Most people with good digestion never even notice how good it really is. We usually tend to notice the importance of our digestive system only when it’s being uncooperative. So if you feel isn’t where it should be, then it’s time to look a little deeper. There may be some some simple yet powerful changes you can make that can be game changing for your digestive power. Here are three surprising reasons why your digestion might be held back, along with some strategies for turning it all around:
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 initiates the body’s digestive process. When we eat too fast, the body goes into a stress response, which leads to some degree of stress-induced digestive shutdown. The result is usually some combination of heartburn, bloating, gas, and/or other feelings of indigestion.
Eating too fast can also lead to imbalances in your food’s transit time. Transit time is the time it takes for food to go from consumption to elimination. Ideal transit time is around 12 hours, but this can be longer for people with digestive issues. When transit time is longer than 12 hours, 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 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, get out of stress mode, and step into optimum digestive power.
2. Your Gut Microbiome is Compromised
There’s an entire tiny 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, keeps our mood well regulated, our brain sharp, our weight in its natural place, and our immune systems running well.
The good bacteria help digest food and synthesize some essential nutrients. However, when we have high stress or poor nutrition, or we are exposed to an excess of antibiotics that kill good bacteria as well as bad, 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 pain, and a feeling of abdominal distention.
Taking probiotic supplements and eating probiotic rich foods can support digestive health by balancing the gut microbiome. With your gut 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 through various kinds of movement and regular exercise.
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 also helps the liver more quickly filter toxins from food and the environment out of your bloodstream. Without light to moderate movement, the liver starts to store the extra toxins in our fat cells, and we can feel more sluggish. And if the liver gets behind on its detoxifying duties, our other organs can slow down as well. So the bottom line is this: The more we move in a healthy way, the better we digest.
If any of these suggestions speak to you, please 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 or weeks in response to healthy changes. And you’ll feel the difference in a really big way.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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