You might watch what you eat, or subscribe to a particular diet, yet when it comes to digestion it’s still not where you want it to be. If your digestion could use a little help, there may be some areas you haven’t thought of as to why. Here are three surprising reasons why your digestion isn’t great:
1. You’re Eating Too Fast
Digestion starts in the head. Before you ever put any food in your mouth, the brain starts thinking about and preparing for food, and this is what starts the body’s enzyme production and relaxation processes. When we eat too fast, it puts the body into a stress response, which can cause stress-induced digestive shutdown and lead to heartburn, bloating, and gas.
Eating too fast can also lead to decreased transit time. Transit time is the time it takes for food to go from mouth to anus. It generally takes 16-40 hours for this to happen, but this can be longer for people with digestive issues. The longer the transit time, the more digestive problems can arise, such as constipation, fermentation in the intestines, or opportunistic bad bacteria. On the other hand, you don’t want your food to go so quickly through your body that you don’t have a chance to absorb the nutrients you need. A stressed nervous system can affect digestion and transit time in either direction.
Slow down when you eat. Take more time to chew your food so that your stomach doesn’t have the extra stress of doing the job your mouth should have done do to break your food down into small pieces. As the field of Dynamic Eating Psychology teaches us, eating slowly will also train your nervous system to receive your food and get out of stress mode.
2. Your Gut Microbiome is Compromised
There is an entire world of bacteria in each gut. This is why it’s called a microbiome. It’s an ecosystem, and when properly balanced, it keeps us digesting properly, our moods regulated, and our immune systems running well.
The good bacteria help digest food and synthesize some essential vitamins. The bad bacteria, when small in proportion, are helpful in breaking down olds cells. However, when we have high stress, poor nutrition, or are exposed to a plethora of antibiotics that kill good bacteria too, our gut microbiome gets out of balance.
A lack of probiotic-rich foods can also weaken our gut microbiome and make it less effective. When our gut microbiome is compromised, we can have symptoms such as heartburn, gas, bloating, and digestive inefficiency. An overgrowth of bad bacteria can cause inflammation in the gut, joint inflammation, and a feeling of abdominal distention. All of these symptoms can inhibit digestive function.
Taking enzymes and probiotic supplements can support digestive health by increasing breakdown of food and balancing the gut microbiome. Making sure your stomach is producing enough hydrochloric acid is another way to support your microbiome. Hydrochloric acid helps the stomach to break food down to the right size so the gut microbiome isn’t producing extra antibodies to attack food particles that look like foreign invaders. With your gut free to absorb nutrients, and relieved of fighting extra battles, it works a lot better to digest your food.
3. You’re Not Moving Enough
Lack of exercise and movement decreases the muscle tone around the stomach and intestines, which can make digestion and elimination less strong. The muscles in the abdomen are strengthened by moving through space in different positions, with different weight loads. When the muscles are strong, they help with proper postural alignment and defecation.
Movement also increases and empowers your digestive capacity by strengthening the smooth muscles of the alimentary canal. While these muscles are involuntary, breathing and sweating help to eliminate toxins and tonify the smooth muscles so that they can expand and contract more effectively during peristalsis – the rhythmic contractions smooth muscles make to move food through our digestive tract.
Movement helps the liver more quickly filter toxins from sugars, substances, and medications out of your bloodstream. Without light to moderate movement, the liver starts to store the extra toxins in our fat cells, and we start to feel more sluggish. With the liver unable to handle the toxic load at a high pace, our other organs can slow down as well, making transit time longer.
If any of these suggestions speak to you, try them. By slowing down when we eat, supporting our gut microbiome to function optimally, and moving in harmony with our bodies, we support our overall digestive health. Our guts are surprisingly resilient and our microbiome flora can balance in a matter of days in response to eliminating inflammatory agents.
Marc David, M.A. is the Founder and primary teacher of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. He’s a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic, groundbreaking and bestselling books Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet. For over 3 decades Marc has been an innovator in eating psychology and nutrition.
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