Let’s dive into digestion!
What can you do in your daily routine to optimize digestion, without taking extra supplements? Here are 5 easy steps you can start taking today for better digestion, and better health overall. A special thanks to my mentor, Sachin Patel, for his original content, on which I based this post.
Choose foods that align with your personal goals. Food is information, food is fuel, food forms the building blocks of your future self – not just your physical body, but also your thoughts, actions, moods, appearance, function.
Choose food that is the best tool to build the future self you want to become. Do you want to become a junk individual, or a quality, vibrant individual?
Choose whole, organic, non-processed foods that are full of energy and health. Eat from farms, not factories. And avoid artificial flavors, since those can “trick” your body’s system of recognizing the makeup of each food to properly digest them.
Choose how you feel about your food. Sometimes people gravitate toward unhealthy foods and consider “healthy food” almost a punishment. But your attitude informs your body one way or another, which creates an energetic response in your body, which affects your digestion. Instead, you can choose to feel happy, grateful and empowered by healthy whole food, which sets you up for great digestion!
(If you do make a food choice that is less than ideal – for whatever reason, maybe even because your someone else prepared your meal, for example – do not beat yourself up. Disallow emotions of shame, guilt, self-hatred. Focus on your next best step instead. Do not sabotage yourself into a negative feedback loop, and do not let that misstep become a slippery slope, where one “bad” moment or choice leads to a lot more; move on, do better, and keep loving yourself back to health.)
Digestion begins in the mouth.
Chew your food really well to crack open the cellular walls of whole foods (especially foods from plants) to allow the digestive enzymes of the mouth in, to do their job. Chewing also breaks your food down into much greater surface area – lots of tiny pieces rather than big hunks – so that your digestive enzymes can better and more quickly access it to metabolize it. Chew your food to the consistency of toothpaste.
Chew your food well, and breathe through your nose, keeping your mouth closed, to mobilize your body’s capacity to create nitric oxide (NO). NO is a natural antioxidant, promotes circulation and relaxes your artery walls (naturally helping to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range).
Chew your food well to allow yourself to taste it better. This allows your body to “read” the food, noting its particular nutritional makeup, sensing all the delicate nuances of micro- and macro-nutrients, and mobilizing the right tools to digest its unique ratios of protein, fats and carbohydrates to extract the most nutrition out of it.
Chew your food well to slow you down enough to get your nervous system into the proper parasympathetic state of “rest and digest” rather than the sympathetic-dominant state of “fight or flight,” when digestion doesn’t happen well.
*Do not gulp your food, even if it is liquid, as in a smoothie of some kind, protein or other. The enzymes in your mouth still need those moments to act upon it, even if it is already liquid. And, the rest of your digestive system needs time to get the “alert” from your mouth that food is on its way. Savor your sips, and even give the liquid a few chews.
Also on the topic of liquid, although it is very important to stay hydrated (among other reasons, this helps your body make all those necessary digestive juices and saliva to digest your food), it is better to limit drinking during meals, as you don’t want to dilute digestive juices while you eat, nor circumvent the chewing process. Best practice is to refrain from drinking half an hour before, and approximately an hour and a half after the meal.
Sit down. Slow down. Interrupt the “busyness” of the day – including the rush to prepare the food, which can be intense if you are responsible for making the meal – by taking time to calm yourself before beginning to eat.
Breathe. Pray. Set a nice table. Choose pleasant music. Light a candle. Put away your electronic screens. Before you take a bite, take a few moments to get ready to receive and appreciate the amazing gift that is the meal in front of you.
Get your nervous system out of “fight or flight” and into “rest and digest.” See the food. Smell it. Envision the blood migrating to your gut to do its big work of digestion for you.
Do not eat while you’re standing – walking – driving – texting – phoning – arguing – stuffing feelings. Chill until you get yourself into the right state of mind and body, and are ready to digest your food in peace.
We are so privileged to exist during this rare moment in history when most of us have such a plentitude of food to actually be overweight!
So many steps and so many people were involved in getting that food onto your plate: the earth, the rain, the farmer, the packager, the cleaner, the transporter, the supplier of fuel to cook it. Be grateful for all of it. Spend a few moments before you eat to express gratitude for the opportunity to nourish yourself into health with safe, nutritious food.
Gratitude is one of the highest emotions we can feel, and a powerful state to get into in order to allow our bodies to digest…and to heal.
Can you see your food? Smell it? Taste it? These are all precious things for which to be grateful. Are you dining with someone you care about? That’s an even next level reason to be grateful!
Do not take life for granted, especially your food; take this moment to be joyful and cherish your food to optimize digestion.
a. Check your stool on a daily basis:
- Check for undigested flecks of food in your stool – those are a clue to do a better job of chewing your food. (The last thing you want to do is spend resources on super great healthy organic food, and miss nourishing yourself with it as well as you can because you haven’t chewed it enough to extract its full nutritional value.)
2. Check for color – a stool that is too dark, or has darker streaks in it, may indicate blood in your stool, an important sign you shouldn’t ignore. Your regular stool should be a tan, golden brown.
3. Check the water – if your stool is “liquidy” enough to fall apart and color the water, that signals less-than-ideal digestion.
4. Check consistency – shiny and greasy can indicate improper fat digestion, perhaps an underactive gall bladder. Too hard and dry can indicate a need to drink more water.
5. Check for odor – a stool (or gas) that smells really foul may signal protein putrefaction, which means you aren’t digesting your protein well.
6. Check for shape – skinny “ribbon-like” may indicate some kind of obstruction, or anxiety. Ideal shape is a soft sausage or banana shape.
7. Check for mucus – that can indicate a food allergy or an infection (bloody mucus can indicate several serious potentialities so make sure to alert your health care provider if you see that).
8. Check for frequency – you should be eliminating at least once every day.
b. Check for irregularities:
Once or twice a year, consider taking a Functional stool test to check out the state of your colonic environment. I use these with my Functional clients to evaluate for many things, including stealth infections from pathogenic bacteria, parasites or viruses, as well as to check for diversity and plentitude of beneficial bacteria. Essentially, I’m checking to see if what should be there IS there, and checking to see if what should NOT be there is there.
A good Functional stool test provides a microscopic way to look at your health as a whole: your immunity, inflammation, as well to check the digestive functioning of the pancreas. These tests provide a great way to identify problematic trends when they are still minor, and when simple steps can often be effective shifts back to health.
Take care of your gut, and it will take care of you!
You can improve your digestion IMMEDIATELY with these 5 easy steps, without adding a single supplement.
So much of great health (and conversely, poor health) begins in the gut. You were designed to function well, and to create health, not illness – that is what “Functional Health” is all about.
Use these simple tips to help you do just that – incorporate them into your daily life for better digestion and better health overall.
Which tip resounded best with you?
Let me know in the comments below, and pass this along to someone you know needs to read it!
Always looking out for you,
Dr. Wade Binley