Do you suffer from occasional bloating, gas, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, or just plain abdominal discomfort?
Or maybe you suffer from constant bloating, gas, heartburn, or digestive challenges. If you can answer “yes” to either of those questions you are definitely not alone.
I would venture to say that 9 out of every 10 clients I work with have some level of digestive discomfort. And that number increases to 10 out of every 10 clients who have had to navigate chemotherapy.
When you consider that even Hippocrates recognized the fact that “All disease begins in the gut”…this is a problem that should not be ignored.
Now to be fair some of these digestive challenges are in fact very complicated and difficult to remedy. Not impossible but sometimes challenging to get to the root cause(s).
What I want to talk about today though is that MANY of these issues can actually be addressed with some very simple digestive strategies.
This is because our modern, fast-paced, over-scheduled lifestyles are taking us away from some really basic digestive supporting actions. And the high stress that most of us are living with, directly interferes with optimal digestion.
In order to eliminate unpleasant or painful digestive symptoms and begin healing & re-balancing your gut, you have to start at the beginning.
Step 1. Slow Down
First and foremost, when you’re eating you should only be eating. As simple as this sounds, how often are you actually doing this?
If you’re like most people, the answer is hardly ever or maybe even never.
When we are present with our meal we eat slower, we chew more, we appreciate the food, and we’re less likely to overeat.
All 4 of these factors are critical for healthy and happy digestion.
Step 2. Relax
Digestion only happens when you’re in a relaxed state. This is called the parasympathetic state and it’s when your nervous system is calm and peaceful.
But when we’re multitasking, distracted by work stress, watching a stressful movie (or the news), or even having an unpleasant conversation we switch our nervous system to a sympathetic state. This is our adrenalin pushing, fight or flight state. We are NOT digesting in this state.
Do you see the problem?
When your digestive energy is being sent elsewhere, to solve the problem or crisis at hand, you are not going to digest your food well. And ultimately this is going to result in unpleasant symptoms…like reflux, bloating, gas, etc.
Instead of the above scenario, when you sit down to a meal, remove unpleasant or stressful distractions, close your eyes, take a few deep slow calming breaths to bring your nervous system back to a parasympathetic state, and then enjoy your food.
This strategy alone could make the biggest impact in your digestive symptoms.
Step 3. Time Your Fluids
Adequate hydration is essential for a happy gut (& happy body). Fluids help to move things along in your gut, keep your stools soft & moist, and prevent constipation.
However, when you drink fluids with your meal you dilute digestive juices (stomach acid, enzymes, etc) and this can result in you not digesting your food as well.
The solution is to keep most of your fluid intake away from meals. Rather than snacking, fill your morning & afternoons with water, tea, or broth. It’s okay to take sips of warm water or tea as needed with your meal, just not a large amount.
Step 4. Boost Stomach Acid
How often do we blame “too much” stomach acid as the reason for our digestive complaints…specifically reflux? When actually, more often than not, people experience heartburn (or bloating & gas) when there isn’t enough stomach acid.
Let me explain. When stomach acid is low it takes a lot longer to digest your food; especially protein. This means the food hangs out in the stomach much longer than it should. As it’s in there, fermentation & gas start to build up. Eventually this gas pushes on the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus and opens this valve. When that happens not only does gas escape but what stomach acid is there will also head up into the esophagus.
Now as scary as it might sound, when you’re dealing with painful reflux, the first step is to actually make sure there is in fact enough acid in your stomach.
The easiest way to do this is to take a moment before you eat to prepare your stomach for digestion. Give the acid a little boost by:
- First, adding 2 Tbsp of Sauerkraut (or other non-dairy fermented food) before eating to see how your stomach responds.
- Next, try adding Herbal Bitters (1 dropper full) or Apple Cider Vinegar (2 tsp in 1/4 c warm water).
- Finally, try adding Lemon Juice (1/4-1/2 lemon, juiced and mixed with a small amount of water).
If all three of these approaches do not upset your stomach or cause increased burning, then “too much” acid is not the problem. Rather, taking steps to boost stomach acid will not only improve your digestion but will also minimize your symptoms…especially reflux and bloating.
