You might watch what you eat, or subscribe to a particular diet, yet when it comes to your digestion, it’s still not where you want it to be. If your digestion could use a little help, you may want to explore some areas you haven’t thought of before! 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, thinking about and preparing for food is what starts the body’s enzyme production and relaxation processes. When we eat too fast, it puts the body in a stress response, which can cause stress-induced digestive shutdown and lead to heartburn, bloating, and gas.
Eating too fast can also lead to increased 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 can take longer for people with digestive issues. The longer transit time takes, the more digestive problems can arise, such as constipation, fermentation in the intestines, or opportunistic bad bacteria. You also don’t want food to go so quickly through you that you don’t absorb the nutrients you need. A stressed nervous system can affect digestion and transit time in either direction.
So 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 do to break food down into small pieces. Going slowly will also train your nervous system to receive your food and get out of the stress mode that so many of us are living in.
2. Your Gut Microbiome is Compromised
There is an entire world of bacteria in our gut. This is why it’s called a microbiome. It’s an ecosystem that, when properly balanced, keeps us digesting properly, regulates our moods, and helps our immune system function well.
The good bacteria in the gut help digest food and synthesize some essential vitamins. The bad bacteria, when small in proportion, are helpful in breaking down old cells. However, when we have high stress, poor nutrition, and are exposed to a plethora of antibiotics that kill good bacteria, our gut microbiome gets out of balance.
Lack of probiotic-rich foods can also compromise digestion, making our gut microbiome quite weak and ineffective. 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 probiotics 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 break food down to the right size, so the gut microbiome doesn’t produce extra antibodies to attack foods 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 weaken digestion and elimination. 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 digestive capacity by strengthening the smooth muscles of our alimentary canal. While these muscle movements 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. Peristalsis is the rhythmic contractions smooth muscles make to move food through our digestive tract.
Your liver filter toxins from sugars, substances, and medications from the blood, and moving your body will help this process to move more quickly. Without light to moderate movement, the liver starts to store the extra toxins in our fat cells, and we 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 body, we support our overall digestive health. Our gut is surprisingly resilient and our microbiome flora can balance in a matter of days in response to eliminating inflammatory agents. If you’re unsure about what to do, an Eating Psychology Coach can help you navigate the terrain.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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