Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tips for Good Digestion

It's winter in Washington, and the combination of holiday food, lack of exercise and the heavier diet of the winter months has got me thinking about digestion.

Good digestion means processing smoothly without pain or damage, and assimilating the maximum amount of nutrients from the food you eat. Having good digestion is either a gift from god, or for the rest of us, a daily set of habits that create the circumstances for this magical process to occur.

For the sake of it, I also want to highlight what "impaired" digestion might look like. It can manifest as; nutrient deficiencies that won't be cured by eating more of that nutrient or supplements, acid reflux or heartburn, IBS, pain in the intestines or stomach, certain food intolerances, some skin conditions, irregular bowel movements, ulcers, leaky gut syndrome etc.

Taking care of your digestive system is a great way to ensure good health. You liver and colon especially are prime spots to cultivate vitality through good support. Your intestines also deserve some street cred, as that's where the nutrients move through the walls and get distributed. This is where absorption problems can occur.

I just cut off an enormous chunk of information, so I'll have to resolve to expand more on it in future posts. For now, I want to present a brief "toolbox" for building healthy digestion.

Water
It's essential. Drink it in the right amounts at the right times.

- Ice water literally freezes your digestive system, so try to avoid it in general. Warm or hot water is best. At restaurants, where you would normally receive ice water, ask the server to bring you a glass of hot (free) water before your meal when people are ordering beverages. Drink it before eating to improve digestion.

- First thing in the morning, before you've put anything else in your body, drink a whole glass of water (or as much as you can stand). This will often trigger a bowel movement if your system is functioning well. This flushes your system and starts your day with a well hydrated, clean slate.

- Avoid drinking large amounts of water (or liquid) during and after meals. Drink your water at least 15 minutes before the meal on an empty stomach, especially if you have done exercise or received bodywork (massage etc). Drinking water on a full stomach dilutes the food, making the food pass quickly through without fully imparting the nutrients it has to offer. Wait an hour if you can. If you find you must, drink hot water or a digestive aid tea in a small quantity a little after the meal.

Chewing
- Slow down. Chew well. Be thankful. It's easier to process smaller pieces well mixed with saliva (which contains starch-digesting enzymes) than large ones hastily gulped down. Take a moment to really savour the tastes and texture, and be thankful for the food you're eating. It's well documented by science and by people that you'll receive food better when you eat mindfully.

What do I do when I overeat?
Lets face it: Most of us overeat on occasion. Rather than attacking ourselves about it, lets accept that this occurs and learn how to deal with it.

- If you know you're going to eat a large meal (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Grandma's cooking)--especially protein and fat rich foods--use digestive bitters before the meal. Digestive Bitters are an alcoholic extract of herbs, or a liquor apertif traditionally drunk just before a meal (use a glycerine extract or tea if you don't ride the alcohol train at all). It starts getting all the good bile juices flowing from your liver and gall bladder. These juices help absorb fats and proteins more efficiently. You may find taking them before every meal makes you a more vibrant being. Yes! I sell a great Digestive Bitters tincture!

- Put a hot water bottle or warm flax seed pillow on your stomach. Heat=energy, more energy=better digestion.

- Stomach massage is a great way to physically get things moving that may be taking some time. Rub your belly clockwise (from your perspective).

- Papaya enzymes are great for those who have heartburn or acid reflux. You can get chewable ones at health food stores. Eat them with your first few bites of the meal.

- Have some ginger tincture, syrup or a straight up after the meal. Ginger helps increase circulation to the area, which speeds up absorption and all functions. It's like applying heat.

- If you overeat often, consider getting some emotional support. Eating is a way that some of us cover up or try to process our emotions. You're not weak or wrong for needing emotional support: Those that seek support are strong enough to know what they need and do something about it. Emotional support can help us learn to deal with our emotions in healthy ways that aren't self-damaging.

That's all for today. If you have certain subjects you're curious about in the realm of digestion, please let me know vis comment!

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