A properly functioning digestive system is key to the overall health of your body. It is your digestive system that helps you to assimilate nutrients, houses a majority of the immune cells and the enteric nervous system, and helps you to rid toxic waste from the body. If your digestive system is not doing its job, it can affect many of the other systems in your body, and put undue stress on them. With my clients, I generally address any digestive issues with them before I move on to other issues. I often notice that other issues clear up (such as acne or headaches) once the digestive issues are resolved.
In our daily lives, we tend to be quite rough on our delicate digestive system. Eating refined foods, drinking too much alcohol, stress, and not drinking enough water all play a part in affecting the health of our digestive system. I also often find that one of the biggest causes of digestive unrest is people simply not listening to their bodies. I was a culprit of this, and I see it all the time.
Most of the time when people tell me they are having some sort of digestive issue, they generally (not always) have an idea what might be causing their issue. They are overly stressed at work, they think maybe they have difficulty digesting a food (dairy, gluten), or they are simply pushing their limits (eating junk food, drinking too much).I urge you to really pay attention to your body when it is hurting. It will always tell you when there is a problem. Being in touch with your body is probably the best preventative medicine you can ever find, as well as the most effective way to prevent the onset of major diseases.
There are several things you can do to ensure that your digestive system is supported. Here are 9 tips for healthy digestion!
- Digestion begins with the brain. When you sit down to a meal, focus on your food. Try not to multi-task or be distracted. This initial thought process helps tell the brain to signal to the mouth that it should release saliva, which contains digestive enzymes essential to the digestion of your food. That means no working while eating!
- Chew your food thoroughly. This allows the enzymes released in your saliva to thoroughly mix with your food and begin to break it down before it enters the stomach.
- Don’t drink much liquid while eating. Try not to drink much liquid while you are eating your meal. Excess liquid dilutes the gastric juices and enzymes released in the stomach, which are necessary as part of the digestion of your food. It is best to wait at least 30 minutes before and after your meal to consume much water or other liquids. This is a practice that you will become used to over time.
- Stay hydrated. It is an important part of maintaining a healthy digestion to stay well hydrated. It also assists the lymph system in removal of toxins in the body. To properly hydrate, drink half your weight in ounces of water each day. For example, if you weigh 140 lbs, drink 70 ounces of purified water a day.
- Manage your stress. Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other digestive issues are usually provoked by stress. What stress management techniques have you implemented in your life? Yoga and meditation are wonderful tools to learn to calm the mind. Exercise, massage, and hot baths are also great to help combat stress. Breathing is also an important part of stress management. If you are feeling stressed, take a few minutes to take some deep breaths that are from the belly (not from the chest). Watch your abdomen rise as you take deep breaths.
- It’s all about balance. The balance of gut flora can be disrupted by stress, poor diet, exposure to high levels of bacteria (often happens when traveling out of the country), and antibiotics, which kill off the bad bacteria, but also kill off the good bacteria in the process. Take a high quality probiotic or add fermented foods into your diet. Some of my favorite fermented foods are Bubbie’s pickles, Farmhouse sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, dosa (fermented Indian crepe), and injera (fermented Ethiopian bread).
- Teas as medicine. If your stomach is upset, bloated, or you are feeling nauseous, then try one of the following teas to ease discomfort: Ginger (fresh ginger root with hot water is best), chamomile, peppermint, slippery elm, or licorice root.
- Eat whole and clean food. Harmful toxins present in pesticides and other chemicals can wreak havoc on your gut lining. It is important to eat organic food for that reason. Also, whole, unprocessed foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains contain the enzymes and fiber needed for proper digestion.
- Be gentle. If digestive issues are common for you, it is important to eat foods that are easily digestible. Steamed vegetables are better than raw in cases of digestive unrest. Slow cooking your meat is another way to help break it down ahead of time and make it easier on the body to digest. If you have a period of increased digestive upset, avoid spicy foods, caffeine (especially coffee), alcohol, sugar, refined foods, dairy, and gluten as much as possible.