Have you ever gone on a relaxing vacation and suddenly, poof! All your chronic tummy troubles magically disappear? Or, maybe you experience gas and bloating when you work through lunch or eat with your loud and boisterous family, but on a relaxing date with your bestie you have perfect digestion, even though you deviated from your usual way of eating? There’s a reason, and it might surprise you.
It’s not just about what you eat.
I see it over and over again. People who have been so focused on what they eat with little or no attention to how they are eating and how they are caring for themselves. We don’t live in a vacuum—who and what we surround ourselves with is impacting us all the time.
Our gut is governed by our state of being. When we are relaxed and present, our digestive system is able to do its job, breaking down our food and moving it through our body with ease. But when we are stressed, whether because we have a big work deadline coming up, a COVID scare, or because our darling newborn woke us up 8 times last night, our digestion suffers.
What’s a body to do?
Read below for my top 7 healthy gut habits:
- Practice Proper Chewing
Chew your food well, aiming for 30-45 chomps per bite. Chewing our food cues our body to prepare to digest. When we chew, we release salivary amylase, an enzyme that breaks down starches in the mouth. Chewing also tells our body to begin making and releasing digestive juices such as stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes.
- Practice Mindful Eating
Be totally present when eating. Try this experiment: Turn on some relaxing music and set any distractions aside. Turn off all devices–televisions, phones, and computers. Set books and magazines aside. Sit down at a table with your meal and really practice being with your food. Take a few slow, deep breaths before eating. Smell your food. Take a bite, and savor the flavor. Try to spend at least 20 minutes enjoying your meal.
- Practice Good Sleeping Habits
Get seven to nine hours of sleep; each night. While we sleep, a special set of digestion waves, called the Migratory Motor Complex, or MMC, gets to work. This is the street sweeper of the digestion tract, and it sweeps all the crud downward, preparing the body for a nice, healthy, and naturally detoxifying bowel movement the next morning. When we don’t get enough sleep, the MMC doesn’t have the time it needs to do its job properly. This can cause constipation or diarrhea, and an imbalance in the gut. In addition, lack of sleep can mess with hormones and neurotransmitters, which in turn alter how food moves through the body, causing gas, bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea.
- Exercise Regularly
Get at least 20-30 minutes of low intensity exercise, such as walking or yoga, daily Regular exercise keeps our guts moving and lowers stress. Try a yoga class (I love Yoga with Adriene: free online series), go on a walk or hike, take a bike ride, or go on a light jog.
- Practice Self Care
Practicing self care for as little as 15 minutes daily can reduce stress and increase overall wellbeing which both directly and indirectly help your gut. When we are in the “rest and digest ” state, inflammation lowers, happy hormones increase, and our bodies are able to digest food with ease. Conversely, a state of “fight or flight” increases stress hormones and puts our body on high alert. This pauses digestion so our body can focus on dealing with the stress threat at hand. While helpful if you are running from a lion, this evolutionary mismatch means that many people’s digestive systems are on permanent hold as they deal with the daily, chronic stress of the modern world.
- Curb Constipation
Constipation allows toxic waste to build up in our gut, causing gas, bloating and in some cases bacterial overgrowth. Read more on managing constipation here.
- Practice Good Hydration
Proper hydration is essential for good gut health. Drink half your body weight in ounces daily. Be sure to include electrolytes from fruits and veggies for optimal hydration.
How will you support your gut today? Share in the comments below.
The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting a qualified health care practitioner. Please consult with a health care practitioner before making any lifestyle or dietary changes.