Do you find yourself feeling bloated and gassy after a meal? Maybe lethargic or sleepy? Have you tried changing your diet to improve your digestion, lose weight, heal a health challenge, resolve skin issues, or just generally feel better but still experience indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea and/or constipation? Do you wish you could just eat a meal and feel light and energized? Are regular daily poops something you aspire to? If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then this post is for you!
In this article, I will describe several practices that aren't about the food you eat that you can incorporate into your daily habits to improve your digestion. What you eat is, of course, critical to a robust digestion that allows you to absorb the nutrients necessary to enjoy your best possible health. I have written posts about the nutrient dense foods you should be eating (read it HERE), why fat is good for you (read it HERE), how to reduce or eliminate heartburn (read it HERE), how stress negatively affects your digestions and health (read it HERE) and more. These articles contain tons of useful, actionable information to get you started on the road to feeling great.
Let's dive into the non-food steps you can take starting right now to improve your digestion.
1) DO sit down to eat. At a table. Sitting down to eat, at a table (not in your car, at your desk or in front of the TV/computer/phone) signifies to your body that it is time to EAT. Being distracted by work, or spacing out with a show, or getting anxious/angry scrolling through your newsfeed causes your body to release hormones that are detrimental to digestion. These hormones are part of your Sympathetic Nervous System, known as the Fight or Flight reaction to stress. When you eat, you want your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), the Rest and Digest system, to be dominant. When you sit and focus on your food, your PNS will take over and you will enjoy your meal more and eat less. This allows for optimal digestion and assimilation (absorption of nutrients).
2) DON'T eat when you are stressed, angry, or bored. Turning to food for comfort, or to stuff down uncomfortable feelings, or just for entertainment, is a sure-fire path to poor digestion. Food is meant to nourish us and should certainly be a source of pleasure and enjoyment. Anything more than that is emotional eating, and doesn't address the underlying issues that cause you to use food in unhealthy ways.
3) DO take a few deep breaths before eating. This is another way to help boost the Parasympathetic Nervous System. Taking 3 - 5 slow, deep breaths will help your heart rate slow down, help your muscles relax and bring your mind into the present moment. All of these actions signal your body that it is time turn on the digestive juices. This is also a great time to offer up gratitude for the food you are going to eat.
4) DO eat slowly. Scarfing down your food too fast can lead to digestive issues for a number of reasons. First, it's likely that you won't chew your food well if you eat too quickly. Chewing food well helps mechanically break it down into smaller pieces so that your stomach acid (the main digestive juice) can more easily and efficiently digest it. Eating too quickly can also lead to eating too much, because it takes time for the signal from your stomach that you've eaten enough to reach your brain. That signal can take up to 20 minutes. If you finish your meal in 10 minutes (even that's a long time for too many of us!) then you could all too easily eat more food than your body needs or wants.
5) DO go for a walk. Going for a walk every day, even if just for 10 minutes, helps reduce your stress levels, and is a great opportunity to practice body-fulness (similar to mindfulness but instead of paying attention to your thoughts, you pay attention to your body). Being bodyful is tuning into the sensations in your body so that you can start to better understand what you are feeling, when you are truly hungry or satiated, when you are sad, tired, lonely, depressed, joyful or any of the other amazing states we are capable of experiencing. When you can more easily identify what you are feeling, you are better able to address your true needs through more appropriate means than eating. If you are lonely, angry or depressed, call a friend to talk or invite one to go for tea or a walk. If you are tired, take a nap or make a plan to go to bed earlier (bonus tip: getting enough sleep is good for your digestion!).
I hope these tips, along with the articles I mention at the beginning of this post, help you experience great digestion and all the joy that can bring! If you are ready to create the daily habits in nutrition, movement, lifestyle and mindset that will help you achieve abundant energy every day, check out my e-course "Six Weeks to Abundant Energy"!