Hack Your Digestive Hardware to Heal your Gut

lifestyle medicine Nov 08, 2022

What if I told you the reason you're bloated, constipated, and uncomfortable may have more to do with the WAY you eat, rather than what you eat? I know this may sound like a bit of a stretch, but bear with me. Imagine this scenario- you've had a frantic, stressful day, don't have time for lunch but feel the hanger pains coming on. While running errands, you scarf down the sandwich you threw together before flying out the door. By the time you arrive at your destination, you notice a bit of heartburn, and feel your pants pulling a bit tighter than usual. What happened in this scenario?


Our brain and nervous system are very intricately connected to our gut, so much so that we refer to the gut as the "second brain." When we receive bad news, or are extremely nervous, we may feel the heaviness, churning, butterflies, or cramps in our stomach. If we are feeling a significant amount of anxiety, maybe we even have to make an emergency stop in the nearest restroom! Why does this occur and how can we make changes to improve our gut health?


When we do not give our bodies the capacity to prepare for the food we are about to receive BEFORE we receive it, we rob our bodies of the opportunity to carry out efficient digestion and absorption of nutrients from our food. To grasp the entirety of this concept, we have to understand the basics of our digestive hardware - or how food moves from our mouth through our digestive tract with the help of our mind!


When we eat, our body releases enzymes and stomach acid to break down the food. This process is aided by the muscles in our digestive tract that contract and relax in a coordinated fashion, pushing the food through our system. To release the proper amount of enzymes and acid to digest the specific food we are about to eat, we have to be in the calm or parasympathetic state of the nervous system. When we are stressed or in fight-or-flight mode, the process of digestion becomes inhibited. The blood flow that would normally be directed towards the digestive tract is shifted elsewhere, leading to uncomfortable symptoms like heartburn, bloating, and sluggish motility.


This is where the mind connection comes into play. Imagine you are looking forward to snacking on a bowl of strawberries. Your senses are engaged; you can smell the fruity aroma, anticipate the sweet citrus flavor, and the juicy crunch as your teeth dig into that first bite. Your mouth is probably watering before you even take that first bite, signifying that you are indeed ready to digest your snack!The body intelligently knows which enzymes and how much acid are required to break down that specific food. The key to hacking your digestive hardware is to engage your senses, which is a lot more doable when we are calm and at ease!


Now, let's go back to that sandwich you scarfed down on-the-go. Not only were you not in a relaxed state before consuming your meal (key for efficient digestion), but your body also was not given the time or intention to properly break down and absorb your food efficiently.


So, the next time you sit down for a meal, take a few deep breaths before diving in. Engage your senses, think of the taste, the texture, the smell of your food. Chew each bite slowly and completely before swallowing. Give yourself permission to slow down and enjoy your food.. Your gut will thank you later!





"Gut-Brain Connection." Harvard Health Publishing, www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/gut-brain-connection. Accessed 3 June 2020.


Forsythe, Stephen, and Nobuyuki Sudo. "Gut microbiota and stress-related disorders." Gastroenterology Research and Practice 2010 (2010).


Mangan, Mairead. "The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation within our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health." HarperOne, 2018.


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