From what I've gathered by talking to friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances and clients, faulty digestion seems to be a hot topic of concern for almost everybody right now. It doesn't surprise me when I talk to someone who is experiencing digestive distress. Our modern world is not designed to support good gut health. Overuse of antibiotics, stress, processed foods, sugar, alcohol, environmental toxins and over sterilization have been shown to be extremely detrimental to the quality of our gut health and overall digestive capabilities.
I've been around the block with troubleshooting my digestion and to help you out, I've compiled my top tips for things you can do RIGHT NOW to start improving your digestion.
1.) Take Digestive Bitters
Digestive bitters have long been used to promote better digestion. They usually include gentian plus other herbs that typically have a bitter flavor, hence the name “bitters”! These amazing tinctures work by stimulating the production of saliva, stomach acid, pepsin, bile and other digestive enzymes, basically getting your system fully primed to digest and absorb food. I recommend taking digestive bitters about 15 minutes or so before you eat a meal or you can take them after eating if you feel like you’re experiencing some indigestion. The digestive bitters that I use everyday are from Urban Moonshine, my favorite kinds being the Maple or Healthy Liver Bitters. You can read more about bitters, their benefits and purchase here.
2.) Relax, seriously!
The sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system play a HUGE role in how well our digestion functions. When you’re experiencing stress, feeling fearful, anxious or worried the sympathetic nerves slow down GI secretions and motility. In extreme stress, digestion can be shut down all together! It’s your body’s way of basically saying “Hey! It seems like we have bigger issues to deal right now with so we’re just gonna table this whole digestion thing.” This of course would be helpful if you were being chased down by Freddie Krueger... The problem is our body cannot distinguish the difference between the stress of you being chased down by Mr. Nightmare on Elm Street or you eating at your desk and frantically trying to reach a deadline. Continued stress in our body and mind affects the body’s ability to heal and perform. Stress and emotions play a major role in many digestive problems such as ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune disease. To counter act the nasty effects that stress can cause on the digestive system I recommend the following:
• Find a quiet or relaxing environment to eat your meals
• Try not to multi task while eating, I know it’s hard to not catch up on Facebook, Instagram or work but try to just focus on the sensation of eating, at least for a majority of your meal.
• Always try to take a real lunch break if you can, this means leaving your desk, office, car, whatever. Take a short walk before or after you eat if you can and connect to the natural world for a little bit.
• Take deep breaths before eating.
• Do a short meditation or prayer, think about where your food was grown, how it got to your plate and express gratitude for the nutrients it’s about to provide you.
• Use calming essential oils like lavender, ylang ylang, frankincense or bergamot to help stimulate relaxation and calm throughout the body and mind.
3.) Limit Your Beverages
I’m sure someone could debate this recommendation but I’ve always been under the impression and had great personal experience with limiting the amount of water or other beverages consumed immediately before, during or after a meal. Mark Sisson from Mark's Daily Apple has the same thought process.
“Conventional Wisdom suggests that drinking water with your meals is fine – even recommended. But I suspect that some heretofore undiagnosed digestive issues may arise when people drink significant amounts of water or other fluids with their meals. The digestive process starts with, and depends on, a very acidic environment in the stomach (a pH of 1 to 2 ideally). That highly acidic environment also controls the timing of when the stomach empties. When you drink lots of fluid at a meal, you are substantially diluting the stomach acid and diminishing its ability to effectively digest your food.”
This is especially true if you’re consuming a high protein meal as the enzyme that breaks down protein, pepsin, requires a very low pH to function best. To be cautious, I would limit beverages 15 minutes before, during and 15 minutes after eating your meal to promote optional enzymatic and stomach acid function.
4.) Chew Your Food!
Sounds like something your mom used to tell you right? But it’s crazy what a difference thoroughly chewing your food can make!! The mouth is our first step in digestion and it’s an important one. Saliva contains two enzymes, amylase (responsible for breaking down carbohydrates) and lipase (responsible for breaking down fats) which help to begin the process of digestion and they actually continuing working for about another hour until your stomach acid deactivates the enzymes. Aim to chew your food at least 30 times, until everything is well broken down and forms a soft mush. You can even do this with soft foods like yogurt or applesauce, just hold the food in your mouth, swirling it around a little longer than usual. This really makes a difference in improving the digestibility and absorption of our foods. I would especially recommend this habit if you suffer from digestive issues like IBD, IBS, leaky gut, etc.
5.) Eat Slowly & Take Breaks
Eating slowly kind of goes hand-in-hand with chewing your food in that will naturally slow you down but I wanted to really emphasis the importance of not rushing through your meal. Eating quickly probably means you’re not in rest and digest mode, you’re not allowing enough time for your digestive enzymes to work to their fullest potential and you may not realize how much you’re eating. Go slow and take breaks to breath or talk to whoever you may be dining with. This will also allow time for your food to settle and you’ll be better able to gauge how full or hungry you are still.
6.) Stop When You're Satiated
Side by side with eating slowly and taking breaks is to stop eating when your satiated. What does it mean to feel satiated? I would best describe it as the point when you don't feel hungry anymore but are not bursting from fullness. You know that point in a meal when you’re feeling pretty good but there’s maybe a couple bites left on the plate and you decide to go ahead and just finish it? But those last couple bites make you uncomfortably full? Ugh I hate that feeling...Always try to stop before that point of being uncomfortably full! This will help from overwhelming the digestive system and prevent you from overeating too. No amount of food is too small to save as leftovers. I've saved some ridiculously small servings of leftovers before but they always get eaten eventually!
7.) Stay Upright After Eating
Lying down or sleeping right after a meal can not only slow the whole digestive process down but can also allow digestive juices to creep back up towards the esophagus causing heartburn and indigestion. Staying upright or going for a light walk after eating is a better option for allowing optimal digestion to take place. Having worked late nights in the late night restaurant industry for over 10 years, I know how difficult it can be resist the urge to go right to sleep after eating. If you’re in a position like this, try spending at least a half an hour or so sitting up right in bed, reading a book before laying down and going to sleep. You may also want to try to eat as far away from bedtime as you possibly can, which may involve planning beforehand and bringing food with you!
So there ya go!
Those are my top tips for improving digestion and all things that have worked extremely well for me. If you feel you need more help improving your digestion function or improving your nutrition habits, you may want to consider a Personalized Nutrition & Lifestyle Consultation with me.