Updated: Jan 8, 2019
It is surprising to me just how little most of us know about our digestive system. We eat several times a day without much thought to how the body is digesting and absorbing our food. It wasn't until I attended nutritional school that I really gave it much thought. What I learned was that digestion, and absorption is essential for optimal health. In fact, what I really came to learn, was that all dis-ease starts in the gut.
We have a lot of habits in our society that challenge our bodies to effectively do the job of digestion. For instance, when you are out for dinner, the first thing the server does is bring you a glass of cold water with ice in it. We sip on the cold water as we wait for our entree to arrive.
Perhaps home-style meals are more your thing? How much of your time is spent eating is in front of a T.V. or scrolling through your phone? Add in the cold beverage, and huston, we have a problem.
Notice I haven't even touched on the foods we are asking our bodies to digest and absorb. Even if you are eating a beautiful whole food diet, digestion can still be an issue if we ignore our internal digestive fire.
What do you think of when you think fire?
What comes to mind for me is transformation. Fire can transform, steel, glass, you name it!
You have your own fire pit right in your stomach!
Keeping the fire stoked in your personal fire pit, allows your body the chance to optimally break down all your food.
So riddle me this? What happens when you put cold water on a fire?
You guessed it! The fire goes out.
Once a long long time ago, people used to sit with each other and eat. No T.V., and no iPhones. They sat in community, sharing, laughing, enjoying the downtime of eating a meal. So many of us have lost this creative enjoyable ritual. Not only are we no longer cooking in our homes, but we are also no longer eating with each other.
Why does it matter? How does sitting with others affect digestion?
When we gather together to enjoy a meal, hopefully, prepared by loving hands, our bodies relax. Relaxing aids the nervous system to switch over from stress mode to chill mode. Our bodies are so sophicated. It knows when you are stressed out and therefore will say to you in not so may words,"In no way will I digest your food for you. I am way to stressed out man. Feed me when I can focus on digestion. Thank you!"
Do you think the body is prioritizing digestion when stressed?
I didn't think so.
When the body is in the sympathetic nervous system(flight or fight or freeze) it is to busy making sure you can out think, outrun that lion, or in our times, rush hour traffic. Digestion hits the backseat. It is not what the body is designed to do when we are stressed out. We simply will not secrete the digestive enzymes needed to break down our food. And that internal fire pit, well it will not produce enough HCL(hydrochloric acid) to transform that burger you just ate in the car while dodging traffic. Can you say, "Hello heartburn!"
The digestive system needs space, relaxation, the use of the sensory organs(eyes, nose, ears, mouth) to perform the actions of digestion.
Here are a few simple steps to improve digestion, thus improving your ability to absorb vital nutrients.
1. Do not drink with meals.
It puts out our digestive fire. If you have to drink something, make sure it is warm. In fact, warm water throughout the day will help maintain hydration so you are not dying of thirst during meal times.
Side note: if you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Drink fresh pure warm water throughout the day. Cold water is not your friend.
2. Make space for mealtime.
Bring some sacredness back to eating. Make it a time to implement your mad mindfulness skills. Engage all your senses. Relax, sit down, enjoy the company of others if you can. Turn off all devices. Perhaps put some music on. Light a candle, or two. Set the table with intention. Allow meal time to help in the de-stressing process. Involve the whole family.
3. Chew, Chew, Chew!
How many of us are just looking forward to the next bite of food? We rush through a meal mindlessly, and then wonder why we feel so tired and bloated after. Our teath are part of the digestive system. Mom was right kids, chew your food. Help your body break down the food you are eating. Not only will you feel better after meals, but mindfully chewing will most likely ensure you are not overeating. Take your time.
4. Eat real food.
Seems so simple, doesn't it? I know it's not. You know those food companies spend a heck of a lot of money to make sure that when you eat their "food" it hits that bliss point in your brain. The right amount of salt, sugar, and fat, will keep anyone coming back for more. These foods are hard on the digestive system.
Humans were never meant to eat spicy Doritos.
A good rule of thumb to promote a healthy life and digestive system is to eat a whole foods diet, the one good old mother earth provided.
5. Take back the kitchen!
Cook. Prepare meals at home with love and attention. The art of cooking has almost been lost to a fast-paced world promoting a lifestyle of skipping the dishes, ordering in, and buying microwave dinners.
Cooking can be creative, fun and relaxing
And if you knew me, you would know that I to am just learning this skill. I used to stress and dislike cooking. A lot. And now, I see it as a means to inhabit the present moment, think outside of the box, and take responsibility for my health and wellness.
If we want a healthy life, it truly starts in the kitchen
Your body wants to work with you in creating vibrant health. But we need to work with it too. Keep that digestive fire burning, by relaxing, making sacred space, chewing whole foods that are tasty, and full of the nutrition required to support mental health, and the body's desire to find homeostasis.