By Van Clayton Powel
We’re commonly told ‘You are what you eat.’
But just because you eat something doesn’t mean you digest it. And if you don’t digest it, it’s either passing right through, sucking energy out of you. Or even worse, hanging around and causing problems.
Gas, bloating, headaches, fatigue … food sensitivities, diarrhea, skin problems … some researchers even suggest there are links between digestive problems and serious illnesses like asthma, arthritis, migraines and psoriasis.
The bottom line is that it is impossible to be healthy without proper digestion, no matter how nutritious your diet. In fact, digestion is as important to your survival as the beating of your heart and breathing air into your lungs. Unfortunately, research indicates many of us are not digesting very well:
• By some estimates as many as 50% of us now suffer from digestive problems.
• After the common cold, it has become the most likely reason we will seek out a doctor.
Now, without a doubt, what you eat is important and you should eat the most nutritious foods possible. But that’s only half the equation. You also have to pay attention to how you eat because it can have a huge impact on whether you:
1. Actually get the nutrients out of what you eat.
2. Damage your digestive system. And with almost 70% of your immune system located in or near your digestive tract, damage here can be critical.
So, what do I mean by how you eat? Take something as simple as chewing, for example. We all know we’re supposed to chew our food well. But did you know you can extract so many more nutrients by chewing well that there’s even a case of prisoners of war in a concentration camp surviving (while others around them perished) by chewing eat bite of their meagre rations 150 times?
And studies suggest chewing has some other surprising and remarkable benefits:
• It arouses the brain. (Students perform better on tests when they’re chewing gum.)
• It stimulates the immune system. (By increasing the production of T-cells and Immunoglobulin A.)
• It helps with weight-loss. (We tend to eat fewer calories.)
• It might even help prevent age-related memory loss.
The contribution of proper chewing to digestive health is just one of the areas covered in the book You Are NOT What You Eat; Better Digestive Health In 7 Simple Steps. Here’s a quick look at some of the others.
1. Minimize your fluids around mealtime. Excessive fluids before and after eating can interfere with the initial stage of digestion in the stomach, and also cause food to be released prematurely into the small intestine.
2. Avoid continual ‘grazing’ or snacking. Your stomach functions best by dealing with one meal at a time, so it’s best not to eat anything until the previous meal has cleared the stomach.
3. Avoid stressful activities while eating. Stress basically turns off digestion (by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system). It also distracts us and leads to higher calorie intake. So turn off your phone when you eat, don’t watch the News while you’re eating, don’t eat while driving in traffic, et cetera.
4. Don’t eat close to bedtime. (Or eat only a small light snack, and chew it well.) Your body’s designed to heal and rejuvenate while you sleep, not digest food.
5. Avoid intense exercise for about an hour after you eat. (Or eat only a small volume of light food before intense exercise.) Intense exercise redirects blood flow from the digestive tract to the muscles, and also turns on your body’s sympathetic nervous system. (See stress above.)
6. Have your bowel movements as soon as possible after the initial urge, and when possible, around the same time each day. This helps prevent chronic constipation, bowel irritation, and toxins in the waste from being reabsorbed into the body.
Simple steps. But they can have a profound affect on your digestion, on your performance, and on every aspect of your health. So without a doubt, watch what you eat. But remember, how you eat is the other half of the equation.
– Van Clayton Powel is a former nursing supervisor, the founder of Mind Body Fitness Inc., and the author of You Are NOT What You Eat; Better Digestive Health In 7 Simple Steps. As a Registered Psychiatric Nurse, Powel graduated top of his class and went on to specialize in detoxification, addictions treatment, and emergency assessments. He also spent years in Asia studying traditional medical models, martial arts and yoga, and has taught his unique blend of Western and Eastern techniques to thousands of clients, including Olympic athletes, the Canadian National Snowboard Team, and major corporations. Powel’s passion for teaching about digestion comes from winning his own battle with chronic digestive problems, and he happily reports he can eat anything he wants again.
You can contact him through YouAreNOTWhatYouEat.com