right? Because yes, you will get a dopamine hit from that, but you’ll feel shitty later. We want to be figuring out what are those foods that I enjoy, that I can savor that also make me feel good, two hours, two days from now. 

If there’s any homework I can give you for this episode, it is going to be, figure out what those foods are for you. Also, obviously, chew each bite thoroughly and sit down and eat in a relaxed state. That is the trifecta of mindful eating. 

All right, keep it short and sweet today, but let me know how this goes for you. Let us know on social media if you happen to try this extra credit bonus assignment. Check the toilet, check your poop the next day after you start chewing more thoroughly because it is a game changer. I’m just saying. Alright, until next time, enjoy. 

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Science and Shit with Michelle Casey. If you want to stay in touch head on over to michellecaseynutrition.com/podcast to get in on all goodness. I know you have a lot of things you could be doing with your time and I really appreciate you choosing to spend it with me. If this episode was valuable for you, please subscribe, follow, and share it with your friends and family and/or leave a review as an offering to the algorithm gods. Until next time, be excellent to each other!