Breaking Down Digestion
Digestion is often overlooked and taken for granted; warning signs can be dismissed as normal or just a temporary inconvenience. But in the holistic community, for centuries we have known that optimizing digestion is a crucial component of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Ancient Greek culture is known to be one of the first cultures to discover the key to balancing meals, and many cultures since have developed norms and food combinations to prioritize having rich enzymatic meals. Sadly in our culture there is still a lot of confusion about food and our cultural norms can even be destructive rather than help support a healthy lifestyle.
What is now considered the “Standard American Diet” is the byproduct of the food pyramid, which despite being reinvented on numerous occasions will still lead people astray when they are trying to figure out what their meals should consist of. On top of giving poor standards for what ratios of foods you should try to consume, it operates under the notion that there is one ideal diet that everyone should follow. And as fad diets come and go it is clear that people are constantly searching for the magic combination that will give them optimal energy. The secret formula has been reinvented as eating only fats and protein, to only vegetables and every combination in-between. But amid the desperation to find which diet works best, you need to keep in mind that your needs are unique to you, even the size and shape of your stomach is unique, and thinking that one diet will meet everyone’s specific individual needs is impractical. In order to find which “diet” and meal combinations are optimal to you, you can use your digestive system as a guide to give you direct feedback about how you are utilizing the food that you are eating.
In our experience we have found two major factors that play a role in digestive complications- eating the wrong combinations of foods, or eating food that has a subpar source/quality. The challenge to fixing digestive issues is certain symptoms can be caused by a variety of different root problems. For example lets look at bloating- it could be caused by carbohydrates fermenting too quickly in your stomach while it is trying to digest other proteins and fats that you consumed in your meal. Or bloating can be caused by not having enough hydrochloric acid and enzymes in your stomach, which can be due to drinking too much fluid with your meals. Our goal when approaching digestion is to not just eliminate your symptoms, but to pinpoint the root cause of your symptoms and address them.
Another factor that is important to consider when addressing digestion is where does digestion really start? In the brain or in the stomach? Most people are focused on the stomach when considering digestion complications, but if you consider marketing for food companies you will see a common trend. They focus on the look and smell of the food, which is the very beginning of the digestive sequence. Psychological and environmental factors play a role in your digestion, before you even start eating! Whether you are stressed in general or trying to eat your meal in a stressful environment, it can slow down your digestion since your body is in “fight or flight” mode. Creating space to eat without rushing through your meal or eating when you are in a better emotional state can positively impact your digestion.
The mechanical aspects of digestion start when we chew. The food is broken down by enzymes in the saliva and will then make their way down to the stomach. In the stomach hydrochloric acid and enzymes will break down your food, but this is only 10% of the process. 90% of digestion happens in the small intestines where food will travel approximately 20-25 feet. During this transit, food will continue to be broken down so vitamins and minerals can get absorbed and utilized by your body. Next up is the large intestine, which has task of absorbing water and electrolytes, as well as fermenting your food. This is also where the stool gets formed, and your stool is one of the most precise feedback systems that your body has. Diarrhea or constipation can give you specific indications of your gut flora balance, hydration or if you are eating too much processed food. It is taboo in our culture to discuss the result of digestion, but your stool can reveal crucial information about your health.
At Mind Body Motion we focus on optimizing your digestion in the first phase of your care. Making lifestyle changes and altering eating habits are important aspects of your digestion, but if there is a mechanical issue with your digestion then you could be eating an ideal diet but your body is unable to utilize the good food. All the money and effort you are putting toward supplements and meals is going down the drain. Or in this case, the toilet. “You are what you eat” is only a piece of the puzzle, how it is processed, metabolized and used by the body is just as important.
Testing your metabolic type, tracking stool types and transit times, paying attention to meal combinations and energy levels, all this and more is part of our Functional Nutrition and Lifestyle Pillar to help you get to the bottom of what you need to eat to be at your best each day. If you are looking for help with your digestion, e-mail us to get more information or call our office to schedule an appointment today!