By Deborah Dittner
Let’s begin the new year with some health habits that you can implement easily into your daily routine.
I don’t mean New Year resolutions but strategies that can be for everyday life.
And, since many of you experience stress whether it be stress from your job, from family life, financial, school, or plain old everyday stress, these helpful lifestyle changes can benefit everyone.
Stress affects us all in different ways. It can affect sleep (or lack of sleep). It can affect relationships. And, it definitely can affect your digestive system as the gut and brain are connected.
If you are experiencing symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, heartburn, nausea, vomiting and more, you need to explore the reasons behind your discomfort. Often you may find stress being the leading factor.
As we explore these symptoms, let’s look at what you are eating — when you are eating, how fast you are eating, are you eating in the car, are you eating alone or with others, are you sitting at a table or eating in front of the computer or the television? You may want to jot down a food and lifestyle journal as this can be beneficial in seeing the causes of some of those issues.
All of these possibilities can either interfere with or aid with proper digestion. Where do your eating habits fall?
Digestion actually begins in the brain telling the gut that it’s ready to digest food. When at rest, digestion occurs easily. When you are stressed, the body is in “fight or flight” mode making digestion difficult causing all sorts of symptoms as listed above. You can make and create the choice as to how this meal will go.
Create a dining area where you can comfortably sit to enjoy your meal. Soft music can be playing in the background. Relax your body by taking in a few deep breaths which in turn aids in digestion.
You want the area free of distractions where you can focus on the nutritious food prepared.
Concentrate on your meal. Aim for your sit-down meal to last a minimum of 20 minutes which allows for the gut and brain to communicate and for you to enjoy your food. Chewing your food starts the digestive juices flowing so try to aim for 30 chews (or more) per bite. Put your fork or spoon down between bites to slow things down allowing the body to communicate. There’s no need to rush. Only eat when you are 80% satisfied as this allows the brain and gut time to catch up with each other avoiding overeating and feeling overly full. If you are truly still hungry, then you can consider seconds. Drink a minimal amount of liquids as needed to allow the stomach acid, digestive enzymes and bile to do their job in proper digestion.
Time between meals
Allow three to four hours between meals. Your gut needs time to fully digest and utilize the nutrients from the meal previously eaten. Some of you may have incorporated intermittent fasting so consider your last meal of the day no later than 7-8 p.m. and break the fast 12 hours later. The timing can be adjusted according to your schedule, but you would want a minimum of 12 hours between meals.
Many of you have struggled with digestive issues. Looking at what you eat (consider eating whole nutrient dense foods aiming for lots of vegetables, some fruit, whole grains), plenty of water (many are often dehydrated), when, where and how you eat your meals and decreasing stress around mealtime, will help those sneaky digestive issues disappear. Be patient with your healthy, stress-free way lifestyle changes of eating as time is needed to heal all wounds.
Deborah Dittner is a family nurse practitioner and health consultant. Her mission is to transform as many individuals as possible through nutrition and lifestyle changes. For more information, check out her website at www.debdittner.com or contact her at 518-596-8565.