1. Chew your food and then chew it some more!
Mastication is the gateway to being free of constipation! Okay, maybe not completely, but it sounded good when I thought of it. If you didn’t know, mastication is the act of chewing. Some of the more fringe thinkers who share their thoughts on health and wellness have taken their chewing to the extreme and try to chew their food into oblivion like a cow. This is misguided. We are not cows and our bodies are able to do so much more than chew in order to digest our food. This is actually one reason that we took up the beautiful art of cooking, so we don’t have to chew so much! However, while my perspective on chewing is not as extreme as some out there, I cannot recommend chewing enough. Take it on as a challenge: Can you chew one bite 10 times before feeling the inclination to swallow? What about 20x? 30x? 40x?? Where do you and your family hit your habituated threshold? How many times more can you chew in order to give your digestion a better chance to be effective? The more you consciously work at this the easier it will become for you to do comfortably.
Chewing your food is accomplishing 2 things. 1. It is breaking your food down into more manageable parts and therefore making your stomach and small intestines not work nearly as hard. Ever get that sleepy food coma feeling after eating? That’s your stomach doing the work your mouth could have done. 2. Chewing like this also activates and empowers your saliva. Saliva! Saliva is ridiculously awesome in so many ways. Saliva can heal (ever think why animals lick their wounds?) and soften clothing, the softening process is because of the enzyme called Amylase. Amylase (alpha amylase) is AMAZING! It is a digestive enzyme which can break down starches and convert them into sugars – yum! Who doesn’t love sugar? Your body does, it needs to consume a variety of sugars to produce the caloric energy you exert when you do anything with your body, even talking and sleeping.
When you are chewing for the win you are putting more and more of this magical saliva into your chewed food, adding more digestive potential to each bite. If this isn’t enough of an enticement for you, then note that if you chew upwards of 32x per bite, you will be cutting your calorie intake and theoretically you could lose weight by chewing more! Can you believe I’ve gone on this long about chewing? Well I did and I bet you liked it.
2. Say A Prayer
Or Instagram your food, think about all the different components in your meal and where they came from… Whatever you need to do, what you are trying to accomplish here is taking a moment to appreciate what you are about to consume. Think about it, if you are reading this then you are most likely in a first world country where you go-go-go all day long. You may even eat your food while in the car or walking to your next meeting. THIS. HAS. GOT. TO. STOP. You have to stop! When you are enacted in this constant movement of doing something, anything, you are not giving your body what it needs to digest. Yes, we already determined that we are not cows and we do not need to sit around and masticate all day long, but we do need to take time to actually allow our stomach to digest our foods.
What happens is that the gastric enzymes and juices that your stomach needs to digest everything you’ve just swallowed, will not become active until you are in a settled and relaxed environment. Think about that for a minute. If you are in a place where you are taking time to pray, or yes even Instagram over your food then you are most likely sitting down to a meal, maybe even with friends and family. I fall prey to this one ALL THE TIME. Even if I am at home, preparing a meal for my husband and myself. I work hard all day long, I have my activities that I like to do (like talk about crazy poop stuff on my blog here) and I also love to have homemade meals. So I will spend an hour or two in the kitchen making food for us and by the time I get to eating that meal I scarf it down! UGH. If we could just take the necessary steps, then we will feel satiated and rejuvenated after our meals rather than distended and lethargic.
Here is an exercise for you to try the next time you are about to enjoy a meal that will help both your mind and body: place your meal in front of where you are seated to enjoy it. If you are the type that pray, then lock hands with yourself or the loved ones around you. Either out loud or in your mind think about what you are about to consume. Breathe in the smell of it, sniff in the various aspects of your beautifully created meal. Think about where the food came from, who’s hands prepared it, and what it took for you to enjoy this meal today. Acknowledge how it will nourish your body, become your body, and ultimately rid your body of what you don’t need (had to talk about poop in there somewhere, we are getting too serious over here!). Amen. Snap a picture.
This mindfulness activity will allow you to engage with your food in a way you never necessarily thought was possible, giving your body the time it needs to properly digest by regulating your patterns of consumption through simple rituals.
3. Sip tea or warm water (STOP DRINKING ICED WATER!)
Seriously, cut it out! If you only implemented one thing it should be this. Our bodies function at a beautiful ~98 degrees. So what this means is that in most air conditioned spaces, our bodies are actually warmer than the environment around us, meaning that even room temperature water is colder than the space in our stomach. When I see an article has hit Livestrong.com, then I know it must be mainstream knowledge by now. Unfortunately for us here in the USA, we are still served ice-cold water when eating out anywhere. Whenever I ask for water without ice and it STILL comes out cold. I have to ask for hot water if I want a beverage that is going to aid my digestion rather than impair it. This doesn’t even include the additional concern of unsanitary conditions for storage and handling of ice, which, when tested, is often found to be disturbingly contaminated. That’s a separate issue that I may address in a future post, for the time being, let’s focus on what happens to our body when we drink cold water.
According to Dr. Susan E. Brown, “drinking cold water with a meal can have adverse effects on the digestive process. It requires more energy from the body to warm up cool liquids and foods, thus taking a longer time to digest and assimilate.” So if you are suffering from any sort of digestive ailment, immediately cut out having cold water (or even water all together) with your meals. Cold water is great for bringing down your temperature after a workout, but dismal for moving things along to your poop chute.
If you must drink something I recommend sticking to warm or hot water, maybe with some ginger tea which will also help settle any commotion in your stomach.
4. Check in with yourself
The final step to improving your digestion is to check in with yourself periodically while you are eating. If you are unsure of how to do this or do not quite have the awareness of your body that this requires, then make a commitment to stop eating within a certain range of time before you are full or before you have cleared your plate. If you’d like to learn to become more aware while you are eating, then follow my guidelines listed here to check in with yourself.
Like a prayer, you know I’ll take you there. It’s like a dream, when your poo’s so free! Oh wait, no sorry! Checking in with yourself is like saying a prayer, what you will want to do mid-meal is pause and observe your plate. Take a few deep breaths (these need not be audible if you’re with people and don’t like to bring attention to yourself). Sense your gut, your stomach, your esophagus, your mouth – how are they feeling? Are you feeling satisfied? Do you think a few more bites would put you over the edge or really put you where you need to be? If you’re feeling satiation confusion, it’s best to take a few moments to give yourself more opportunity to determine if you need to continue to eat: engage in conversation for a few minutes, perhaps sip on some tea. Slowing down your progression through the meal will help you to determine what is best for your body at that point in time. After a few minutes if you are not feeling that overwhelming desire to eat more, then go ahead and save the rest of your meal for later! Sometimes the mouth says “YES!” but the gut knows the truth and is able to tell you that it is full. At this point it is about exercising your willpower. I have found it to be helpful with this is make up my mind before the meals starts.
So let’s summarize what we are going to do the next time we enjoy a meal:
- Chew your food – put that nom nom super-substance saliva to work!
- Pause and find a way to be appreciative of your food before eating to prepare your mind and body for the process of digestion.
- Sip tea or warm water and never drink cold water when eating again!
- Check in with yourself throughout the meal to avoid overeating – singing “Like a Prayer” while you do this is optional.
As always, thank you so much for reading and engaging with me!
Duchess of Doo Doo