Good Digestion Isn't All about the food
One of the surprising revelations to students in my Flow! Healthy Digestion cooking class is that traditional healing traditions like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine emphasize habits and practices around eating almost as much as ingredients. In that class, I share 15 tips to help students starting eating and feeling better and many of them having nothing to do with aloe, turmeric, and fermented vegetables. (To be fair, we play around with all that stuff in class too.)
So here I'm sharing 5 of those tips to help you start building healthy habits around eating to digest your best, even if you are eating Totino's Pizza Rolls for lunch (Alia looks the other way).
As always, the information presented here is not medical advice, but is just for your information and education only. If you are experiencing anything unusual physically or have a chronic digestive problem, please go see a trusted medical professional.
How to Improve your Digestion
1. Chew your food well.
One of the biggest mistakes that modern eaters make is not chewing our food well enough and swallowing big pieces whole. Manual digestion of food (the physical breakdown into smaller particles) only occurs in the mouth. Saliva also contains enzymes to start the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats, so you want to make sure your food spends a little time in your mouth. Even smoothies, soups and juices should be "chewed" to help you assimilate the nutrients better and feel good after eating.
Hurried eating also increases the likelihood that you'll swallow air, which can lead to gas and bloating. Chill out, sit down, and chew your meal like you mean it.
2. Reduce stress.
Yes, I KNOW this is the world's most annoying advice, but hear me out! A lot discomfort that we attribute to our food and digestive organs can actually be rooted in our emotional state. Think about a time that you have been super nervous or grief-stricken and what that has does to your digestion and "gut-feeling." When you are looking to a solution for a nauseous feeling, don't forget to examine the circumstances in your life. Instead of cutting out gluten on a hunch, you might benefit from examining bigger picture stressors.
3. Don't eat constantly.
I don't know what body builder started the myth that you should graze constantly during the day to "keep up your blood sugar" but let's toss that idea out right now. Traditional healing practices recommend eating between 2 and 4 times day, and always listening to your hunger rather than forcing yourself to eat because you "should."
Ayurveda recommends spacing meals 3-4 hours apart to make sure your "digestive fire" is strong and to give your body a break from the work of digesting in between.
4. Keep your routine...but diversify ingredients.
If your schedule is erratic or you travel a lot, you may be feeling the effects of all the changes in your digestion. Things like eating at 6pm one night and 8:30pm the next, skipping breakfast one day and then eating a Grand Slam the next, going gluten-free for 7 days and then going on a sugar-binge....these? These are all things our bodies hate and you may notice feeling bloated, constipated or lethargic in result. Try sticking to a loose schedule and not swinging your body between extremes when it comes to the content of your meals.
Consistency is routine doesn't mean eating the same 4 foods everyday though. Nutritionally we benefit from a diversified diet, so here's how you can compromise: Keep your routine consistent (eating at roughly the same times in the same amounts) while changing up your recipes.
5. Go for simplicity.
Ayurveda also recommends simplicity when it comes to a healing and nourishing diet. That means going for lightly cooked foods, light spices and not mixing too many dishes and preparations within a meal. Simplicity and even an elimination-style diet (like Whole30) can be the best way to figure out if you do have food sensitivities because the amount of variables is drastically decreased.
I'm a big believer in minimalism so I think simplicity at the dinner table can also cultivate a bigger calmness in your life, perhaps helping you out with tip #2 as well. Try my Apple Kuzu Pudding (pictured above) for a simple, soothing sweet after a meal or my Gingery Baby Bok Choy for a 2 minute side dish you can add to any meal.