I don’t use the name “Just Love Your Guts” as my brand just because I think it’s cute. I mean sure, in my humble opinion, I do think it’s kinda cute – but make no mistake, there is a sincere message there.
Digestive health (or “gut” health, if you will) is something I’m passionate about, It is often the very first foundation of health that we need to explore when dealing with any kind of health or wellness challenge.
Because proper digestion, absorption, and assimilation of nutrients from food is absolutely crucial to overall health.
Think about it – we could be eating the highest quality, pasture-raised, grass-fed, beyond organic, non-GMO, watered-with-unicorn-tears diet, but if we aren’t breaking it down and obtaining all the nutrients from it, what is it really doing for us other than holding us over until our next meal?
There is a lot to talk about when it comes to optimizing the digestive process but let’s just start today by talking about how to ready our bodies for food - and what happens when we don’t take the time to do that. This is the first step in optimizing digestion and it’s something you can start working on right now.
Dialing in how you eat is just as important as what you eat and it’s often an area that people overlook.
Let’s dig in…
Fight or Flight
You may have heard the term “fight or flight” used to describe the state our bodies go into during a response to stress. It refers to the choice of reactions our body has when faced with some threat to our well-being. Whether that threat is physical or emotional, our reactive options are pretty much the same – we can either duke it out (fight) or run away (flight). Energy is directed towards our muscles, heart, & lungs so that we can do what we need to do to protect ourselves from harm (i.e. quick thinking, running, punching, screaming, etc).
So, what does this have to do with digestion? I’m getting there, I promise.
The fight or flight response is governed by the sympathetic nervous system. Digestion, on the other hand, is a parasympathetic process, meaning it simply cannot occur efficiently if we are in fight or flight mode.
Rest & Digest
The parasympathetic nervous system kicks in when we are ready to “rest & digest”. This is the state in which we need to be before we eat.
As the name implies, in rest & digest mode, energy is directed toward our digestive systems. The production of stomach acid & digestive enzymes (critical to the proper breakdown of food) is much more efficient when we allow ourselves a few minutes to get into this state.
It doesn’t take long, just a few deep breaths and a moment of pause, to flip the switch and prepare our bodies for nourishment. If we don’t slow down enough to make this switch before eating, we are sending food into an environment that is not set up to handle it.
Because digestion is a north to south process, missing this important step can set the stage for problems all the way downstream. When food that has not been properly broken down continues to travel through the digestive tract, it can create unnecessary stress on the liver & gallbladder, it can damage the lining of the small intestine (the area responsible for the bulk of our nutrient absorption, and also home to about 80% of our immune system), and it can create a breeding ground for unfriendly bacteria which can lead to another laundry list of health problems.
We don’t want that, do we??
Avoiding these problems is simple. I won’t say that it’s easy, but it is simple.
- Don’t eat on the run.
- Don’t eat a big meal immediately after exercise (and conversely, don’t engage in intense physical activity immediately after eating).
- Don’t eat in times of emotional distress.
- Don’t watch TV while eating. Yes, there are physiological changes that happen in response to things you see on television and even those can impair the digestive process. TV watching also encourages less mindful eating and you are more likely to eat more than you need, faster than you should. Which brings me to my last 2 points:
- Don’t overeat (stop when you’re about 80% full and allow your brain to catch up to your stomach).
- Don’t inhale your food - chew thoroughly (allow about 20 chews per bite).
I know, it’s a whole lotta don’ts, isn’t it?
Well, here’s one more: Don’t freak out.
These are things that we are all guilty of from time to time, and are more than likely part of our daily routines. (For instance, I’m totes guilty of watching Jeopardy when I eat dinner and man, those Daily Doubles can be intense sometimes. Stop laughing, I’m serious!)
Changing all of these things at once would be a tall order to fill – trust me, I get it. But it’s important to be aware of our stress levels before, during, & after meals, and to start somewhere. Look at the list again and pick one thing to focus on first. When you feel you’ve successfully improved in that area, then move on to another one. And so on and so on.
Before you know it, you’ll either be digesting like a superstar or you’ll be good and ready to take the next steps towards healthy digestion. These steps can include (but aren’t limited to) identifying food sensitivities, supplementation, introducing gut-healing foods, finding the proper macronutrient ratios for YOU, & balancing healthy gut bacteria. Each person’s needs are going to be different because of our amazing bio-individuality, so if you need guidance, feel free to ask questions in the comments or shoot me an email!
So tell me - what one thing will you focus on this week to get your mind & body prepped to digest?
Have you implemented any of these strategies and noticed any changes?
Do you know someone who could benefit from this post?
Share your thoughts in the comments or share this post with a friend!
Disclaimer: The material contained in this post is for general information only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment.