The 5 Foundations for Optimal Digestion
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
It is always wonderful when strategies for optimal digestive health are simple.
The first place to always start, whether you are actively seeking digestive healing or hoping to maintain digestive health, is with the foundation.
The foundation is actually all about a term called “eating hygiene”.
Eating hygiene means the basic practices around how we eat, our eating environment and even what we do before and after we eat.
Again, these may sound so simple but it wasn’t until recently in our 21st century world that distraction, stress, perpetual busy-ness and convenience grab-n-go foods became everyday staples.
It is not uncommon for a client, who is struggling with digestive health symptoms, to see a signifiant positive shift in the intensity of their digestive symptoms simply from focusing and implementing greater eating hygiene practices…aka focusing on their foundation.
Here are my 5 strategies to keep in mind EVERY TIME you eat.
1. Practice Being Present
Digestion starts in the brain. Before you even start eating digestion starts The process of thinking about food, cooking food, preparing food and smelling the food all prime the digestive system to begin the process of digestion.
Think about this - before we even starting eating, 30% of our digestion secretions, the chemical enzymes that breakdown our foods for digestion, are released.
That means that what we do before we eat has a significant impact on how optimally we will breakdown our foods.
A hack I love is to practice a short but impactful breathing practice called Box Breathing just before you eat. This practice helps to calm the nervous system and more optimally tune us into our “rest & digest” parasympathetic nervous system and out of the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system.
How to practice Box Breathing:
Practice 4-5 rounds just before eating or even while you prepare your food.
Inhale for a count of 4.
Hold on inhale for a count of 4.
Exhale for a count of 4.
Hold on empty for a count of 4.
2. Cook your Food
Just as we discussed above, digestion starts in the brain.
When we practice hands on food prep and cooking before a meal, all of our senses are involved in the process which signals to the body that food is coming.
Just think, if you have a dog or have ever seen a dog before meal time, they begin drooling when they hear the actions of their food being prepped. In fact, saliva is a key part of digestion and contains chemical enzymes for digestion - a great example of the priming of digestion.
This of often why when we get delivery, there is little time for digestive priming. The doorbell rings and its meal time!
So practicing the above breathing exercise can help to compensate when we do choose to outsource our meals.
3. Digestive Bitters
Still talking about digestive secretions…you are starting to get the picture that the chemical enzymes secreted from our digestive organs are VERY important to optimal digestion.
What are digestive secretions and where do they come from?
Digestive secretions are the chemical enzymes that breakdown the protein, fat and carbohydrates in our food. It is key to have abundant amounts in our digestive tract to prevent mal-digestion symptoms. These chemicals include HCL, amylase, lipase, protease and other chemicals called brush boarder enzymes. They are made in the saliva, stomach, pancreas, liver and intestines. These chemicals are pushed out from the associated organ into the digestive tract at various stages of digestion triggered by hormones released from the brain.
What if I don’t have enough digestive enzymes?
Stress, inflammation, microbial imbalances, intestinal permeability and other GI dysfunctions can all contribute to a lack of digestive enzymes. I see this often in clients with digestive symptoms.
My go-to method for priming the digestive system and optimizing digestive secretions is through the use of Bitters.
Bitters are a blend of bitter plant compounds that stimulate digestive secretions through the activation of bitter receptors in our digestive organs. They can be used even for mild digestive symptoms like indigestion or are a great support to reduce occasional acid reflux or heartburn between meals. They can be used 10-15 minutes before meals to prime digestion or between meals to sooth any digestive upsets after meals.
They are a medicine cabinet staple in my opinion!
And yes, they are similar to the bitters you would find stocked in a fancy cocktail bar.
Want to give them a try? My favorite brand is Better Bitters which you can purchase through my private supplement dispensary called FullScript.
4. Chew your Food
I know, this sounds so basic. But just think, we are actually suppose to chew EVERY bite of food 15-30 times before we swallow.
Chewing is the ONLY part of digestion we actually have conscious control over…this might also be why it is so under valued and under executed.
Next meal, make a conscious effort to count how many times you chew each bite - are you even close to 15 times per bite?
Chewed food should have the consistency of melted ice cream (gross I know) before you swallow - it actually enhances your taste buds experience of the food, slows down eating time and promotes optimal digestion.
Give it a try!
PRO TIP: If you ever see non-digested food in your stool, it is more likely that you didn’t chew well enough than a frank digestive issue.
5. Stick to a Schedule
The last foundation for optimal digestion is sticking to a schedule of eating robust meals or snacks ideally every 3-4 hours.
That means NO SNACKING OR GRAZING between meals.
This one sometimes comes as a surprise to clients, as there is a lot of miscommunication about digestion, metabolism and meal timing.
The digestive system has very important mechanisms that must happen between meals such as the Migrating Motor Complex (MMC). The MMC is the self-cleaning mechanism of the digestive system, that helps to maintain optimal GI health and prevent many digestive dysfunctions such as SIBO or imbalances in gut bacteria.
The kicker is, the MMC only runs in a fasted state between meals and overnight.
So in order for our digestive system to clean itself, we must create the opportunity for its self-cleaning MMC mechanism to run between meals.
I say robust meals or robust snacks to ensure that you are satisfied for 3-4 hours between meals and comfortably hungry for the next eating experience…but more on that in another newsletter!
The foundation strategies may sound simple, but they are often the very strategies that we forget about, don’t make time for or rush through, yet have the greatest day-to-day impact on our digestive health.
Hope these strategies help build the foundation to your digestive health!
In Good Health,