Yes, we have all been there: uncomfortably bloated in your new holiday outfit and running to the bathroom at the party. It is not fun. It seems like there is a yummy treat around every corner! But, the sugary sweets, over indulgence, and extra celebratory drinks combined with extra stress can wreak havoc on our digestive system.
Why do we have such a digestive mess generally from October through January?
Here are some of the factors we have noticed over the years:
The gut-brain connection is key to our freedom from gut distress this holiday season. This link is technically known as the enteric nervous system and includes the all-important vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is our two-way super highway sending messages from the gut to the brain and back. This connection is important for breaking down food, absorbing nutrients, and expelling waste. They require chemical processing, mechanical mixing and rhythmic muscle contractions that move everything down the line.
How we eat is even more important that what we eat
We’ve all heard it is all about what we eat and WE are telling you the magic is in how we eat. Has anyone ever taught you how to prepare to eat? This is something we do every day without even thinking about it. When we are in our daily go-go-go life, we are using our sympathetic nervous system.
Our body only releases enzymes and digestive juices like HCL when our relaxed nervous system is activated. This is known as our parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is vital in order to properly digest our meals and prevent microbiome imbalances in the gut. When we are in our sympathetic nervous system, we are in fight or flight mode and not rest and digest mode.
I want to share my 4-step process to preparing your body to eat. Do this before every meal to improve your capacity to digest. This can have the biggest impact on your gut health. It’s so simple, it might seem hard to believe but it works WHEN YOU MAKE IT A HABIT. Building these 4 steps into your everyday life, as a habit, can be a game changer.
Next time you sit down to eat, take 3 minutes to prepare your body for your meal.
Step 1: Activate your parasympathetic or relaxed nervous system with deep, slow abdominal breathing. When we are deeply and slowly breathing our relaxed nervous system is automatically activated and this is key to proper digestion. Take 3 deep, slow breaths with each inhale and exhale lasting to about a count of 4 seconds. Try it now – can you feel a shift in your awareness?
Step 2: Expressing gratitude can shift the brain into a more relaxed state. Find a simple thing you can be grateful for in the moment and focus on this for a few moments – you can combine this with Step 1. When we are in gratitude it is hard for our nervous system to be in stress or fear.
Step 3: Start every meal with something bitter or sour. This taste stimulates the production and release of important stomach acids and enzymes. Bitter foods have been shown to aid digestion, improve nutrient absorption, stimulate immune function, and even keep those dreaded sugar cravings at bay.
Step 4: Chew each bite 20-25 times. Fully chewing your food gives your body the best chance to properly digest before your gut bugs ferment and putrefy the food inside you.
Picture this, racing through your day and you get home to prepare a steak dinner for you and your spouse. You both rush through, quickly catching each other up on your day before taking care of last minute work or home errands. Those larger food pieces are going into a stomach with less than optimal digestive capacity. Then the digestive distress starts.
When you do not properly digest your food then your gut bugs finish the job by rotting and fermenting your undigested food. Yes – that is as gross as it sounds. That large piece of steak you did not thoroughly chew is now rotting in your gut. This produces a lot of gas, as you might guess.
Preparing your body to eat by regularly doing the 4-step process can give your digestive system the best chance for reducing (or completely eliminating gut distress). It’s also a great way to have more fun this holiday season.