Here is something to think about. How did the home environment you grew up in shape your views about food? No matter how or where you were raised you were influenced in some way by your immediate surroundings and the people who raised you. You probably had a basic understanding of the biological purpose of eating but unless you were raised by a microbiologist or a gastrologist you probably didn’t view eating as
breaking down food into important nutrients or building
blocks to fuel energy and growth.
What was your experience like? Take a moment and grab a pen and a piece of paper. Write and reflect on the philosophy of eating you developed during your early years. Now, write down your current philosophy around eating & food. Now compare the view point you had as a child and your current view point, are they the same, have they changed?
There is insight to be gained from taking a look at how you label and approach the act of eating, because what you choose to eat, how you eat, and how you feel when you are eating are factors that impact your digestion.
In Ayurveda, an ancient form of Indian medicine, our ability to digest food is called digestive fire. In this tradition, how you digest your food is how you assimilate life. You have to have enough heat or fire to properly digest your food.
Did you know that 74% of Americans are suffering from GI discomfort? That’s alarming. As a culture, the fire is smoldering. Digestion is how we supply the building block for a healthy life, essentially, digestion is the root of life.
Let's explore 3 important areas to help improve your digestion.
1. What’s is your relationship to food?
The first thing you’ll want to understand is how you feel about eating and the foods that you consume. It is helpful to explore your belief system, attitude and that your feelings don’t just determine what you put in your mouth but actually impact how you break down food or stimulate your digestive juices.
This plays out in stress responses. When you are stressed whether it’s about something going on in your life or its directly related to your feelings around food, digestion becomes slowed down or constricted. The feeling of having a knot in your stomach is totally legitimate, stress can literally make us sick to our stomachs so it’s not far-fetched to see how our feelings about food or otherwise can affect digestion.
One of the best ways around this is to help re-frame your relationship to food by acknowledging it as the building block of life and evolution. Today in the developed world when people tend to have more food than they need, it’s easy to lose touch with its immense value. Food becomes the enemy or something to avoid.
To help reconnect to food as a positive source of energy and life perhaps try making your own garden, cooking from scratch or visiting your local farmers market.
2. What’s your typical eating environment?
It’s important to consider the conditions surrounding your digestion. What are the typical conditions you choose to have your meals in? Ask yourself not just what you ate for breakfast, lunch, dinner & snacks, but how? Are you rushed, stressed, wolfing down prepared food? Even if you eat a donut for breakfast, there is still a significant difference in how it will be digested if you are is sitting on your porch, mindfully, savoring
each bite or scarfing it down in four bites while walking from one meeting to the next and chatting with your boss.
Before even trying to change the quality of the foods you eat, it is encouraged to examine how you eat and how you can make that process more enjoyable, less distracted, and less rushed. Getting in touch with and improving your process of eating and subsequently your digestion is a great first step for getting aligned with your eating.
3. How do you experience the process of digestion?
In order to get an idea of what’s going on with our digestion we must get in tune with both the mechanical and chemical acts of digestion. There are 5 main points to consider here:
3. Sphincter function
As you’ve learned the first step in the digestion process is often chemical and automatic. When your salivary glands kick into gear with the simple sight, smell, or thought of food. This process is automatic but if you are struggling with overeating it may be telling to assess what you are surrounding yourself with throughout the day. Are you online scrolling through Pinterest for new recipes or pictures of food on Instagram?
Is tempting food in your sight when it’s not time to eat? You can’t change the automatic reaction
of your salivary glands but you can exert control over your environment through careful planning and lifestyle shifts and you can learn to gain control over your thoughts by examining your mindset and taking up practices like meditation and breath work.
Another important thing to consider is this... are you property chewing your food?
So many people eat & chew quickly taking big bites and barely breaking down their food. This is especially true when we eat with distractions or on the go. Eating this way prohibits the enzymes in your saliva from fully breaking down your food and causes digestive disruptions. Proper chewing is a practice of mindfulness that one must commit to at each and every meal. This is another way you can potentially improve your digestion without even changing your diet. Are you willing to do this?
Another thing to consider is if each sphincter is working. Are you keeping food or acid down? These could be telling signs of conditions that we’ll be covering is a later blog.
Keep in mind that certain foods decrease the tone of sphincter like chocolate, fatty meats, tobacco, hormone replacement therapy and alcohol. It can be upsetting to learn that some of your favorite treats are hurting your digestion so when you think about giving up that nightly glass of wine or your weekly indulgence of short ribs, be sure to take the time to consider the potential benefits and how you can satisfy what this food provides elsewhere in your life or your diet.
Next we need to consider motility or movement. Yes, I know this is awkward for some of us to talk about bodily functions, but this toilet talk is necessary if you’re going to improve your gut health.
You need to know about what’s going out not just wants going in. Are you digesting too fast as do you regularly experience diarrhea or are you digesting too slowly as do you regularly experience constipation?
Digestion suffers when food is processed either too slowly or too quickly so it may be a goal for you to achieve regular motility.
Lastly, you’ll want to assess your secretion. Is the mucosal lining of the tube in tacked?
If you have had an ulcer, this could shed some light on this. Ulcers can occur as a result of a loss in the protection of the lining of the digestive tube. Also are you staying hydrated? Another thing you can look to assess your secretion is your enzyme and acid production levels.
Okay so to recap, there are 3 main areas of concern to explore when you’re working to understand what’s going on with your digestion. These are your relationship with food, your typical eating environment and how you experience the process of digestion.
When exploring your process of digestion be sure to ask yourself, how often are you preoccupied or surrounding yourself with food throughout the day. How well are you chewing your food? How well are you able to keep food & acids down? Consider the motility of your bowels and any indicators of impaired secretion?
Next week we are moving on to The Introduction to the Microbiome "The Forgotten Organ"