basic tips for better digestion
Digestive issues are still somewhat of a mystery to modern medicine.
What is leaky gut? Are you allergic to gluten or do you just have a sensitivity? Belly bloat is a trending topic on the internet and tea-toxes are likely filling up your Insta feed.
I’m not here to help you self-diagnose your potential digestive issue – I just want to discuss some basic ways to aide your bodies digestive process. Here are seven quick tips on how you can have better poops.
1. stress affects digestion
Imagine this scenario:
You woke up late, shower, try to put together an outfit that ends with matching shoes, and grab your overnight oats as you run out the door.
In the car, you are listening to the radio, trying not honk your horn at the guy who slammed on the brakes in front of you and simultaneously jam large spoonfuls of chia seeds into your mouth.
At the same time wondering if you turned off your straightener while also debating if you’re going to make it to work on time.
This is the modern-day example of “fight or flight” also known as your sympathetic nervous system.
Running from a bear was the old example. If a bear was chasing you in the woods your heart rate would increase, adrenaline kicks in, and cortisol levels shoot up. But wait, didn’t that all just happen in your car?
eating when stressed
It’s unlikely you’ve thought about the link between stress and your digestive system.
Far too often we are continuously living in “fight or flight” mode, meaning frankly, far too often we are stressed out. When we are in a stressful state our body decreases peristalsis movements, lowers enzyme secretion, and saliva production decreases. Basically, the main factors that help stimulate digestion are turned off. This makes it harder for our bodies to digest the food that we are actively consuming.
try to chill out
before you eat
I know it’s hard to stop a stress cycle but it’s essential to find a way to switch you out of your stressful state. For me, two tracks by Drake and I’m chill as F. Breathing techniques, music, affirmations, and visualizations are all tricks to try and switch your brain from stress to feeling blessed. Find one that works for you.
The moment you can switch from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest” your automated nervous system knows where to focus its efforts. Your body is now focused on digesting your food. Instead of releasing cortisol it’s secreting enzymes and helping get peristalsis movement going – meaning your digestion is about to get back on track.
2. eat fiber, drink water
These are equally deserving of their own categories, however, I chose to talk about them together because one without the other will make for crappy poops.
Too much water and too little fiber can result in soft, loose stool. Dietary fiber is incredibly important for bulking stool, moving food through the digestive tract, and feeding the bacteria in our colon. Here is a post discussing a myriad of fibers health benefits plus practical tips on how to eat more high fiber foods.
Without water, it’s likely you will end up constipated. Try to drink at least get 8-10 cups of water per day.
The majority of your water consumption should happen away from when you’re eating a meal. Drinking too much water with your food can dilute your stomach acid which is a crucial part of the digestive process. If you need to drink water while eating try to keep your liquid intake to less than a cup.
3. chew your food
At the most basic level, when we chew, we are breaking down the food into smaller particles. Saliva is also secreted so the food bolus can easily travel from the mouth to esophagus. Within that saliva, there is an enzyme called salivary amylase which breaks down starch into simple sugars and is the first phase of digesting carbohydrates.
Remind you to chew your food might seem silly, yet in the fast-paced life we previously described, we are often in a rush when eating our lunch.
Chewing simply reminds us that we are eating, that it’s time to relax, and hopefully enjoy and savor each bite we are taking. In the wellness world, there is an actual categorized term for this called mindful eating. Just slow down for one second and let your digestive system catch up with your brain. At the very least, the more you chew, the less likely you are to choke 😉
4. try fermented foods
Fermented foods contain the power of probiotics. These beneficial bacteria help to predigest parts of the foods we eat. This makes it easier for our gut during digestion and allows for easier nutrient absorption.
Essentially, bacteria from fermented foods can aid the bodies basic digestive process. To learn more about these fermented foods check my post on the health benefits of these fermented foods and practical tips on how to consume them as part of your daily diet.
5. befriend bitters
Bitter foods almost seem to be a forgotten flavor. Eating bitter foods is one of the most underrated ways to assist your digestive process.
Astringent bitters basically let the digestive system know that food is coming. When our tongue tastes bitter foods a feed-forward mechanism begins. When the bitter receptors on our tongue are stimulated, a chain of events cascades through the endocrine system by a feed-forward mechanism. Bitter foods help to increase enzymatic secretions which ultimately aid in breaking food particles down into absorbable units.
Bitter foods include dandelion, arugula, lemon, brussels sprouts, endive, radicchio, chocolate, rhubarb, turmeric, bitter melon, chicory, broccoli, oranges, ginger, cardamom, limes, cauliflower, and artichokes.
If you want to up the ante put a drop or two of bitter extract directly on your tongue 15 minutes before your meal. Your whole digestive system will start to kick into gear before you eat your food on your plate. Feel like extracts are a little too far? Start with adding some bitter greens into a salad mix or treat yourself with a bite of antioxidant-packed dark chocolate.
6. be aware of laxatives
You wouldn’t necessarily think of coffee as being a digestive disruptor and it’s likely you aren’t concerned about coconut water ruining your meal.
But if you’re frequently having unformed, watery stools (hello diarrhea) then it’s worth taking a look at your daily diet to see if you are consuming too many drinks that have laxative effects. Coffee, alcohol, some teas, coconut water, and aloe vera are all mild laxatives. A little bit of any of these drinks should not be harmful to your body. But diarrhea is your deal – try drinking less of these on the daily.
7. have a routine
Most cultures outside of North America have it down. In France, it’s unlikely you will see a woman in Paris snacking on the subway. It’s crucial to let your digestive system have some time off. I know there are snacking schedules to keep your metabolism boosted and the calories constantly burning. But it’s all for nothing if your body can’t properly digest the food you consume.
It’s important to let your body rest – even our bellies need a break.
8. move your body
Shocker, it’s good to exercise.
Especially if you are experiencing constipation – it’s time to work out. Walking, stretching, and even standing can help to get food moving through your body better. You don’t have to go run a marathon, just move around, then go sit down. Your body and your bowels with thank you.
TAKEAWAY ON DIGESTION
I know poor digestion is one of the most frustrating things to solve. Whenever someone comes to me with this problem I always talk about stress. Eating on the go is one of the worst digestive practices. Taking the time to sit and enjoy your meal may seem like an unrealistic luxury. But, if you can carve out just five extra minutes to try to destress before you take a bit you’re already better off.
Eat whole foods full of fiber.
Double points if they happen to be bitters or probiotics.
Try not to drink too many liquids with your meals.
Watch out for laxatives.
Don’t forget to chew your freaking food.
Now go grab a glass of water after you’ve done your squats.