The cornerstone of health is digestive function.
And a staggering amount of people suffer from digestive disorders — 60-70 million people in the US.
Despite the prevalence in society, it’s not something we talk about often — and I want to change that. Focusing on evaluating our digestion and improving it is one of the easiest ways we can ward off disease.
Things like gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation are not meant to be normal parts of our existence. Many people seem to develop intestinal discomfort and assume that it’s just part of life. But I assure you, it doesn’t have to be.
Following a few simple rules can help you achieve flawless digestion and sidestep many health issues as a result.
It’s not what you eat, it’s what you digest
Have you ever heard the old adage, “you are what you eat?” Well, this is only partially true.
The truth is, you are what you digest.
What do I mean? Well, you can eat all of the healthy food in the world, but if your body is not able to break it down properly and use it for fuel, it won’t matter one bit.
If you’ve ever noticed that your food is passing through your body undigested, or you’re eating all of the right things and you still test low for certain nutrients, this is exactly what I’m talking about. We have to optimize our digestion to get the most out of the food we eat.
In some cases, digestive tract issues like small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or systemic candida (yeast) infections can prohibit your body from properly digesting food. In these instances, those ‘bad bugs’ in your gut can use up all of your nutrients before you even have a chance to. Good digestion is the key to getting rid of these issues. If we eliminate our food properly, they have less to feed on within the digestive tract.
Other times, issues like reflux, and low stomach acid can prevent nutrient absorption. Excessive antibiotic use, celiac disease, Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis can also result in less than ideal digestion of nutrients as well.
What does good digestion look like?
If you’re noticing your digestion — this is the first indicator that something isn’t right. Healthy, normally functioning digestion should happen without much ado.
Ideally, you should have 1-2 bowel movements each day. These trips to the bathroom shouldn’t involve pain, urgency, or much gas. Your stool should not have a watery consistency. It should be well-formed and not contain large pieces of undigested food.
You shouldn’t have any pain, cramping, bloating, or discomfort of any sort on a regular basis. Anything outside of this is usually an indication that we need to investigate the signals your body is giving you.
Curious if what you’re experiencing is normal? Schedule a call with me so you can stop guessing.
9 tips to improve digestion
If you aren’t experiencing any sort of digestive disorder (or even if you are) there are several ways to easily improve things.
Here’s a list of some of my favorites:
- Chew your food thoroughly — Digestion starts in the mouth. Try chewing each bite 30-40 times. This allows your digestive enzymes to start breaking down your food which makes the rest of your digestive tract’s job easier.
- Don’t eat while distracted — When we eat in front of the TV or while working or scrolling through our phone, our attention isn’t on digesting our food. For best results, eat at the table and focus on eating. This also helps prevent overconsumption.
- Combine foods appropriately — The types of foods we eat together can make a huge impact on our digestion and on our blood sugar. If you’re noticing digestive distress after eating, take note of the types of foods you’re eating together (protein and starch for example) and see if switching things up helps.
- Eat whole foods, organic whenever possible — In my book, Built to Thrive, I talk about this in more detail but eating a diet rich in whole, natural foods is one of the most important ways to optimize our health. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, fish, and chicken are ideal ways to nourish the body. Try to minimize flours and sugars. Attempt to make veggies over half of your plate.
- Eat fiber — Sometimes, when we experience digestive distress, it seems like fiber may exacerbate the problem. But I urge you to experiment with both soluble and insoluble fiber and pre-biotics — and try to find foods that don’t increase your symptoms. Fiber is key for moving everything out of your system, and has been linked in many studies to lowered risk for:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Gastrointestinal disease
- Hydrate — Drinking plenty of water in between meals is a great way to flush the digestive system. Dehydration can lead to problems with constipation. Shoot for 1-2 liters of water every day.
- Manage stress — Our brains and our guts are inextricably linked. Anyone who’s had a sudden stomach pain dreading a confrontation or job interview can attest to this fact (which is probably most of us). Getting stress under control is critical for maintaining gut health as well as many other facets of health. I discuss the idea more in this article.
- Don’t forget to exercise — Exercise is a great way to improve overall health, and digestive health is no exception. A simple walk after a meal can serve to reduce constipation and enhance overall health.
- Elimination posture — Turns out, sitting on a toilet may not be the most effective way to encourage complete elimination. Raising your knees above your hips with a small stool or similar makes things move along easier.
We all have to start somewhere
If these tips seem overwhelming, don’t worry! You don’t have to make a ton of changes all at once. In fact, implementing small changes, one at a time, can be a great way to make sure new habits stick.
Health is a lifelong pursuit, and slow and steady wins the race.
If you have questions about your digestion or are suffering from a digestive disorder, please schedule a consultation with me so I can help you figure out your next best steps.
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