We often go through life completely unaware of how we feel, how things have changed or accepting signs of poor health as the norm.
Recognising symptoms and being able to attribute them to your choices is an incredibly important skill in your journey to better health.
What are the symptoms that you may want to be wary of in relation to poor gut health?
Now if any of these sound like you, do no despair. First and foremost, all of these symptoms are multifactorial, and it is likely that addressing just one habit you have won’t provide an overnight fix.
The same as taking one supplement and all the craziness I see daily (people popping their digestive enzymes, apple cider vinegar and aloe vera) without addressing the foundations of the original issue.
It is important to know the following points about digestion and your gut health before taking any remedial action:
🔸Your gut and immune system are intrinsically linked.
🔸Imbalances in bacteria within the gut can lend itself to systemic inflammation around the body.
🔸Dysbiosis in the gut can impact absorption of nutrients within the gut which can in turn impact your energy levels, recovery from training and cognition.
🔸The brain and gut are linked through the vagus nerves (part of our central nervous system). There is a direct link between how you feel emotionally or stress wise (both acute and chronic) and how well you digest your meals.
From the points above, can you see any immediate changes we can make around our habits towards food and how they may impact digestion?
The key point for me is the link between the brain and the gut.
Something as simple using our senses of touch, smell, look and taste will begin the digestive process and stimulate the communication between the brain-gut via the vagus nerve, which in turn, optimises the bodies response to food.
But just consider this for a moment, if all you do is warm foods up, buy ready cooked meals or live on takeaways, how many times are you really optimising this link? Preparing meals from fresh ingredients, cooking foods and focusing your attention on the meal at hand will give your body a chance to begin to secrete gastric juices and digestive enzymes in anticipation of foods arrival.
Unfortunately, most of us cannot even give the food we eat the attention it deserves!
Given modern day pressures of work, constant distractions and an unbelievable amount of stress we are not focusing on food on the plate in front of us, but more likely looking at our phones, the laptop screen or TV, impacting digestion yet again!
The chronic stressors we face from our environment, work, family, emotions and a never ending to do list puts further strain on the communication between the brain-gut. The stress response leads to 'fight or flight' state in which the body will prioritise energy production from immediate energy stores, rather than prioritising an energy demanding and slow process of digesting incoming foods! Another kick in the proverbial teeth for digestion.⠀
We inadvertently limit digestion through mindless action or constantly being in a rush while eating! This will reduce your focus on simple requirements for digestion, like chewing your foods! This reduces the impact of saliva on food, limiting the effect of digestive enzymes found lingually and in saliva on the breakdown of fats and carbs, thus increasing the chance of harmful bacteria and fungi, impairing your gut health and reducing the surface area on which digestive enzymes and gastric juices have to work on.
Whilst it may not be fun or sexy there is an absolutely certified way you can also switch your body from a state of stress to 'rest and digest'. It all starts with mindfulness, being in the moment with your meals (sounds odd I know)! By spending time focusing on chewing your foods, calming down before eating, specifically through nasal breathing or even listening to some relaxing binaural beats you will start to see an improvement in digestion!
It is time we start to listen to our body more, rather than being worried about how much of a ‘calorie deficit’ we can find ourselves in!
I understand that creating a sustainable calorie deficit will be a great approach to improving your gut health (being in a deficit will ramp up an enzyme called AMPK, it will also enhance your mitochondrial function which will improve the release of essential gastric juices that act on food), however, it is a little bit difficult to be motivated to eat in a calorie deficit or train when you are walking around:⠀
🔸struggling with low mood⠀
🔸finding it difficult to maintain concentration⠀
🔸with the fourth illness this month⠀
🔸struggling to think straight⠀
There are also pitfalls of the calories in and calories out model that we need to be aware of before going crazy with eating less and moving more!
It is easy to get caught in the trap of eating the same foods day in and day out, diminishing variety from your diet, which can easily lead to deficiencies in micronutrients and fibre intake. It is common to see a lack of variety in nutritional intake, especially if you prep foods in a rush or you are a creature of habit, eating the same types of foods from the same restaurants frequently. It makes sense to rotate the foods you consume regularly, look to enhance nutritional intake through going to the shops and choosing foods you have never consumed before, scour the fruit and veg aisle for new things to try or simply go back to your roots with cooking and use herbs and spices that Indian food is famous for!
Use this guide below to start increasing your food variety and optimising your digestion!