5 Ways You Can Improve Your Digestion NOW
In Chinese Medicine, digestion is the ROOT of all health. Modern medicine is getting hip to this idea too and you have probably heard many terms such as the "the gut is the new brain", 'the mind-gut connection' or 'you are what you eat'.
When we eat, our body's job is to turn food into usable energy. If we experience symptoms like bloating, gas, indigestion, acid reflux, or even bowel issues, there's a good chance that we are not converting that energy efficiently.
Instead of "you are what you eat", you may hear health practitioners say, "you are what you absorb". Poor absorption of nutrients can result in more systemic symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, poor metabolism, hormonal issues and even poor sleep.
Proper digestion is VITAL to us feeling our best and following the tips below (even if you AREN'T experiencing symptoms) will help your gut work optimally and prevent your digestive system from working over-time.
1. NO COLD BEVERAGES
That's right. Ditch the ice. The enzymes and acid in your stomach work within specific temperature ranges. When we are dumping in the arctic chill, it takes more energy to warm the gut back up before it can start digesting and breaking down it's contents.
Even if you DON'T experience GI issues -- it's important to preserve your body's energy so you don't develop digestion problems down the road.
Think of your body like a car. You want to maintain it and not run it into the ground. Every once in awhile you may want to do burnout's and go 0 to 60 in 1.2 seconds but you wouldn't drive it like that every day. Nor would you want to continuing driving it if you know that the car is continually running too hot or on fumes.
By eating icy foods and beverages on the daily you're making your body (aka life vehicle) work harder and over-time will slowly wear it down. Continuing to make lifestyle choices (improper eating habits, stress, etc) that require more work and energy while we are already functioning at half-capacity drains our body's energy and make us feel run down. This can set us up for more serious symptoms down the road if we don't give our bodies a break and take time to nourish and heal.
PRO TIP: Choose warm or room temperature beverages only. ESPECIALLY if you have gut issues, you gotta ditch the ice.
** NOTE: THIS INCLUDES SMOOTHIES**
Smoothies can actually make gut issues WORSE depending on the ingredients (too much fruit) and an icy, cold temperature.
I get it, they are quick and easy but most smoothies contain WAY too much sugar and not enough fat and fiber. Start to notice if you feel cold, hangry, have brain fog or a mid-day slump in energy after having smoothies. If you do, I reckon you make the switch to the warm side. If you have gut issues I would 100% recommend soups or bone broth over smoothies but IF YOU ARE GONNA SMOOTH IT ANYWAYS, here's a few rules to follow:
a) Don't add any ice
b) Use minimal frozen fruits/veg
c) Let it sit at room temp before consuming
d) Include fats (coconut, nut butter, avocado)
e) Use fruit as a sweetener, not as a base
f) Add greens!
Celebrity nutritionist Kelly Leveque is one of my fave nutritionists and she has a "Fab Four Smoothie" blueprint to help build a more 'blood sugar friendly' smoothie. Check out her IG @bewellbykelly or her webpage with more information here.
Smoothies can be great as a treat or an emergency snack but are not the best option for a meal replacement ESPECIALLY if you experience gut issues or blood sugar dysfunction.
2. CHEW YOUR FOOD
I hate to say it but yo' momma was right. You gotta chew your food. Digestion and the breakdown of food starts in YO MOUF.
Not only are you mechanically breaking down food by chewing but enzymes in your saliva begin to chemically break apart carbs as well. If you are only giving your food a quick 1, 2, before sending it on it's merry way down to your belly then you are creating MORE work for your gut.
This means it sits in your belly for longer, resulting in indigestion, acid reflux and all of the other lovely Pepto Bismol symptoms we feel when food isn't broken down in a timely manner like it should be.
The more big ol' chunks we send down the trap, the more likely those big food particles will make it passed the stomach and into the small intestine. Big chunks of food aren't supposed to be there and if this is a common phenomenon, it can lead to things like leaky gut and other inflammatory conditions.
The Chinese proverbs say to chew 1000 times but I recommend chewing until it feels like baby food or sludge in your mouth (baby food sounds a tiny bit more appetizing than sludge?).
Sure, it may take you longer to eat but this will also help you connect to the food you're eating and prevent over-eating. How many times have you shoveled food into your mouth only to wind up feeling fat with a belly ache?
3. AVOID LIQUIDS WHILE EATING
Oh man, this is always a hard one for people. In the US, it's ingrained in us to have liquids along with our meals.
