You are what you digest, absorb, and transfer to your cells.
The holidays have come and gone when we take place in overindulgence.
It's a new year. Take a moment to learn about the incredible digestive system and what to do to improve it.
You can heal your gut and enhance your well-being with proper portion sizes and basic mindful eating techniques.
Take your health a stretch further and discover what yoga poses and gentle movement can do for your digestion.
The Digestive System in a Nutshell
From mouth to butt, take care of your gut.
What is digestion exactly? Our body separates molecules and breaks them into more complex substances through chemical and mechanical processes. Specific molecules organize and then split to be used or stored in our bodies.
Substances are arranged, transported, or excreted appropriately based on what our body does and doesn't need.
We find food, we chew food, and we swallow food. Then, the food is pulled apart, and nutrients are transferred to where it needs to go.
The muscular canal, or our gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), is about 26 feet long, extending from our mouth to the anus. This GI tract is so much more than simple digestion.
My Precision Nutrition Coaching program explains this perfectly:
"[The GI tract] brings in and processes nutrients, acts as a barrier to chemical and physical pathogens, detoxifies potentially harmful substances, excretes waste, contains the enteric nervous system [our second brain], excretes hormones and helps process them, helps regulate our immune system, and it's innervated by nerves involved in social engagement and emotion which gives us important signals about the world and how we feel."
You will absorb 92-97% of your food when digestion works well. But your absorption rate will be affected if you suffer from digestive conditions, such as IBS, untreated celiac disease, food poisoning, or food intolerances.
When food moves too quickly, i.e., diarrhea or lack of digestive integrity, you cannot absorb the nutrients needed to nourish your body.
Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, or diarrhea stem from improper digestion.
Chronic stress and emotional imbalances can affect digestion regularly. For example, we may eat less due to our digestion shutting down as we are stuck in flight or fight mode or eat more as an emotional coping mechanism.
If you're as nerdy as I am and want to learn more, check out this short and sweet video: How your digestive system works - Emma Bryce (TED-Ed) -Youtube
Perfect Portions in the Palm of Your Hand
Often, the simplest method is the most effective one.
What, how, and how much we eat affect our digestive system. Here I'll cover the quantity issue, but I ask you to keep self-awareness of the quality of what you eat.
Counting calories, measuring or weighing macronutrients (fats, proteins, carbohydrates), or even taking photos or journal entries about every single thing you eat can be tedious and unrealistic in the long run.
Calorie counting is, on average, 25% incorrect, even with the best apps and tools. So instead of adding more stress to your days, let's make things easier.
Everything you need is in your hand. The hand portion method allows you to be aware of how much you're eating to lose or gain weight, plus improve your health in the long run.
Use your hand as a personalized, portable portioning tool. Your hand is your gauge of what portions work best for you as they are proportional to your body and individuality.
Here are your hand portions:
1 PALM (with your hand open) = 1 serving of PROTEIN
1 FIST = 1 serving of VEGGIES
1 CUPPED hand = 1 serving of CARBS
1 THUMB = 1 serving of Fats
Think about high-fiving your teammate after a game where you want lean protein to fuel your muscles (palm for protein).
Fist pump or "pound it" with your buddy for eating vegetables (fist for veg). Boom!
Cradle your carbs in your cupped hand as you cherish the healthy carbs and scoop out the bad ones (cupped hand for carbs).
And finally, a big thumbs up for healthy fats at every meal (Thumb for fats)!
But how many servings do I have for each meal?
Here's a general framework to start with; however, you'll want to adjust these recommendations to meet your personal goals:
1-2 palms of protein-dense foods at each meal
1-2 fists of vegetables at each meal
1-2 cupped handfuls of carbohydrates at most meals
1-2 thumbs of fat-dense foods at most meals
Slow Down Your Utensils
What's the rush?
We live in a fast-paced world. Always on the go, always something that needs doing. When it comes to eating, we tend to get it done instead of enjoying our fuel which empowers us.
How many of you eat your meals while in the car? Or at your desk while working? Or standing up when you have a quick moment to shovel something in? Perhaps you're surprised to realize your meal is gone as you devoured it in front of the tv. I'm certainly guilty of it.
Food is medicine! Food is nourishment! Food is what makes or breaks us. We hardly even taste this power we consume.
I challenge you to slow down for one meal a day. Benefit your digestive system, nutrient absorption, and mindfulness; it is especially crucial if weight loss is a goal.
Try taking breaks between each nibble. Put your utensils or food down after each bite. Please don't pick them up again until the food is thoroughly chewed and swallowed.
Take the challenge a step further and time yourself. Eat like you normally would, but add the awareness of time. For example, how long did it take to eat? Can you double that time the next day?
Some of you are thinking, "I don't have enough time to eat, and you want me to add more time?"
When eating is slowed, your digestion has time to be aware and will notify you of feeling full sooner. As a result, you'll consume fewer calories while nourishing your body more and training your brain for clarity. You may even begin to enjoy your meals again.
Another fun challenge: use chopsticks for every meal!
Stop and take a deep inhale and exhale between bites.
Try what works for you for at least one meal a day, and consider what your food tastes, smells, looks, and feels like.
Stop at 80% Full
The secret to longevity is Hara Hachi Bu: Eat until you are eight parts full.
"One of the essential rules of Okinawa eating [is]: Hara Hachi Bu, or 'Eat until you are eight parts full.'…The principle plays a critical role in ensuring their longevity… Hara Hachi Bu or, in medical terms, calorie restriction, is consistently linked with low rates of cancer and heart disease and a longer, healthier life. It also helps explain why Okinawans maintain a stable weight between ages twenty and 100, while the average American puts on one pound per year after age thirty… Eating mindfully… entail enjoying each bite or slurp and stopping before you feel completely full." (The Jungle Effect, by Daphne Miller, M.D.)
After mastering the slower eating method, you'll find time to realize when you're feeling full and to what extent. By eating slower, Hara Hachi Bu becomes effortless and natural.
Try using smaller plates for your meals, or add half the food you typically consume to your plate.
When the quantity is accomplished, ask yourself, "do I truly still feel hungry? Or am I a beautiful 80% full and content?"
Strike a Pose
Wind-Relieving Pose... Always the crowd pleaser.
Yoga benefits the entire body, including the digestive system.
Toned arms and legs with an epic yoga butt. The physical benefits of yoga go beyond skin deep as your internal organs are massaged and regulated.
While finding the balance between strength, flexibility, and softness, yoga comes with full-body benefits.
Twists are incredibly wonderful for giving your organs a gentle hug while awakening the nervous system through the spinal column.
Forward bends, either standing or sitting, compact the gut region and help nudge the digestive system in the right direction.
Core strengthening, such as Boat Pose, provides stability on a muscular and abdominal level.
Even my favorite, Child's Pose, allows you to forward bend to regulate movement, deep breathing, and detoxification.
Other gentle movements, such as walking or swimming, allows your organs to function fully and blood to circulate efficiently. Nutrients can then absorb and coast to nourish their destinations.
Try the following sequence from yogajournal.com to relieve your gut discomfort, whether due to overindulgence or digestive issues.
Let it flow.
Treat your body kindly through proper nutrition, digestion, movement, and mindfulness.
When the organs are smiling, your body will thrive, and life will remain luminous.
Stretch, nourish, and hug your body. And let the nutrients flow.
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