Another important piece to remember is that your acid will be diluted by water, especially cold water. This is one of the main reasons I suggest keeping most of your fluid intake away from your meals. And ideally sip on warm water as needed during your meal, never iced or cold water.
Step 5. Feed Your Microbes
Once your food makes it past the stomach and starts moving through the intestines your microbes get to work. They are incredibly important at finishing the process of digestion, making sure you actually absorb all the nutrients you’re eating, and properly eliminate the leftover waste.
There are so many factors that work against the microbial balance in your gut. High stress, too much sugar or refined carbs, bad fats, pesticides & GMOs, alcohol, medications, and more.
In an effort to feed your microbes and keep a healthy balance of good to bad bacteria in your gut, it’s essential that you remove as many of those disruptors as possible while bringing in more of the good stuff.
Specifically, bring in more probiotic-rich foods (like raw sauerkraut, pickled fruits & veggies, kimchi, miso, tempeh, kefir, kombucha, etc) & more plant fibers which feed these good bacteria.
You can read more about the Microbiome and how to keep it healthy here: The Mysterious Microbiome.
Step 6. Allow Time for Digestion
Your body needs time to digest. If you’re snacking and grazing on food all day long you’re never giving your gut the chance to complete digestion, rest, and prepare for the next meal.
In addition to taking your time and making your meals last longer, I also suggest you give yourself a break of 4-5 hours between meals. Depending on the length of your day you may still have a snack in there but typically this will result in a lot less snacking.
Another important factor is how late you’re eating into the evening. Ideally you would allow at least 3 hours to digest your last meal before you head to bed. So if you’re in bed by 10pm, then ideally you would be finished eating by 7pm, and wouldn’t have any other snacks before bed time.
Finishing your dinner earlier also helps to extend your overnight fast; which is so important for detoxification, repair, and general immune system support.
Step 7. Add Digestive Allies
The final step involves bringing in extra support when needed. A very easy (& tasty) way to do this is by cooking more with spices. Besides adding more flavor and medicinal phytonutrients to your meal, spices also boost digestion!
All spices have the power to do this but the following spices are more commonly considered digestive boosters: ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, cumin, cardamom, & fennel.
Herbs can also help to ease digestion. Adding a warm cup of herbal tea with your meal or in the evening can help to soothe and support digestion.
Some traditional herbal digestive teas include: mint, fennel, licorice, & dandelion.
Another ally I turn to whenever I overdo it are Digestive Enzymes. They are essentially my TUMS. After a holiday dinner or a night out or maybe I just ate too much of my favorite dish…enzymes to the rescue.
Start With The Basics
There are of course times when all the above strategies still won’t be enough. If that’s the case, then you might notice some relief but your symptoms won’t be completely gone. When that happens, then it’s time to dive deeper to uncover the root causes of your discomfort.
Functional lab testing can help you determine if there are un-diagnosed infections or microbial overgrowth. Or perhaps enzyme deficiencies or genetic mutations that are impacting your digestion.
The results to these tests may warrant more restrictive food combining or the avoidance of certain foods in order to boost healing and repair. They may require additional supplements or even sometimes medications.
There is a time and a place for all of these strategies. What’s most important is that you start with the basics. Because even after you’ve dealt with a more serious imbalance, if you don’t have these basics in place, you will just be setting the stage for digestive issues to return.
So, in summary,
- Take your time, chew well, and enjoy your meal.
- Take a moment to relax first and remove unpleasant or stressful distractions.
- Keep most of your fluids away from your meals.
- Add in boosters like sauerkraut, herbal bitters, apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice to boost stomach acid and prepare the gut for digestion.
- Remove factors that disrupt your microbiome while adding in more probiotic-rich foods and plant based fibers.
- Space your meals apart during the day & finish dinner earlier in the evening to allow adequate time for digestion.
- And finally, add some allies, like digestive herbs & spices and even enzymes as needed.
Take some time to really think through your typical eating routine. Are you implementing ALL of the above strategies? If not, then make a commitment to gradually add these steps in.
I know from my own personal journey with digestive challenges plus all the clients I have helped over the years with their digestive issues, these 7 steps can make a really big impact.
Give it a go and let me know what you discover. If you get stuck or need to dive deeper, then schedule a free strategy call with me HERE.