Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Do you experience random bloating, constipation, gas, etc... with no rhyme or reason?
Gut health is a PASSION of mine as I suffered from all of these issues for the majority of my life. If you've been there, you KNOW how debilitating digestive issues can be on both your physical and mental health. I remember episodes of being so bloated that I couldn't fit into any of my clothes without looking 6 months pregnant. I also remember the first time I went 6 months without experiencing ANY digestive flare ups, literally rubbing my belly with happy tears. I saw every practitioner under the sun but no diagnosis would really heal my symptoms. Instead of chasing a diagnosis, I became an advocate of my own health to find and eliminate the root cause of these flare ups.
Digestive issues generally derive from inflammation. Whether it's inflammation from consuming foods you are sensitive to, overtraining at the gym, impending deadlines at work, negative thoughts about your body, lack of sleep, or a combination of these factors, the stress response from acute stressors or chronic low level stressors activate the "fight or flight" response which releases hormones such as noradrenaline, adrenaline, cortisol and CRF which trigger your nervous system to prioritize survival from the perceived threat. This series of chemical reactions diverts blood away from the digestive organs and to the limbs to prepare you for that fight or flight scenario, which also slows stomach acid and digestive enzyme secretion as food digestion is not a priority to keep you alive. Eating during stress is like force feeding yourself when you're being chased by a bear.
Overtime, the negative impact of stress on your digestion can worsen IBS symptoms, create nutritional deficiencies, gut dysbiosis, and increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut). So you can see how elevated stress is a catch 22 with digestive symptoms.
Both physical and mental stressors impact gut health - your brain communicates with your enteric nervous system, which is a component of the autonomic nervous system embedded in the lining of the GI tract responsible for regulating digestion via the gut-brain axis. As mentioned in the last post, eating during acute or chronic stress drives your body into a sympathetic-dominant state that tells the enteric nervous system to down regulate digestion. Food SHOULD fuel you, but the side effects like reduced nutrient absorption, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, cramps and heartburn force your body to work in overtime, which means less energy available for you to thrive.
The counterpart to this system is the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” portion. Making a conscious effort to activate this system with mindful eating practices can have a profound impact on digestive issues. When this system is dominant, the body is relaxing the sphincter muscles in your digestive system to shuttling blood to the digestive organs to optimize the breakdown and transport of nutrients. A few examples include:
-Engage in a quick meditative practice or 5 deep belly breaths to stimulate the vagus nerve.
-Put away all distractions (emails, social media, news) to focus on your meal.
-FOCUS on your food - reflect on the different tastes and textures of each bite.
-Chew your food 20-30 times to release enzymes, create less work downstream in the digestive tract and increase nutrient absorption
-SLOW down - put your fork down between bites, use chopsticks, or set a timer to extend your meal to 20 mins.
Ensure that have the basics nailed before moving up to the higher level strategies. Supplements, dietary interventions, etc (which I’ll cover in later posts!) will not provide long term lasting change if you’re not putting in the daily work 👊🏽