Your body is talking, be sure to Listen
Every body is different. Just as we’re all born with our own unique set of physical characteristics (our nose, eyes, height, disposition), our physical body has our unique stamp as well. Digestion is easily affected by stress, mood, diet, environment and season. It’s important to tap in and listen to the unique messages that your body is sending out – Not all diets are suited for all people! General eating guidelines such as eating whole foods in their most natural state and avoiding processed or fast food in general are important. As is making sure you’re getting adequate protein, healthy fats and at least 7-12 servings of vegetables and fruits/day (Did you know that eating 7 fruits or veggies a day can reduce risk of ALL diseases by 70%!). But within those guidelines, listening to your body and how it responds to certain foods is key in optimal health. Salads and raw food, although high in nutrients, are not good for every body. Those with bloating and lethargy after meals or looser bowels should avoid. Even lightly cooking food for many can be enough to help them absorb the nutrients easier and nourish their body in a more profound way. Hot dry and irritable people should avoid hot, spicy and fried food in general. These foods will tend to send them more off balance. Your diet can be fine tuned to your particular pattern or body type and sometimes it’s easily figured out with the help of a trained practitioner. (learn more here or here)
Having said all that, there are some very simple, yet very powerful things we can do to help optimize our digestive system. Little things are often what make the biggest difference over time, so don’t discount little effort made every day…your body will thank you!
Simple Tips to Strengthen your Digestion
By eating first thing in the morning, it’s like stoking the fire of your digestive system helping to kick-start your metabolism for the day. It’s also giving your body the nourishment it needs to move through your day. Food is fuel for our life, and life tends to happen when we’re moving around, not when we’re restoring and resting at night, so give your body the fuel for when it needs it!
You want to kick start that digestive metabolism by heating it up. Eating cold or frozen things in the morning (think frozen smoothie) or throughout the day is similar to adding a block of ice to a soup and expecting it to cook properly!
If you’re a person who feels hot all the time and perhaps suffers from dry bowels or constipation, lightly cooking your food in the winter and then having some more fresh salads and fruit in the summer months would be good.
However if you’re someone who runs on the colder side year round and possibly has digestive upset like bloating after you eat (no matter what you’ve had) and tends to have loose bowels, you’re body is not absorbing what you’re putting in. By cooking your food year round and being sure to use slower cooking methods in the winter (think slow roasting stew and veggies that make the house smell great!) and warming spices like dried ginger, cumin, fennel, cardamom etc. regularly, you can help kick start your digestion and warm it up to optimize your digestion.
If you feel pretty healthy and want to stay that way, try to eat with the seasons – opting for fresh foods in the heat of the summer, moderately cooked foods in the spring and fall and opting for warmer cooked foods over the winter months.
Your stomach doesn’t have teeth! I love this saying as when you think about it, of course it doesn’t, yet so often we gulp down food expecting our stomach to do the job our teeth were designed for. Chewing food not only breaks down the food into a more digestible size and substance, It is also the first step of the digestive process. Digestive enzymes are excreted in the saliva which signal the stomach that food is coming, but also start the break down processed of foods.
I know the thought of chewing your food for 45 seconds straight might seem torturous, but just taking the time to turn it into more of a “mush” than a “chunk” can actually make a huge difference to how you feel after you eat and how your body is able to absorb the nutrients and nourish your cells!
Try not to eat when you’re rushed or angry as it tends to stagnate and upset the digestive system
Don’t flood the digestive system!
Sipping on some warm water or broth during a meal is good. Gulping big glasses of water before you eat to “fill up”….not so good. When we flood our digestive system with lots of water, what we’re actually doing is diluting the stomach juices and acids, which means they are less potent or strong for actually digesting our food when it arrives. Stick to water and hydration between meals and stick to a little bit of warm liquid (teas, stock or warm water) only during your meals. Soups are a great way to get hydrated and nourished at the same time
Sit. Connect. Eat.
Try not to eat standing, walking or on the go. When we stand and eat or walk and eat, it signals our body that it’s stressed. And when we’re stressed our body will literally shut down blood supply to non essential organs and systems (think digestion and reproduction – neither one essential when you’re in fight or flight mode running from danger!). Unfortunately much of our modern world lifestyle is triggering the stress response in people. The go go go without adequate downtime, the eating on the go and the general busyness and stimulation from tv/computer/smart phone information coming at us non-stop all have a significant impact on our health. By simple sitting, taking a few deep breaths and eating in a more calm state, we can actually help our body drop into that calm, rest and digest state when the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged.
By listening to our body, adapting to the seasons and eating fresh whole foods we’re setting ourselves up for health in a most amazing way. It’s known that fruits and vegetables increase your vitality and decrease your risk of serious diseases by up to 70% (and that’s just with 5-6 servings/day!) and when we can combine that with listening to our body and customizing the way we eat – we’re even better set up to thrive!
For more information on digestive health from a Chinese Medicine perspective visit part 1 and part 2 of this series