You have all heard the saying before "you are what you eat", but really that just isn't true, you are what you digest. You can eat all the superfoods, leafy greens, and healthy fats you want, but if your digestive system isn't functioning the best that it can, then your body is less likely to digest these nutrient-rich foods properly, and you are less likely to reap the nutritional benefits.
So what do you do?
Today one of the most common complaints I hear from clients, friends, and family is that their digestion is constantly out of whack. It could be heartburn, it could be bloating/gas, it could be constipation, but whatever it is...it isn't comfortable.
While it may seem like having an "out-of-whack" digestive system is normal (because so many people seem to complain of digestive issues), I want you to remember that just become something is common, doesn't make it normal.
Because here is the thing, having lots of food intolerances, skin inflammation, and constant GI stress is not normal and does not have to be lived with. It also results in a vicious cycle that I see all the time in my patients. People think that the very first step is to remove all the foods with the hope that this kind of diet protocol will cure their symptoms. The issue is that these types of diets many times aren't treating the root cause of the problem to begin with, and so the person ends up living on a very restricted diet, or adding foods back in and winding up in the same uncomfortable place.
Eating a restricted diet also is just not how humans were meant to eat, and certainly is not how most humans are supposed to eat indefinitely. That is why if someone has tested negative for celiac disease, and other food allergies I am very hesitate to start treating a patient by removing many foods from their diet.
In my experience this only results in increased anxiety around food, which causes the GI tract to tense, the migrating motor complex to not work as effectively, and the entire GI tract to not work as was as it can.
So while sometimes it may be necessary to remove specific foods for a specific period of time to allow the gut to repair, I want you all to know that this absolutely should not be the first step, and definitely should not be something that should be continued long-term (unless medically required like in the form of an allergy, or auto-immune condition like celiac disease).
5 Simple Steps to Better Digestion Without Removing Any Foods
01: Avoid Drinking Water/Fluid With Meals
This is probably one of the easiest changes that most people can make and can make a huge impact on a person's digestion. Most people do not realize that when you drink fluids with meals you usually are doing one of two things.
#1 You are diluting your stomach acid and making it more difficult for your stomach and digestive tract to break down foods appropriately. This can lead to heartburn, gas, bloating, and diarrhea/constipation.
#2 A lot of the time when people drink fluids with meals that are drinking them through a straw or as a carbonated beverage. If you are someone who struggles with gut issues you absolutely do not need anymore air going into your GI tract, so nix the carbonation and straws...especially around meals.
02: Reduce Stress Before Meals
If you go into a meal feeling stressed, anxious, or in a rush your body is not going to process the food you put into it well. Plain and simple if you are stressed mentally, your gut is stressed physically.
Our gut is called our second brain for a reason because it is directly connected with your brain through the gut-brain access, that is regulated by the central and enteric nervous system. This is why your gut is capable of feeling emotion, and then translating that emotion to your brain, and vice versa.
Think about when you are about to give a big speech, you may feel like your stomach is upset, and you need to run to the bathroom, which is a perfect example of how mental stress can physically manifest itself in the gut. Pretty cool right? Our human bodies are amazing.
So next time you go into a meal feeling stressed aim to reduce this stress by focusing on taking deep breathes before eating, and maybe even doing something relaxing like going for a short walk to take your mind off of what is currently causing you stress and re-focus on fueling your body.
03: Eat Slowly and Mindfully
Americans are rushed all the time. It is one of the most common complaints and observations from foreigners traveling to the United States, and I would say is one of our poorest qualities as a society. If you don't have time to take 20 minutes to eat your meals in peace three times per day we need to talk about your work/life balance.
Everyone needs to become more aware of how little time we actually spend chewing, consuming, and being mindful of our food choices. Eating a fiber-rich salad in five minutes is never going to be a good idea, not matter how many healthy foods are on your plate.
If this sounds familiar it honestly is one of the best places you could start in healing your digestion. Choose to set a timer for 20 minutes each time you sit down to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner and make your meal last. Especially if that meal is filled with protein and fiber rich foods, your body needs time to communicate with your brain, and liver, release gastric juices/bile, and digest your food adequately.
04: Consume Probiotic Rich Foods
Now this recommendation comes with a caveat because it is not going to be good for everyone. Specifically for people who have a condition called SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) probiotic foods are actually going to do more harm than good in the beginning.
One good indicator that you may have SIBO is if you are experiencing exstreme distention and bloating after consuming probiotic rich foods, have unexplained inflammatory skin conditions, or seem to react negatively to carbohydrate rich foods. If any of this sounds familiar, absolutely work with your doctor or dietitian to get tested as there is a very specific protocol for treating SIBO effectively.
But if you are someone who seems to respond fine to probiotic rich foods, your gut would most likely benefit from adding small servings in a variety of forms into your diet each day. For instance, I love recommending that my clients switch up their fermented foods by trying kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut (not all at one time).
By switching up your probiotic rich foods you are giving your GI tract a healthy, and varied dose of probiotic strains that can help promote gut healing and better digestion. Probiotic pills are also great to take as well, but with so many different varieties it is best to get a personalized recommendation from a dietitian, and start by adding probiotic rich foods first.
05: Add Digestive Bitters/Herbal and Mineral Supplements
Sometimes your digestive system needs a little bit of help to fix the route cause of the problem, and get you on your way to digestive healing. I have found that many times my clients are experiencing low-stomach acid from extended use of PPIs and are having issues with poor gut motility, all of which can cause numerous GI symptoms to occur, and can make recovery more difficult if not treated appropriately.
These methods for helping treat specific GI concerns really need to be individualized to the person so these recommendations should not be taken as individualized medical advice, however in my experience, I have found good luck with the following supplements:
- Iberogast herbal supplement for increased gut motility
- Melatonin for increased gut motility
- Digestive Bitters for increased stomach acid/digestion
- Magnesium for increased gut motility/reduced stress/anxiety
- Apple Cider Vinegar for increased stomach acid/digestion
Since all of these supplements need to be individualized to the person I won't give any dosing recommendations, however if this article has resonated with you and you would like personalized nutrition counseling/supplement advice I am always happy to work with clients one-on-one.
I truly hope that you found this article helpful, and that before you go to immediately start eliminating many foods from your diet, that you try these simple approaches first. Hopefully, with just a few simple changes you can be well on your way to improved gut health, and a more comfortable, healthy life.