Welcome to part three of the “Why Can’t I Stick to a Diet?” series. This is post three, so make sure to check out parts 1 and 2 where we talk about brain chemicals and under eating. Even though there’s so many more textures and tastes available with real, whole food, people crave the simple, refined carbohydrates and sugars. Many people have a hard time sticking to their healthy eating habits until they support their digestion. Even though simple sugars and carbs can do a lot of damage to our digestive tracts, they are broken down fairly quickly. More complex foods need specific enzymes and hormones in order to be digested. It’s hard to really enjoy all those wonderful textures and tastes if your digestive system is bogged down by the more complex foods. Until your body is healthy enough to digest your food, your body’s natural instinct is to go for food that is broken down quickly.
Digestion is important way beyond helping your body enjoy more complex foods. Every cell in your body is dependent on the nutrients they get from the digestive process. Your cells then make up your tissues and those tissues make up your organs and organ systems. Whether you’re having problems with your heart, your kidneys, your blood sugar, or your immune system, the problems can be traced back to the nutrients that your cells are or are not receiving during digestion. The old saying “You are what you eat,” should really be, “You are what you digest.”
So how do you know if you have digestive issues? To put it simply – any digestive discomfort, especially any thing reoccurring, is a sign of digestive dysfunction. No pain is normal – pain is your body telling you that something is wrong. That includes excessive gas, heartburn, not going the number 2 daily, burping right after you eat, any food sensitivities, and any pain in any part of your digestive tract. Refined and processed foods are hard on the digestive tract. Processed food is so foreign to our bodies, our digestive tract isn’t equipped to handle it. Because so many people’s diets are based primarily around these types of food, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t have some kind of digestion problems. Digestive problems are early warning signs for more significant problems later down the road.
Dysbiosis is the term given to an abnormal gut flora. This can include bacteria overgrowth, yeast overgrowth, or parasites. All three of these are normally present in your gut (including parasites!) The good bacteria keeps them in check, and they normally don’t present a problem. If the bacteria, yeast, or parasites start over crowding the good bacteria, we can end up in quite a mess. Yeast, bacteria, and certain kinds of parasites feed on sugar and starches. Because of this – dysbiosis can cause cravings for sugar and simple carbohydrates.
Supporting Your Digestion
In order to help support your body’s digestion, it’s important to start at the beginning of your digestive tract. Your digestive system is like dominoes – if something goes wrong at the start, the stress is compounded for the organs further down the digestive system.
The very first organ in your digestive system is your brain. When your brain sees/smells/senses food, it starts sending messages to your body to start excreting all of the wonderful digestive juices and hormones that help break down food. This includes, saliva, cholecystokinin, gastrin, stomach acid, and bile. This is a crucial part of digestion, and it’s important not to overlook this step.
Here’s what happens in most people’s lives. They wake up, and hit the snooze button 10 times. When they finally get up, they grab a granola bar or bagel and rush out the door. They don’t taste their food, they don’t smell it, they just gobble it down and get on with their day. When we rush through our food, we don’t get to enjoy it, and that is a HUGE shame! The bigger problem is that our brain never gets the chance to tell our mouth and digestive tract to gear up for the food, and this inhibits our ability to absorb nutrients from our food.
We have two responses in our autonomic nervous system. The fight or flight response and the rest and digest response. Our digestive system slows down when we’re in the fight or flight mode. Whether you are angry or stressed or even playing loud music, your body is focused on giving you the energy to deal with the stressor (or to have a dance party) instead of digesting your food.
Tip #1 for healthy digestion is to relax when you eat. Do whatever it takes to slow down during meals. You can sit on the floor, use essential oils, or spend time talking and laughing with your loved ones. Avoid working, standing up, or doing anything that puts you in a stressful state. Making time three times a day to sit and relax helps you digest your food and can be a great way to decompress from life’s demands. In order to change your relationship with food, you have to make time and space for that to happen. If we’re always rushing around it’s hard to really honor the vitality that food brings us. Meal preparation and eating can be a chore or it can become a cherished part of your day.
Ok, so what happens after we smell the food? We put it in our mouths, right? Inside our mouth the food mixes with spit. I HATE spit, so I can’t think too hard about this one, but it’s important to understand the process. Two things happen when food is inside our mouth – 1 ) Our teeth breaks the food down mechanically and 2) our spit begins to break it down chemically. This might not seem like a crucial step, but if we don’t start breaking down the food in our mouths, the stomach has to work overtime. After that, it’s like dominos and every other organ – your small intestines, your liver, gallbladder, and colon all have to work harder than they were designed to. It’s not such a big deal if this happens once in awhile. But after years of excessive stress three+ times a day, it can really take a toll your body’s ability to break down food.
Tip #2 is to eat mindfully and chew your food thoroughly. Take 30 seconds with each bite! Take a bite and put that fork down. Take a minute to really enjoy and experience what you’ve eaten. This should be a little easier if you’re sitting down and relaxed. This step is huge for me. I’m the type who likes to wolf food down, and then get really disappointed when it disappears so fast I don’t even remember eating it! Eating mindfully is a huge reason I love the way I eat. I love actually experiencing new textures and combinations of flavors. I love that nervous feeling right before trying something new, and the satisfaction of long time comfort foods. All of that goes to waste if we don’t take time to enjoy what we’re eating.
Did this change the way you think about food and the importance of digestion? Do you eat while relaxed and take time to chew your food? Tell me in the comments below!