"Food and drink" go together like "peanut butter and jelly". However, when we consume liquids around the time that we are eating we dilute the stomach acid (which acts as a catalyst to the little pac-man like enzymes that tear our food apart). When stomach acid and enzymes are diluted, we break food down more slowly and less efficiently, once again, leaving the food to sit and ferment in our guts. This leads to.. you guessed it ... bloating, reflux, indigestion and overall discomfort.
PRO TIP: Avoid liquids 30min before meals and 1-2 hours after. If you're finding yourself thirsty or unable to completely kick this habit, take small sips and consume as little liquid as possible
Hands in the air if you routinely:
eat at your desk
eat in the car
eat and watch tv/look at stuff on your phone
eat and clean/organize
Alright, now that ALL OF US are raising both our hands...
I challenge you to try to eat a meal WITHOUT doing any of the above.
I know, I know, AIN'T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT! American's are the ultimate busy bodies and it's probably damn near impossible for MOST of us to try and eat a meal WITHOUT looking at our phones or some other distraction.
Distracted eating results in haphazard chewing and over-eating. By making a conscious effort to connect with your food, you are optimizing the digestive process.
Making eating into a meditation helps to strengthen the mind-body connection. Practice the following:
Feel the sensation of raising your hand or fork up to your mouth
Notice the texture of your food squishing or crunch between your teeth and on your tongue
Take note of all the flavors and smells
Follow the feeling of your food as it travels down your throat and imagine it digesting and breaking
This is a practice in "Stopping To Smell The Roses". So often we autopilot our eating and take the joy and intention out of nourishing our bodies. CHALLENGE YOURSELF to be fully present during meals and if you notice you've become distracted, refocus your spotlight of attention back onto all the sensations of the present moment (sight, taste, smell, touch, maybe even hearing the sounds of chewing/digestion). The more you enjoy the MOMENT you're in, the more you'll live a life of joy.
5. EAT WARM + COOKED FOODS
Any time you experience gut issues or have a chronically weak gut, it's important that you make the digestive process as easy as possible.
We already discussed the importance of avoiding cold foods but we haven't talked about the importance of eating COOKED foods. We can think of cooking our food as "predigesting" it. Think about digesting (or even chewing) a raw potato versus a cooked one. The cooked goes down MUCH easier and this is true for the internal, chemical-reaction-based digestive process as well.
The Raw veg movement may have some credence in terms of nutrients being destroyed by overcooking but a COMMON result of eating a raw vegetable diet is bloating, indigestion and other issues that come from overworking the gut.
IF YOU HAVE GUT PROBLEMS, I highly highly recommend choosing warm and lightly cooked foods to help make it easier to digest.
You don't want to kick your stomach while it's tired, down-and-out, choose foods that make it's job as easy as possible.
Soups and bone/veg broth are amazing for people trying to heal their guts. They check the boxes of being both warm and "predigested". You can also pack a TON of nourishing vegetables into your soups to give your body all the micronutrients, vitamins and minerals to heal and grow.
Here's some soup recipes I love:
I also love soup for BREAKFAST! Lots of people struggle with breakfast due to time constraints or lack of appeitte. Soup can be one of the BEST foods to start your day with since it's warming up your digestive fire AND (usually) includes vegetables, fat, fiber and many of the vitamins and minerals you need to stay satiated all day. You can reheat any of the soups above if you need something quick and warm on the go -OR- you could whip up a breakfast soup super easy.
Don't let cultural norms dictate what can or cannot be a breakfast food. Choose what makes you feel the best and gives you the most sustained energy throughout the day.
Here's one of my classic breakfast recipes:
-premade sweet potatoes
-handful of spinach (or greens of your choosing)
-1-2 organic, pasture raised eggs
-organic, grass-fed beef bone broth
1. Put 1-2 tbsp of oil into a pot on medium heat.
2. Cook onion and mushrooms for 3-5 min or until onions are translucent.
3. Turn down to low heat and add spinach and sweet potatoes.
4. Stir to mix in the spinach and cook until it's wilted.
5. Push to side of the pot and add a few more drops of olive oil to the empty space.
6. Add the eggs and cook for 2-3 min depending on how you like your eggs.
7. When they are ALMOST your liking, add the bone broth and gently detach the eggs from bottom of pan.
8. Cook until bone broth is warm.
9. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and enjoy!
I recommend these tips to anyone and everyone. Whether you have digestive disorders or feel like you have an iron stomach -- making these tips into lifelong habits will help you preserve and treat your body right in order to keep it running like a well oiled machine for a long time!
I CHALLENGE YOU to commit to these tips for a week! I would bet big bucks that you will notice an improvement in your digestion as well as mental and physical energy.
Come back and comment your progress if you try it!
Please reach out if you have any questions :)