So many of us experience digestion disturbances every day that we think it’s normal. But your gut should be a smooth running assembly line: food in, nutrients extracted, and wastes out, repeat three times a day. However many things can go wrong with this process resulting in gas, bloat, pain, constipation, diarrhea, burping, bad breath, and heart burn. Stress is one big factor that can halt the digestion assembly line. Do you feel like you’re constantly on the run? Jugging work demands with responsibilities at home, speeding to get to your gym class on time, racing to pick up your kids, and squeezing in summer fun? Well, who’s not? Our culture feeds this lifestyle. The problem is that this “on-the-go” schedule disrupts digestion. It has to do with your nervous system and the stress response. Your body’s stress response is programmed from ancient times – running away or fighting off the Saber-toothed tiger. When the brain receives the stress signal (“Tiger!”), hormones respond setting actions into motion to send all energy (nutrients and blood) to your arms and legs to fight or flee. Since it’s more important to survive the imminent threat than to digest lunch, all energy is shunted away from the digestive tract because it’s needed elsewhere (“Danger! Run away!”). This is perfect during an actual life-threatening event, but in our modern world “tigers” pop up constantly: traffic jams, an email from an irate boss, financial worries, deadlines… you get the picture. Your nervous system cannot distinguish between an actual threat and just a worry. It responds the same each time. If you’re eating while on-the-go, you’re not digesting and that can lead to other symptoms downstream.
3 Ways to Maximize Your Digestion
These steps of mindful eating reset your nervous system into “rest and digest” mode and out of “fight or flight” mode.
- Slow down: sit and eat, and only eat. Don’t multi-task. Take a break from work, leave your desk, and sit somewhere else. Trust me you can take a 15 minute break. You’ll be more productive afterward. Don’t eat while driving. Your nervous system thinks that operating a 3,000 lb. metal object while avoiding other moving objects is stressful.
- Breathe: take 5 deep breaths before eating. Pause to express gratitude: for your body, the farmers who grew your food and something good about your day. Before jumping up to your next task, take 5 more deep breaths to finish.
- Chew: not a novel concept, but are you chewing? Chewing stimulates saliva which starts digestion in the mouth. Chewing breaks down your food to make it easier on your stomach. Chewing helps you eat slowly. Try this: take a bite and put your fork down. Chew your bite 10 times. Experts say you should chew each bite 30 times. I say start with 10, it’s a challenge enough.
Families that say grace before eating are spot on. Bonus benefit: eating slowly stimulates hormones that create satiety and enables you to absorb more nutrients. You’ll be less inclined to reach for a snack later. Ok, let’s be real for a minute. This won’t happen at every meal, every day. Start with committing to 3 meals per week and see how that feels. Then try a few more.
Further Trouble Shooting Your Digestive Distress
If you’re meditating every day and chewing each bite 30 times and you still have digestive distress, there are other things that can be going on:
- Food sensitivities
- Gut infections
- Microbiome imbalances – good bugs in the wrong place or too many bad ones
Functional nutrition analysis and testing can help you get to the bottom of it. Reduce your daily stress and maximize nutrient absorption by slowing down, breathing and chewing.
Disclaimer: Nutrition therapy is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment, prescription, or cure for any disease, or as a substitute for medical care. Jen Marshall and Stacy St Germain are not licensed medical providers. Nutrition plans are not intended as a substitution for traditional medical care, nor should be interpreted as medical advice, but instead is an adjunctive and supportive therapy.