What do athletes, writers, chefs, speakers and even surgeons have in common? Highly Effective Rituals.

The word ritual may summon visions of mysterious practices, but in reality, rituals are simply habitual activities that hold meaning and invoke intention.

Rituals prepare us mentally, physically and emotionally for what is ahead and allow us to experience the benefits of an activity before we even begin . So, how does ritual impact nutrition? And, how can we create rituals that support our nutritional goals?

#1 Proper digestion starts with food preparation. Prepare your own food whenever possible. This is a sound recommendation for a number of reasons, most commonly for the benefit of knowing the type and quality of ingredients being used. Here’s another good reason. By selecting and preparing your food, you set an intention very early in the process for these items to nourish your body.

Create a simple ritual around preparing meals. Grab a favorite apron, turn on the music, pour a glass of wine. Preheat the oven or set the water to boil. Anything that broadcasts the message “I am in the kitchen—wonderful things are about to happen.” Once you’ve established a ritual, you will be surprised how quickly it becomes a focal point of the day and how inviting this time and space will become for you. By preparing the food at home, the sights and smells of food preparation engage the body and prepare it for digestion even before the food enters your mouth. When was the last time your mouth literally watered? That was the start of good digestion.

#2 State of mind, while eating, can literally affect the nutritional impact of that meal. Eating under physical or emotional stress raises cortisol levels, which may prevent the body from producing the necessary enzymes  to digest food and extract nutrients properly.

Create a simple ritual around dining at home or away. Turn off the TV, sit down at the table—yes, we’ve all heard that one before. Put your napkin on your lap, pause for a moment to feel gratitude for the food before you and set the intention for it to nourish your body.  If the food was prepared by someone else, take a moment to appreciate that gift as well. These brief, intentional moments can provide health benefits even if the meal itself is simply carryout.

#3 Take special care when preparing meals eaten away from home. Do you typically scoop some leftovers in a plastic dish and toss it, along with an “energy bar” and a piece of fruit, in a paper bag on your way out the door?  Is it any wonder that most of us would rather go out and grab something else, anything else, than eat that lunch?

A little preparation can change the whole experience. Create a simple ritual around packing your lunch. Start the evening before, after dinner, while you are still in the kitchen mindset. Leftovers are very popular (and easy) in our house.  When practical, precut food for easier reheating and eating. Be sure to include condiments, sauces or dressings if they were part of the original dish.  Use a reusable lunch bag that is big enough to hold your dishes, flatware and condiments. Avoid plastic. Reusable glass dishes, in a variety of sizes are more pleasant to eat from and safer to reheat than plastic. Use real flatware. Plastic utensils are expensive and rarely hold up to a salad that’s worth eating. Grab a napkin and you’ll be ready to eat where ever your day takes you.

These simple rituals not only contribute to the pleasure of eating, they can enhance the nutritional value of the meals you eat.

Optimal Health is a lifestyle choice and rituals are a great tool.  What rituals do you use to enhance your health journey?